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Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Page: 1234


Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (15:24): The Northern Rivers of New South Wales is an incredibly special place for many of us here; it has a special place in our heart. I know that the whole parliament cares deeply about the fact that in northern New South Wales—whether it's Lismore, whether it's Byron or whether it's other parts of northern New South Wales—they are going through the really quite unfathomable experience of going under water for the second time in a couple of weeks. I know that I speak on behalf of everybody on this side of the House, and I suspect the other side too, when I say that our hearts go out to the people of northern New South Wales, who are dealing with the same things as those in the south-east corner of Queensland, and indeed right around Australia.

It's a real reminder that over the last few years Australians have been through so much together. They've made extraordinary sacrifices for each other and they've been there for each other in the most difficult times. After everything that they've been through, after all of the sacrifices that they've made for each other, the thanks they get from a government which is almost a decade old is a budget handed down from that dispatch box which is defined by falling real wages, a trillion dollars in debt with not enough to show for it, $3 billion in secret cuts that the government won't come clean on until after the election and absolutely nothing that resembles a plan for the future.

Budgets at their best provide the foundation for a better and more secure future for our people. They provide more opportunities for more Australians in more parts of Australia. They give people confidence that they have a place and a role to play in the unfolding economic success of this country. But governments at their worst at budget time take the problems that exist just before an election and do their best just to shift those problems to the other side of an election. The government are spraying money around and shovelling money around in the hope that people will forget that, for most of the rest of the decade that they have been in office, they've come after people's wages, they've come after their job security, they've come after their pensions and they've come after Medicare. Time and time again, there has been one attack after another on the living standards of Middle Australia. Those opposite, at the peak of their cynicism, think that, if they shovel enough money in the general direction of enough Australians a week or two before an election has to be called then the Australian people will forget the damage that they have done to the living standards of Australians right around Australia. The difference between this side of the House and that side of the House is that we see budgets as the foundation for a better future and we see budgets as the scaffolding of opportunity in this country; those opposite see them as just another political pamphlet to be waved around, when the country desperately needs a plan.

This government has taxed more, borrowed more, spent more and delivered less than its Labor predecessor. They like to make comparisons in this place, so let me run you through a few comparisons. We're talking here about the average under this government versus the average under the last government: unemployment under this government, 5.7 per cent, and, under the last Labor government, 5.1 per cent; underemployment under this government 8.6 per cent, and, under the last Labor government, 7.0 per cent; wages under this government, 2.1 per cent, and, under the last Labor government, 3.6 per cent; economic growth under those opposite, 2.3 per cent, and, under Labor, 2.5 per cent; business investment, negative 2.8 per cent under the so-called party of business, and 5.5 per cent under the last Labor government; and productivity, 1.1 per cent under them and 1.4 per cent under us. We left gross debt of $280 billion to this government, and it's heading towards a trillion dollars and rising under those opposite.

We have had enough of these ridiculous lectures about fiscal responsibility and economic management from a government which has underperformed, mismanaged, rorted and wasted at every single turn. This is a desperate, panicked and tapped-out budget from a desperate and panicked and clapped-out government. That much is now clear. There has probably never been a flatter reception to a budget than there was last night, watching the Treasurer deliver the budget from that dispatch box while everybody over there pretended to read their phones or read something else. They slept through the Treasurer's speech because it was such an underwhelming experience. It was underwhelming at best; it was unravelling at worst. The easiest way to work that out, the easiest way to understand that those opposite understand that they fired that one shot in the locker and it was a blank, is the fact that the budget is still not even 24 hours old and the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the finance minister in the other place have spent all their time talking about the Labor Party. Even in the Treasurer's budget speech, and we have seen a few budget speeches on both side of the parliament, there were two or three references to the Labor Party. It can't be that good a budget if those opposite are desperate to talk about the Labor Party when the budget is not even 24 hours old. This is what happens when you have a government which is psychologically and temperamentally incapable of seeing beyond the next election. This budget has a shelf life of six or seven weeks, depending on when the election is. The government cannot see beyond the middle of May and that is how you get a budget which is this underwhelming and which is already unravelling.

The Treasurer says in that monotone, repetitive, focus group sloganeering way over and over again that the plan is working in the hope that, if he says it enough, people will begin to believe it. But the plan is not working if you are a worker in this country dealing with real wages cuts of 26 bucks a week or $1,355 a year, which was what the budget said the real wage cuts are worth this year. The plan is not working if you are one of the subsequent generations of Australians being asked to pay off the interest on the tens of billions of rorts and waste that those opposite have inflicted on the Australian people. Whether it is giving tens of billions to businesses that didn't need support or car park rorts, regional rorts, dodgy land deals or sports rorts, the list goes on. The plan is not working if you have to pay off that debt. And the plan is not working if you tuned in on Tuesday night, last night, and thought you would give the Treasurer a chance to give us a bit of a sense of where the country is headed, what the role of the budget is in that, where the place is for ordinary Australian working people in the unfolding story of this economy. The plan is not working.

At the end of his speech, in that big, self-congratulatory finish, he was pretending to be Winston Churchill and really hoping for more support from the back of his ranks—they weren't listening. He went on and on about how they have delivered exactly what they said they would. I was thinking, 'Who were those guys walking around brandishing the "back in black" mugs before the last election?' Who were those guys? It was the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. Remember the black-and-white photos, the 'back in black' mugs and Scott Morrison looking like he was in a small room talking about being back in black? The Treasurer and all the ministers had them and they were flogging them off for $39.95 on the Liberal Party website. The Treasurer had the gall to say, 'We have done exactly what we promised.' What a lot of rubbish. When it comes to the budget, this government have delivered a trillion dollars in debt. They had already doubled the debt before the pandemic. They have delivered more consecutive deficits than any other Australian government since the 1920s. After all that rubbish about debt and deficit disasters, no more lectures from those opposite.

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer were asked repeatedly today to explain that $26 a week that ordinary Australian people are in the hole, on average—that $1,355 a year. They could not care less about that. In fact, it is a deliberate design feature of their economic policy, as they have confessed in more honest times. Nothing in the budget last night makes up for those real wages cuts and nothing makes up for the fact that those opposite have spent the best part of a decade coming after wages, job security, pensions and Medicare and all the other ways that we have seen.

Australians are already seeing through this budget in the same way that they are already seeing through this Prime Minister. This is the guy who thinks that three plus four equals eight. When he is asked about it he gets the big stroppy act on, the big glass jaw and all the rest of it. They are working this guy out. With this kind of performance from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, no wonder the legacy of a decade of this government in office is a trillion dollars in debt, real wages falling, secret cuts in the budget after the election and no plan for the future. Petrol prices will go up in September, the LMITO tax cuts will end after next year and interest rates will go up at some point in the next 12 months. This is the legacy of 10 years of those opposite. We can end the government. The opportunity can't come soon enough.