Mr DICK (Oxley) (12:44): I rise to speak on today's appropriation bills but also to strongly support the second reading amendment. Whilst this may be a third-term government, they are certainly, looking at their performance, a third-rate government when it comes to delivering for the Australian people. It's hard to know where to begin in describing the failures and continuing embarrassment that is this coalition government. That's why I am glad about this second reading amendment regarding their six years of office and the floundering economy. Every week, we see an internal battle, and day after day we see headlines about the
government being more interested in fighting with each other or looking after themselves than looking after the Australian people. Obviously, that is because there is pretty hardcore evidence on a daily basis around what the Prime Minister knows, or who knew, about the sports rorts—but I'll come back to that a little later. Perhaps I'll start with the decay of the government's credentials when it comes to the budget and managing the economy. We're starting to hear excuse after excuse as to why the economy is struggling on the government's watch. I want to make it crystal clear that the government has to take responsibility for an economy that was floundering well before the impact of the summer bushfires and well before the outbreak of the horrific
coronavirus. I quickly bring the chamber's attention to the MYEFO 2019-20, where we saw economic growth and wages downgraded, and unemployment upgraded. That's from the government's own records, that's for everyone to see. And we're dealing with the appropriations bills today.
Blind Freddy could have told you this was going to happen with the government's overambitious accounting. Who can forget the spin and marketing technique of all those coffee cups with 'Back in black' on them, coming off the conveyor belt as quickly as possible? There was the black-and-white silhouette photo of the Prime Minister —a wonderful marketing technique, wonderful marketing tool. Perhaps there was a song, a jingle? They're really good at the jingles, really good at the ads. We saw it in the bushfires. They're really, really good at promotion— self-promotion, I should say. But I somehow suspect those 'Back in black' coffee cups are being packed away, put in boxes, sent back to the distributor or marked down to only $5. 'Let's hide all of that.' We will see about that.
So, faced with the prospect of a hollow and broken promise to the Australian people, we're seeing these excuses being trotted out time and time again. We all know that wages growth is still at record lows, and there are almost two million Australians looking for work or for more work. That's two million Australians without enough money in their pockets every single day. Yet we see no meaningful action from this government to actually fix the issue, happy to let the status quo go on. We can't hide from these facts. The government doesn't ever really talk about debt. But I put it on the record again: net debt has more than doubled. In the 2019-20 MYEFO, we saw that budget surpluses over the forward estimates have halved. So the dream or fantasy of a growing economy, more jobs and increased wages from a government without a plan to achieve this is now unravelling. What do you expect from a government that doesn't support wage growth? The
finance minister said low wages were a feature of their economic plan—not a plan to increase wages, not a plan to increase the standard of living of working Australians, but a deliberate economic plan to keep wages low.
More Australians are looking for work. We are seeing a struggling retail sector, and a budget bottom line that is growing more out of control day by day.
The economy is floundering because the government had a plan to buy the election—subset 'sports rorts'—but not a plan to boost wages or growth, or see the economy grow. We know that the impact of the bushfires and coronavirus cannot be ignored. We know that the government, I think it would be fair to say, or kind to say, mishandled the bushfires—and with the Prime Minister being overseas, the defence minister being on holidays. We saw the terrible response: 'Nothing to see here; fires happen all the time. We don't need the Army. We don't need the ADF deployed. We've got it all under control.' And then we saw the whole scenario spin out of their control. We saw handshakes that people didn't want to have. We saw a whole lot of spin and marketing—TV
ads, all sorts of things—but not actually a plan to deal with one of the greatest natural disasters our country has ever seen. Obviously I place on record today my deepest condolences for those who tragically lost their lives and those businesses that have been smashed.
I welcome the announcement this morning by the leader the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, and the shadow minister, Brendan O'Connor, and their support for small business, making sure that when communities need support they get it. This is an area where I think we can work in a bipartisan way. Just as we saw the Labor leader lead over the summer by constructive, positive policies to help those communities get through the natural disaster, now we're seeing constructive, positive policies by our shadow minister, Brendan O'Connor, and the Labor leader
to get those small business communities. I want to commend the work of the members for Macquarie, EdenMonaro and Gilmore—Fiona Phillips—who have done an outstanding job in working with their small business communities. But we know that the government can do more. We know that they control the levers, and we know that those small businesses are hurting. As the member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman, said today, some of those businesses weren't affected or destroyed by fire, but they may as well have been. It is time for the so-called the party of small business to stand up and back in what the small business communities are asking
to get more support.
New research by Fidelity International shows that health care, education, insurance and child care are just some of the many mandatory cost of living expenses that have rocketed way above wage and salary growth over the past two decades. In my time remaining I want to focus on child care, which is up 97 per cent, while housing is up 94 per cent and food and non-alcoholic beverages are up 62 per cent, while the average inflation rate was just 2.5 per cent. The Sydney Morning Herald report said:
In the past year alone, while inflation remained relatively muted at 1.7 per cent in the year ended September 30, we saw big price hikes in tobacco (8.4 per cent), domestic holidays, travel and accommodation (7.3 per cent) … However, by far the largest price rises in the past 20 years is in private secondary school education – up a whopping 203 per cent – and private pre-school and primary education (up 159 per cent) … The cost of medical and hospital care has almost trebled in the past 20 years. Integrity Life managing director Chris Powell says the hike means many families are now trying to cut corners to save money by forgoing emergency protection products such as total and permanent disability, life and health insurance.
The price of insurance itself has jumped about 118 per cent. All of these massive increases have happened whilst wage growth remains uncomfortably stagnant under this government. The member for Cowan and myself were out in our communities on the weekend. This is not an
unfamiliar story that we hear at coffee shops, at muffin breaks, at street corner meetings—all over the place— where the community talks to us about what is happening in the economy. 'The economy is not working for me.' We're seeing people looking for work who can't get jobs. We're seeing the cost of living rising through the roof. We hear this day in, day out. People genuinely ask, 'What is my government doing about this? Not making coffee cups saying 'back in the black'; not talking about everything other than the economy. We see a government focused on funding programs skewed to one side of politics; we see internal fights within the National Party like
we have never seen; but we're not seeing an economic plan for this country. They have no plan and no idea when it comes to actually delivering, with the cost of living the way it is.
One of the issues I have been championing in the last parliament and this parliament, because I have seen it firsthand while working with welfare agencies and support groups, is the issue of short-term loans, also known as payday lending. This feeds into that data I was talking about before, where everything is going up except wages. People are turning to all sorts of short-term finance just to pay the bills. Your car might break down; there might be a problem with the roof; you might have health care costs; so you turn to immediate sources of income. I want to place on record today data recently released by the Consumer Action Law Centre and the Stop the Debt
Trap alliance, which shows that the number of households currently holding a payday loan is fast approaching the one million mark. These payday loans are almost exclusively used by people on low or very low incomes to try and keep their heads above water, when, as I said in my earlier remarks, you've got flatlining wages and low incomes as, I guess, proud hallmarks of this government. Research has shown that more than 15 per cent of people who take out a
payday loan will fall into a debt cycle, with outrageous fees and interest rates of almost 900 per cent. Because of this, an estimated 324,000 households have been allowed to enter a debt path that might result in bankruptcy. This represents a rise of 23.13 per cent of all borrowers, with 41 per cent being women and single parents.
I have been campaigning on this for about two to three years. I introduced a private member's bill, which used the government's own wording—until the hard Right of the Liberal Party and the economic vandals got their hands on that legislation and ripped it away from the former financial services minister, the Hon. Kelly O'Dwyer, and the former Deputy Prime Minister, who supported that legislation. For roughly four years consumers have been ripped off under a government that is not delivering increasing wages and has been seeing the cost of living going right through the roof because it doesn't want to introduce legislation that can help people with financial reform. We have had a succession of ministers through the portfolio. The latest minister, Minister Sukkar, has of course, ignored the issue. He's sat on his hands and done absolutely nothing, while consumers in my electorate, in the member for Cowan's electorate, in the electorate of the shadow minister
at the table, and those in just about every other electorate in Australia, have been ripped off by these loan sharks. This is an important issue—when you're buying a fridge that should cost $400 but ends up costing $4,000 due to payday loans and leasing! This week we find out that payday lenders are rebranding themselves as hipster fintech credit and buy-now pay-later providers. They are abusing screen scrapers to scrape out when consumers' bank balances hit a low point before hitting them with pressure marketing for high-cost loans. These reports are really disturbing. That is the reality painted by Drew MacRae, the policy and advocacy officer at the Financial Rights Legal Centre, who is staring down a barrage of intense lobbying by the Australian FinTech centre to legitimise screen scraping under open banking and a review of transaction liability regulations.
We know that there is a simple solution to these customers being ripped off. The government know it. They did a report and a review that made 22 recommendations. Two of those recommendations—
Dr Aly: Where is it?
Mr DICK: That's a good question. I'll take that interjection. Whilst more and more Australians are being ripped off under payday lending, we know that this government doesn't want to take action. There was a Prime Minister once who did want to take action on this: Malcolm Turnbull. He wrote to me and said—
Mr Pasin interjecting—
Mr DICK: I know that the member for Barker is not a big fan of the former Prime Minister.
Mr Pasin: That's an overstatement.
Mr DICK: He says it's an overstatement. I won't be distracted by the interjections. I know that when he wrote to me and said, 'Legislation will be brought before this House'—two weeks later he was rolled for the current Prime Minister.
The consumers that I represent—and my electorate has some of the highest payday lender rip-offs of any electorate in Australia. I want to make it clear: this is an issue that welfare agencies, churches and consumer advocates all across Australia are calling for action on. There is no reason for this government not to take action, apart from the fact that the payday lenders themselves are placing enormous pressure on this government not to take action. I will keep calling out their behaviour. I will keep calling out the fact that Australians are being ripped off. They don't like it when I say that. They write to me. They send me emails. They will even meet with
me and say, 'If these reforms are passed, we don't care; they're not going to do anything.' Why do they care about them then? What's the big deal?
We know the recommendations on small amount credit leasing, which the government have been sitting on for over four years now, demonstrate that they can take action. The government brought in legislation; they did a draft exposure. They brought it in. Minister McCormack, who was the small business minister and is now the
Deputy Prime Minister—I've had private conversations with members from the National Party as well, who have
come up to me and go, 'Keep going with it; we really want to do it.' (Time expired)