I'm not sure what planet the member for Higgins is living on if she wants to be congratulated for the NDIS and says that age pensioners will be looked after under this government when we have the minister responsible saying that pensioners in this country have a generous support from the government. I don't know what pensioners she's talking to. I can tell you that pensioners do not have a generous amount to live on. They simply are making ends meet. That is how out of touch the member for Higgins is. She's got absolutely no idea.
I want to talk tonight about the government's neglect of the NDIS. Whatever fantasy alternative world the member for Higgins is living in, I spoke on a motion whereby the government wanted to be congratulated for implementing a stop-gap measure to fix a mess that they themselves had created. The government wanted to be congratulated for the so-called big announcement by the minister referred to by the industry and the actual sector as a stop-gap measure. What an absolute joke.
Whilst no doubt the NDIS has been a landmark initiative for the country, developed and introduced by a Labor government, sadly, it's been neglected by three successive coalition governments, who among the other things that they have done—and I note the member for Higgins is leaving the chamber now—have played political football with the NDIA funding, placed a stifling staff cap restricting the ability of the NDIS to serve Australians and, most recently, underspent on the NDIS, claiming a lack of demand. Now, I know when I speak to local residents that they have had horrific experiences with the NDIA. I was with a mother at Jindalee in their lounge room about three weeks ago, and the tragedy that that mother had regarding her two children in dealing with the local NDIA office, dealing with all of the complexities that the failed scheme is offering that family, broke my heart. Yet this government wants to be congratulated this week for the work that they're doing.
One of the first things I did after being re-elected was to hold a round table at the Goodna Salvation Army centre with the shadow minister, the Hon. Bill Shorten, to talk to carers, residents and front-line workers that are feeling the full brunt of the government's mismanagement of the NDIS. Now, the government's track record of supporting people who are doing it tough is appalling. I wrote to the minister, Stuart Robert, and I hope his office is monitoring this or someone in the government is listening, because, if a member of parliament can write to a relevant minister six weeks ago and not even have an acknowledgment, what hope does a resident, community group or someone dealing with the NDIA have on offer when this minister simply refuses to meet anyone, refuses to take the time to listen to the concerns? I once again say to the government: if you're serious about fixing the problems, listen to the sector. Listen to the community that is trying to deal with a system that is completely and utterly failing them.
We know the government's track record of supporting people who are doing it tough is appalling, and there's no other word for it. I just want to touch briefly on the issue of Newstart. This government expects people to live on $39.83 a day. At the moment, that's all they're willing to give people without a job to survive on. And today they conveniently released figures showing that some people on Newstart missed jobactive appointments. I'll tell you why: it is because those living on Newstart often have to choose between putting food on the table for children or going to a job interview—choosing whether to turn the heater on at night or whether they can afford petrol. They get $39 a day. Maybe those opposite cannot appreciate just how tough it is and what this means for each and every recipient. The Prime Minister has said over and over again—we hear it day in, day out—those who want a go will get a go. I say to the government again tonight: start giving a go to those people on Newstart. Why not give them the opportunity to get ahead rather than confine them to a life of poverty? It's good enough for former Prime Minister John Howard and people like Senator Dean Smith and Senator Arthur Sinodinos, people who understand that the issue of Newstart payment rates cannot continue.
Through the debate on the bills today I want to make sure we have a close look at the government's finances. I can tell you it's not good enough under this government. As much as the government would have you believe otherwise, the economy is tanking. We're navigating dangerous choppy waters. When it comes to the budget, remember that net debt has more than doubled under the government's watch and gross debt is now well over half a trillion dollars. That's a record high. The LNP went to the 2013 election claiming that there was a debt emergency. We all remember the debt trucks spiralling across the country. Since that election we've seen a debt and deficit disaster. Both kinds of debt are growing at a faster pace on the government's watch than under any previous Labor government, including that which had to deal with the GFC. This week we've seen media reports and research from across sectors and industries that proves this is the case. The new report by the Household Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia Survey, also known as HILDA, has found that living standards have stagnated since the global financial crisis and that poverty is on the rise. The report is sombre reading and is something that I would hope all members of the government are having a good look at, because something needs to be done before it's too late.
I will go through some of the economic facts, which I think are sobering. I hope the government will hear this message. The report says that household incomes are stagnating after years of weak growth and that they are now worth less than they were a decade ago. The average household income is actually $542 less than it was in 2009. Let's be crystal clear: living standards are going backwards under this government. I'll say it again: living standards are going backwards under this government. As the shadow Treasurer said, this is what happens when a third-term government has a political strategy to distract from its failures but not an economic policy to boost growth, wages and living standards. It's proof of what people I'm hearing across the community have been telling me—that wages and living standards have been going backwards and that it's becoming harder and harder to put food on the table and send kids to school under this government. Poverty has started rising in the last two years. The HILDA report author, Professor Wilkins, said that improved living standards among the poor 'had not been maintained'. He said:
We certainly hope it is a temporary blip, but it certainly does sound an alarm bell as to whether that does reflect a more sustained trend …
From where I'm sitting and from the residents that I've been speaking to—I know where hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Australians are sitting—I don't believe the government has heard these alarm bells. The government come into question time, day in, day out, telling us how strong the economy is, how they're delivering for all Australians, whose side they're on and who's getting a go or should have a go, as if you should have to tell people that you're on their side. I don't understand why anyone in government would want to have to reassure people. You would hope that the government of this country was on everyone's side and that there was not a choice to be made, but, nonetheless, I'll leave that for government members to explain. We recently found out that consumer confidence has fallen to a two-year low despite two RBA interest rate cuts and the passing of legislation for personal tax cuts. That is certainly not something I would describe as confidence in the economy.
Australians are crying out for this government to pull its socks up and actually take some meaningful and positive action to boost the national economy, but all the signs at the moment are showing that the government is not interested in doing that. I will go through some of those signs in the time I have tonight, because they show a clear and present danger. The Australian economy has slowed to its weakest level since the tail end of the GFC. Growth is just 0.4 per cent for the March quarter and 1.8 per cent for the year. Australia is still in a GDP per capita recession, with the measure having fallen for the last three quarters, for the first time since the 1982 recession. The national economy has gone from the eighth fastest-growing economy in the OECD in 2013 to the 20th. Wages are growing eight times slower than profits. Productivity has fallen for four consecutive quarters. Household spending is weak, and living standards are growing slower under the Liberals than under the previous Labor government.
These are not the signs of a strong economy, as I said. These are signs of an economy crying out for leadership and for some stimulus from a government which simply refuse to listen. They even refuse to listen to the Reserve Bank, economists and state coalition treasurers calling to bring forward infrastructure investment. We hear often about the so-called $100 billion infrastructure pipeline, but it's nothing but a pipedream, as we demonstrated last week with questions to the Deputy Prime Minister about very specific projects and very specific time lines, and he was unable to—or chose not to—provide the information.
The current Deputy Prime Minister is either not doing his job as Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, or, as I suspect, the government has no real plans for the infrastructure pipeline and the projects that this country so desperately needs to begin construction. We hear the current Deputy Prime Minister bang on about water and dams, but the government doesn't build any. They bang on about the same projects, but they don't actually deliver on what they say they're going to do—all these types of projects which generate the stimulus and, more importantly, the jobs the economy needs.
I want to speak a little bit on unemployment tonight in my remarks, because I want the chamber to remember unemployment and underemployment remain too high under this government. The latest ABS statistics for the month of June show 711,500 Australians are unemployed and more than one million are underemployed. There are more than 1.8 million Australians looking for work, or more work, and are unable to find it. Under the current government, youth unemployment remains more than double the national average, having increased to 12 per cent. More than 266,300 young Australians are unemployed, and of particular concern is the underemployment which stubbornly remains at 8.2 per cent. Coupled with increasing insecure work, this is leaving too many Australians struggling to keep up with the cost of living. This hurts the economy that matters most to families around the kitchen table. Wages are stagnant, household consumption is weak and household saving is low and, as a result work, insecure.
An honourable member: They got to keep $387 billion though.
Mr DICK: As I just heard from the interjection from those opposite, they aren't denying those figures. They know that to be the truth. There is the absence of wages growth and the cuts to penalty rates—and, let's remember, this government has delivered to workers in this country the largest pay cut since the Great Depression—and the most expensive electricity prices that our country has ever seen. And, of course, there are the spiralling costs of child care, with one-in-four families in the electorate of Oxley being worse off as a result of the government's changes.
More needs to be done to complement interest rate cuts to put more money back into people's pockets. The RBA has already made it clear that monetary policy can only do so much, and the elephant in the room here is that interest rates are already at an all-time record low—far, far below that of when Labor was dealing with the GFC—and the RBA are being left with a quickly diminishing space to move even further.
But, as I stated in my earlier remarks, I guess what really shook me last week was the demonstration of this government being so out-of-touch when the new Minister for Families and Social Services—who I had never heard of; I had to Google who Senator Anne Ruston was—said of the pension:
It is a generous amount of money that the Australian taxpayers make available to our older Australians.
I don't know about you, but when I visit pensioner groups, seniors, superannuants groups and Probus clubs and talk to them about the issues facing older Australians, not one single person comes up to me and goes, 'We have a generous amount of money.' That doesn't happen. I don't know why on earth the minister, who is responsible for that payment and who oversees policies to deal with senior Australians, thinks that's an acceptable way to treat older Australians. I don't think it is. These are Australians who have worked their entire lives. It could have been a slip of the tongue. All she needed to do is apologise for that and say, 'I got it wrong.' But she didn't do that. She simply said: 'Well, you know, in my opinion, let them eat cake! Pensioners have it too good.' I don't think that is the case, and certainly the pensioners in the Oxley electorate and, I reckon, all pensioners across Australia don't think so either.
We know that when it comes to dealing with the economy, which is entering choppy waters, and when we're dealing with transfer payments Australians are relying on to make sure that they so-called 'get ahead', they can't rely on this government. We know that the Australian people deserve a government focused on them. I certainly hope today's debate provides that as well.