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Monday, 13 August 2007
Page: 128

Mr BYRNE (9:00 PM) —I think the member for Moreton is auditioning for the role of surprise spruiker in The Chaser.

Mr Martin Ferguson interjecting

Mr BYRNE —He is pretty good. I would like to address the issue of cost of living pressures on my constituents in Holt. I particularly refer to the visit to Cranbourne on Wednesday, 11 July by federal opposition leader Kevin Rudd. He came to Cranbourne and spoke about an initiative to direct the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to monitor grocery prices to ensure that families were getting a fair deal. Mr Rudd said at the time that soaring petrol prices, increased credit card debt, record mortgage repayments—as we know, there was another interest rate rise last week—and a 12 per cent increase in childcare costs has put the squeeze on family finances as never before. To quote Kevin Rudd:

Australian families are under increasing financial pressure due to the rising cost of living.

Working families are finding it harder than ever before. They are doing it tough and getting deeper and deeper into debt and hitting the wall.

And the cost of living is felt most sharply by families at the supermarket. Prices of everyday goods keep going up and up and up. Food costs have well outstripped CPI across the country.

Interestingly, after the Leader of the Opposition made this statement, supermarket chains and those on the government side derided Mr Rudd.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Holt will refer to the Leader of the Opposition by his title.

Mr BYRNE —My apologies, Mr Speaker. They derided the Leader of the Opposition and basically said that he did not know what he was talking about. When you look at these sorts of issues, it is always good to have a third-party endorsement. The front page of the Cranbourne Leader, a very fine paper, reported on grocery prices under the headline ‘Grocery prices skyrocket’. The report stated:

Cranbourne grocery prices have skyrocketed at three times the rate of inflation over the past two years, a Leader survey shows.

The article continued:

We checked prices on a basket of everyday food items including milk, butter and eggs at major Cranbourne supermarkets, Coles, Ritchies and Safeway, and compared the results to our findings from a July 2005 price check of the same items.

This was conducted not by the Labor Party or any associated entity but by the newspaper. The article continued:

The results revealed an across-the-board increase of 19 per cent, more than three times the rate of CPI ...

Cranbourne Information and Support Services manager Leanne Petrides warned that out-of-control checkout prices were having a dangerous impact on battling families already under ‘immense’ financial pressure from interest rate and petrol price hikes.

In her words:

‘People are already spending a big percentage of their income on food. And every time they go to the supermarket, the prices go up and up and up.’

This is an organisation that provides emergency relief funding to people who live in the Cranbourne area. Ms Petrides continued:

‘We are seeing rapidly growing numbers of people forced to choose between paying the mortgage and bills, putting petrol in the car or buying food. It’s highly stressful and it’s having a serious impact on people’s mental and physical health and relationships.’

Ms Petrides said the use of credit cards to pay for essential food items was pushing some struggling families over the edge.

It is a significant issue in my electorate. Look at the statistics on mortgage stress in Holt and the number of people who are paying more than 30 per cent of their gross income in mortgage repayments. Data from the 2001 census showed that 2,724 households were then in mortgage stress. However, the 2006 census shows that this has increased to 7,666 households—a 181.4 per cent increase in the number of households with mortgage stress from 2001 to 2006.

It is interesting that a particular individual from the Liberal Party in that area said that he had been doorknocking and that he found that the price of petrol had not actually had an impact on households. I find that quite staggering, given the number of people who are presenting themselves to the Cranbourne Information and Support Service actively seeking fuel vouchers. These people are from middle-income families. These are not people from the lower income group; they are struggling middle-income families. The interesting thing about the provision of financial counselling to these people in financial stress is that there is basically only one federally funded financial counsellor for the entire area. I think that is an absolute disgrace.

In the brief time remaining to me I want to talk briefly about a person who is seriously ill—a gentleman called David Lentin. He runs 3SER-FM. He is a local voice for the community and a community champion. He is currently battling a serious illness. He is a great champion of the community—a person who binds the community together. He is facing a life-threatening illness, and, on behalf of the House, I wish him well in his struggle.