Government Performance

8 Mar 2023

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Parliament

This is a serious matter of public importance put forward by the member for Sandringham in regard to the cost-of-living crisis. Costs are massively, massively rising across the board, and workers have experienced the biggest real-wage cut on record – back to 2010 levels. People are being pushed even further to the margins. Those on the margins are being pushed off the cliff. Poverty is rising, more people are requiring material support, like food, like clothing. Homelessness continues to rise, and people are struggling to pay the rent, pay the mortgage, pay the bills, put food on the table or access health care. And even prior to the current crisis, so many people, particularly young people, were in a precarious position, with unaffordable housing, costs like schooling and low wage growth. In addition to this we now have the current high inflation – yes, driven by, obviously, the economic upheaval following the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but importantly what has been found is that it certainly has not been driven by wages but in fact has been driven by corporate profits, sustained low wage growth over years and sustained corporate profiteering. And it is absolutely galling that as this crisis is hitting people at home, where increasing corporate profits are part of the cause – you have got Coles and Woolies putting up prices, you have got banks profiteering off interest rate rises – the solution on the table from the Reserve Bank is to simply make things worse for people at home and give the big banks even more of a chance to profiteer. And the risk they cite is not even more corporate profits adding to inflation but perpetuating this myth of a wage-price spiral.

And so people are rightly angry at the Reserve Bank of Australia for putting up interest rates. But more than that, people are fed up with a broken and unfair economic system – an ideology, a neoliberal ideology, that for far too long was favouring the big end of town, the people who have the most, perpetuating this myth of trickle-down economics instead of creating a society that we actually want to live in.

As I said, even outside of this cost-of-living crisis, a society like ours should not have people without a safe and secure place to call home. It should not have people going hungry. It should not have people living in poverty. It should not have people unable to access health care, mental health care and social services, people who cannot travel to work, education and training. Poverty and the society that we live in is a political choice, and the government’s role is central, is absolutely central, to making sure that everyone has what they need to live a decent life.

Now, I think it is only fair in this debate that we put solutions on the table, and to be honest, I have not heard many that have actually been put on the table beyond the bickering between the two parties. There has been lots of raising of complaints and issues but very little in regard to solutions. I think we need to absolutely guard against this myth that with the upcoming budgets there is no money, that the government cannot afford what we need, that the government is going to have to cut back because the budget is tight. The government could be raising billions of dollars of revenue from making the profiteering big banks, the property developers and the gambling industry pay their fair share, and it could be saving billions by moving away from the policies of mass incarceration and embracing real criminal justice reforms. One of the things that I have found appalling, certainly in my time here, has been the billions of dollars that has been spent on creating new prisons whilst we are in a housing and homelessness crisis – what a failure of social policy.

Now, I do want to mention at the federal level this is the case even more so. When you look at Labor and Liberal, they are in lock step over these stage 3 tax cuts on track to essentially what is very close to a flat tax system whilst leaving the rate of income support, which keeps people below the poverty line, unchanged. Increasing the low rate of income support should be a state issue. As I said to the Premier last week, he does not back away from advocating in federal policy areas when he thinks it is in the interest of Victorians. Leaving the rate of income support, leaving people in poverty, not only is that bad for people – we are keeping people in poverty – but it is a massive example of cost shifting from federal to state, because obviously people in poverty are then having to access already overstretched housing and homelessness services, already overstretched social services. People are landing up in crisis in our hospital system. This government should be advocating to the federal government, to the Prime Minister, to lift the rate of income support and to abolish the stage 3 tax cuts and reinvest that money from people who have the most to people who need it the most.

Now in regard to state issues that can address the cost of living, of course no doubt the housing crisis has really been a key focus for myself and the Greens for many years now. That is why on day one of this Parliament I introduced a private members bill to make housing a human right, to set a target for the building of public housing homes and to set a target for the funding of homelessness services. And that bill would have an aim to end homelessness by 2030. I do believe that is something that is achievable as a state, and it should be an aim for our state. The reality is there is not enough public housing being built. The waiting list continues to grow. Homelessness services do not have enough funding. They are having to turn people away.

I mean, cutting the From Homelessness to a Home program – this was supposed to be an example of what could potentially be used to end homelessness. The minister at the time said so himself, and if we can have a program like this during a pandemic, we can have it outside the pandemic.

We need to be much more interventionist in the housing system. We do need rent controls to stop these massive rent increases. We do need proper regulation of short-stays to free up housing supply. The government does need to reform stamp duty. We are seeing this taking place in the ACT; New South Wales is going in that direction. It is a reform that needs to happen in this term of Parliament to lower the up-front costs of housing.

Wages need to increase. It is extraordinary that in a time of low wage growth and high inflation we have already seen that this idea of wages adding to inflation is just not the case, and that the government has an official policy to keep wages low, representing a massive wage cut, a real wage cut, not just for public sector workers. It is clear that the government having an official wages policy that is low sends a signal to the private sector that they can keep wages low as well.

I want to touch on health. We have got the potential collapse of the bulk-billing system across the country. Now, the Premier is right to raise it as an issue, but he seems to be ignoring that the state government also has responsibility for some primary care. We have got massive waiting lists for things like public dental. The community health services are crying out for more funding, and they can provide more free GPs, more free dentists to people who need it most.

And of course when it comes to bills, we have got to get houses off fossil fuels and off gas, make the transition to cleaner, greener more energy-efficient homes and certainly not drill for more gas. So look, this is possible. We can have the society that we want to live in. We can end poverty. We can end homelessness. And we can make sure that everyone has what they need to live a decent life.

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