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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14642

Mr BOWEN (McMahon) (15:19): Many people, including, I confess, me, would have expected the government to use this budget as an attempt to distract the Australian people from the six years of cuts and chaos that have been inflicted by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. But, in fact, the government chose to reinforce the cuts and chaos, not to distract from them.

When the Treasurer and I debate each other in a few weeks time, it'll be the third Treasurer I have debated in three elections. I debated Joe Hockey in 2013, I debated the now Prime Minister in 2016 and I'll debate the incumbent in 2019. So I'm used to the instability on the economic team of the other side. But, to give them some credit—

Mr Laming: How did that go?

Mr BOWEN: I don't think I'll ever be debating you, sunshine! But I'll give them some credit: they've been consistent in their cuts, their chaos, their confusion and their inconsistency. This budget says it all, about all those cuts, the chaos and the inconsistency.

In effect, the Prime Minister argued in his defence on the energy supplement imbroglio that we've seen unfurl over the last 24 hours—not even quite the last 24 hours—that the energy supplement is not really part of the budget and that it's something completely separate from the budget. I guess that explains why it was the big budget drop in the newspapers on Sunday, that the centrepiece of the budget was the energy supplement, which the Prime Minister had actually announced, but is now saying, 'Well, actually, it's not really part of the budget.'

This is a Treasurer and a government that never cease to miss an opportunity—and I'll talk more about the energy supplement and their disregard of the Australians who commit no crime other than to earn less than $40,000 a year in a moment. This could have been an opportunity as well to reset the government's economic narrative, at least in a vain, last-minute attempt to try to get the support of the Australian people. They could have reversed their $14 billion worth of cuts to public schools. They could have reversed their cuts to health. They could have reversed their cuts to vocational education and training and they could have mentioned the word 'TAFE' in their budget speech, perhaps, as an important sign to show that they had got the message and that they had learnt the lesson. The funding and allocation that we had for apprentices last night goes nowhere near reversing the cuts that we have seen over the last six years—the $3 billion worth of cuts that we've seen and the 150,000 fewer apprentices who have been employed since the Liberals came to office. So we see more of the same.

We also see more evidence in the budget that the economy is not working for working people. We see confirmation of slowing wages growth, slowing economic growth and slowing consumption growth. Indeed, wages growth is worth some attention, because wages growth is important for the economy. It's anaemic; that's not good for employees and it's not good for our economy.

Of course wages growth is also important in determining how big the budget surplus is. Every single Liberal budget has seen wages growth downgraded. On every single occasion a Liberal Treasurer has risen to deliver a budget they've predicted wages growth and then at the next budget they've had to fess up that they got it wrong. Not once have they delivered. In fact, last night's budget saw wages growth in 2018-19 of 2½ per cent, edging up quite a bit to 2¾ per cent in 2019-20, then shooting up like a magic beanstalk to 3¼ per cent and then 3½ per cent, with no policy basis and no grounds to think that they've got policies to see wages growth. It just simply assumes wages growth gets to 3½ per cent by 2021.

The Treasurer, assuming he'll get wages growth of 3½ per cent by 2021 is a bit like me assuming I might look like Rob Lowe by 2021! I might hope it happens, but I doubt very much it will! And I certainly wouldn't base my policies on the hope that it does happen. You need a bit more than hope when you're writing economic policy.

What we need to do is assume, actually, that the government's lack of action on wages growth will continue to flow through and that we need a government in Australia which actually has a wages policy. The only way we'll get a government with wages policy is to change the government.

But I do want to turn, of course, to the centrepiece of the imbroglio of this budget, which is the energy relief payments. As I said, we had the big Sunday drop into the newspapers that this was the big centrepiece and we had the 7 pm budget delivered. I was told this morning—I got, I confess, a bit of bad intelligence—that there was a crisis meeting at 7 am this morning to fix the mistake. It turns out that it was actually last night!

That's how long the budget lasted. The budget didn't even last till 7 am. They had to have a crisis meeting last night.

Last night, the Treasurer gave one of the longest budget speeches in memory, but his budget actually had one of the shortest shelf lives in memory. The budget speech actually lasted longer than the budget, from the looks of it. Kim Kardashian has had longer marriages than this budget! We see the Treasurer's last roll of the dice—this big attempt to convince the Australian people that they finally get it, and it falls apart.

While those opposite are doing backflips—as they've backflipped on the Newstart payments, under pressure from the member for Barton and the Labor Party—they should also backflip on their insult to Australians who earn less than $40,000. The first backflip is the hardest when it comes to your budget. Once you've done the first one, it's easy after that. While you're on a roll, why don't you backflip on that? The Prime Minister says he's delivering tax cuts double what he promised last year. That is not true if you earn less than $40,000. If you earn, say, $35,000, you get a tax cut of $255 a year—that's $4.90 a week. That's it. That's the best they've got. That's all they can muster for Australians who earn less than $40,000. Again, we're glad that they caught up with our bigger and better tax cuts, but they've got it wrong. They've got it wrong for those Australians. That will need to be remedied, and Labor, of course, will have more to say about how we'll remedy it.

The only good bits about this budget are where those opposite have caught up with the Labor Party. I don't want to pre-empt the member for Grayndler's contribution, but another area where those opposite are trying to catch up is infrastructure. I'm a bit concerned about security in the member for Grayndler's office! I think they've got his diary! They've been through the member for Grayndler's diary for the last 12 months and found all the projects that he's announced that a Labor government will build, and they've photocopied them and put them in the budget. They've photocopied the member for Grayndler's diary and they've made it the budget! The one area where they did show a bit of creativity, the Geelong fast rail, is pretty slow. I was in Geelong with the member for Corio and the Labor candidate for Corangamite on the day it was announced. We said, 'Where's the money? When will it be built? What day?' We now know the answer: the 25th of never. There's not a dollar in the budget—not one dollar in the forward estimates. We were asked whether we would match the funding. I don't think we will match the funding; I don't think we will match zero. I think we could do a bit better than that, in cooperation with the Victorian state government. The great Corangamite con is what the Geelong fast rail is.

Australians really do deserve better than this. They deserve a better government than this. They deserve a better budget than this. The government are trying desperately to catch up with Labor and are botching it as they do. They can't even copy Labor efficiently or effectively. They are a government that have given up. This is a budget document of a government that have simply given up on governing. They simply have no agenda, no vision, no economic plans for the country, no funding for key projects, and they just don't get it when it comes to those Australians who are doing it tough. They just don't understand the pressures that go with very low wages growth along with high costs of living. That's why the government are so broadly seen as being out of touch and also broadly seen as being out of time. I was drawn to a statement today by respected journalist Laura Tingle, who said:

A tumultuous six years of declared debt and deficit crises, culture wars and internal warfare, the Coalition's sixth Budget seems to reflect a government that has collapsed, exhausted, in on itself.

Well said!

We want a government—Australia needs a government—that actually has vision, hope and plans for the future, and knows how to implement them. We need a government with the courage to lay out its plans before the Australian people. We didn't see any of that last night, and we're not going to see any of that over the next six weeks. We'll see that if a Shorten Labor government is elected. If a Shorten Labor government is elected on 11 May, then we can get on with the job of delivering those plans for the Australian people. If the Prime Minister is so happy to have that election, when he goes to see the Governor-General we'll be ready for an economic debate—an economic debate about a plan which is better than the nonsense that we saw last night. (Time expired)