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Thursday, 13 September 2007
Page: 89

Senator McEWEN (3:18 PM) —I too would like to take particular note of answers given by Senators Scullion and Minchin to questions without notice asked today. If ever we wanted more evidence that senators opposite are out of touch with working Australians and Australian families, we heard it today in the answers of Senator Minchin and Senator Scullion. We already know that government members are out of touch. We learnt that when the Prime Minister came out with that cracker of a comment that working families in Australia have never been better off. What an absolute purler that was. But the government’s arrogance and ignorance about what is happening out there in the real world of Australia was on display again here today.

Those opposite like to forget that they have a Prime Minister who has presided over a government that has delivered Australia such things as the highest ever petrol prices, the highest ever rates of credit card debt—which currently averages around $3,000—five interest rate rises since the Prime Minister promised to keep interest rates low and nine increases in a row under the Prime Minister and his henchman Mr Costello. They have plunged the nation into a housing affordability crisis. As we heard from Senator Lundy, average family incomes in South Australia, for example, fall $10,000 short of what is needed to pay off an average size housing loan. In 10 years, the annual income needed to afford mortgage repayments on an average priced house has risen from $31,000 to $85,000.

Senator Fifield made some comments about some economic statistics that were released today. I have some too. Mine are from Dun and Bradstreet. This came out just before question time. In their report, they make mention of the fact that household debt in Australia has risen dramatically over the past 1½ decades and is now just over 150 per cent of household disposable income.

There are more statistics that are damning for this government and which highlight its incompetence and heartlessness when it comes to caring for ordinary working Australian families. ABS statistics show that living costs for working families have increased by 3.1 per cent over the past 12 months. There has been a 30 per cent increase in the number of families using services for the homeless. Half a million Australians are paying 30 per cent or more of their income on rent. In the southern suburbs of Adelaide in the electorate of Kingston, 77 per cent of renters are paying more than 30 per cent of their income in rent. The cost of child care is rising at the rate of about 12 per cent per year. As we have also heard, the price of fruit and vegetables has risen by 41.9 per cent over the past five years—and that is when the nation is facing a crisis of obesity among our children. Those are the statistics. That is the legacy of the 11 long years of this government.

Senator Fifield made mention in his comments just then about how we need to take account of both sides of the household budget. I agree with that. I am going to take account of both sides of the household budget and make reference to a new report that was released today. This report was prepared by the University of New South Wales and gives us the most disturbing evidence to date about this government’s Work Choices legislation and the impact that it has had on wages and conditions.

That report into the centrepiece of this government’s term of office and the Prime Minister’s ideological vendetta against unions has shown that Work Choices has delivered to hapless workers in the retail and hospitality sectors who were forced onto non-union collective agreements incomes that were in many instances reduced by as much as 31 per cent. So when Senator Fifield lectures us about taking account of both sides of the household budget you can bet your bottom dollar we are taking account of both sides of the household budget, and so are working Australian families. That is why this government is on the nose. Australian working families have seen their cost of living go up and their wages either not keeping pace with the cost of living or going down. The statistics that are quoted, as we know, are inflated because some workers are doing well in the current boom in the resources sector, but ordinary working Australians, particularly in sectors like retail and hospitality, are going backwards in terms of wages. (Time expired)