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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1290

Senator CHAPMAN (3:16 PM) —The cost of living is affecting struggling families right around Australia. Let me remind the Senate that throughout the last election campaign we saw the current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer wandering the country, talking endlessly about the cost of living, the cost of petrol, the cost of groceries—deliberately creating the false expectation that they would fall under a Labor government. But since the election we have had an eerie silence on this issue. Can I remind the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that the real problem is that the cost of living is vitally important to all Australian families, but particularly to struggling families.

All we have seen over recent months from the Treasurer, the Prime Minister and other ministers is an attempt to lay the blame for this on the Howard government. We saw this again today with Senator Sherry’s answer to a question, claiming that the previous government had increased expenditure at the average rate of 4½ per cent per year. Let me remind the Senate that the then opposition, the Labor Party, matched that expenditure with their promises every inch of the way. But of course what they ignore is that those increases in expenditure by the previous government, apart from ensuring that Australia’s security was established and was firm, were designed to share the benefits of the buoyant economy which our policies had created with those who were less fortunate and those who were in need.

Senator Sherry’s comments remind me of the statement from St Augustine: ‘Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet.’ They did not want to be pure back in the days of opposition. They wanted to win votes by matching the policies and the initiatives of the then Howard government. But, now they are in government, they want to be pure and they want to condemn those increases in expenditure which, as I said, provided for the needy in our community. They want to use that to try to rewrite history with regard to the outstanding performance of the Howard government in building a strong economy.

But what else did we hear today? From Senator Wong we heard bluff and bluster in response to the question I asked, a very simple question about the impact of Labor’s increased mandatory renewable energy target on electricity prices—a massive increase in that MRET to 20 per cent, compared with what it was under the previous government. That is going to have an enormous impact on electricity prices, and that again will be most detrimental to those who are struggling, who find it difficult to make ends meet. They are going to introduce this mandatory renewable energy target at a much greater level without any inclusion of clean coal or clean gas as part of that target. It will apply only to solar, geothermal and hydroelectricity, and they are not going to offer any incentives to industry to meet that MRET. As I say, a massive increase in electricity prices will be the result of that—again, unaffordable for so many people in our community.

Apart from those initiatives that are going to increase the cost of living, what have they done? Establish one inquiry after another—an inquiry every four days—rather than taking responsibility for policies, making decisions and announcing decisions that will be of benefit to the Australian community. It is because they have no answer that they are establishing these inquiries. They went around the country creating this expectation that they would reduce petrol prices, that they would reduce grocery prices, but they do not have one policy to put in place to bring that about.

Of course, the cost of living affects every single parent, affects every pensioner and affects every self-funded retiree. Every time one of those people visits the shops, every time they fill their shopping bag with the necessities of life, they know that the cost of living is going up and they judge their pension, their allowance or their wage against what they can buy with the money they have. But Labor do not address these concerns. They simply set up another bureaucratic based inquiry that will not solve the problem.

It is also informative to look at statements that Labor made before the election. On 10 June they said their sole purpose was to ensure that Australian families are not paying 1c more to fill up their car than they should. Of course, that depends on what you mean by ‘1c more than they should’. Labor obviously have a different interpretation of that from the opposition. But that leads us on to the issue of groceries, where they created the expectation that they were going to wave a magical wand and reduce the price of groceries. But what have they done in relation to that? They are now going to increase the fuel tax on trucks and increase the cost of truck registration, a major component in the cost of groceries. (Time expired)