Power Costs – Movement to Take Note of Answers Take Note of Answers

I move:

That the Senate take note of answers by ministers to questions from members of the opposition.

On the issue of the cost of living, it’s amazing that, as opposed to giving some direct answers about what the government will do to help Australians who are struggling with the cost of living, they launched straight into some revision of history, which you’d have to describe almost as delusional. I’ll cover some of those points before highlighting some of the differences between decisions that they are making now they’re in government and those which we made when we were in government not that long ago, as well as some elements of design around critical elements of our economy that go directly to the cost of living.

On the delusion side, we heard a lot of comments today about debt that was inherited by this government. They made the case, somewhat delusionally, that this debt was irresponsible and a product of poor government. They seem to have forgotten that at the time, when the Morrison government was seeking to withdraw, for example, support to people through the JobKeeper program, it was members on that side who were saying the government should extend that program. At a time when we were successfully getting vaccination rates up throughout the nation—in fact, leading, toward the end, vaccination rates for second and third doses—it was that side who were suggesting we should pay people to have vaccinations. So the whole delusion around debt ignores the fact that decisions that were made led to good outcomes. So the $50 billion that was talked about as coming unexpectedly into the budget is in part because of decisions that were made to keep people in work. When people are in work, people are not drawing on welfare, and people are paying taxes, which means that government expenditure is down, and incomes are up. It’s a matter of record—it’s a matter of fact—that, over the term of the Morrison government, 1.9 million jobs were created and unemployment went down to 3.9 per cent, which is the lowest in decades.

Simultaneously with that, one of the ways that the government made decisions to actually reduce cost-of-living pressures was to give tax relief. In the measures that were brought in in various budgets, the Morrison government brought in $40 billion of tax relief, benefiting around 11 million Australians, which meant that the program we put in place would see 95 per cent of Australian taxpayers on marginal rates of 30 per cent or less. That is the way that you actually help people into work—you help people to keep more of what they earn so that they have the funds they need to care for their families, to pay mortgages and to pay their power bills.

We also sought to make sure that, from an engineering perspective, the things that actually enable our power system—for example, adequate supplies of gas needed for peaking power, to keep prices down—were available. So the other side made the promise some 96 times during the election campaign that they would reduce power prices by $275. Instead, there’s a headline in the media of my home city, Adelaide, saying:

SA power bills to rise in cost-of-living blow

Tens of thousands of South Australian households are set to be hit with increased electricity bills after the energy industry watchdog made the “difficult decision” to increase benchmark prices by hundreds of dollars a year.

So, when we look at cost of living, it’s important to understand that the decisions that are made actually impact on the government’s ability to support families and on people’s abilities to get jobs and keep more of the money they have made so that they can pay the bills.

What sorts of decisions do we see from those who are now on the government benches? If you look at the Australian Financial Review just this week, the headline there is, ‘Labor “at it again” in surprise move on dividends’. So they are planning to bring in retrospective measures around imputation credits that will actually give surprise tax bills to people and increase the cost of living at a time when they’re promising to reduce cost-of-living pressures.