12 May 2021

Questions without Notice: Take note of answers

It’s always good to hear my good friend on the other side of the aisle, Senator Hughes, talking about numbers and economics, as if the Liberal Party are the only ones that can understand such concepts. But what they fail to understand is the very question that Senator Wong asked today of Senator Birmingham, who is meant to be the Minister for Finance in relation to page 37, These were very simple questions with respect to cuts to real wages. When you do look at the numbers and you do look at the figures in Budget Paper No. 1 on page 37, it is very clear that there is a cut from 1.8 down to 1.25. That is simple accounting. I don’t know what you want to call it, Senator Hughes, but that is very simple maths when it comes to very clear cuts to real wages for Australian workers by this federal government, the Morrison Liberal-National government. Let’s not forget that: black and white, on page 37. Yet they couldn’t answer that simple question—three simple questions, in fact—that Senator Wong put to Senator Birmingham. It took a while for the government to finally acknowledge: yes, $1 trillion of debt. Who would have thought? I remember going to uni, studying economics, and never in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined being in this place confronted with $1 trillion of debt and growing.

Senator Ruston: You missed the pandemic, did you?

Senator CICCONE: I did not miss the pandemic, Minister. It is just amazing when those opposite try to lecture us on this side that they somehow are better economic managers than we are, but quite frankly the record speaks for itself. Once again what we’ve had is more spin than substance, and we know that this budget that was handed down last night is by no means a budget whose purpose is to support working people. Nor is it a budget that does what it takes to usher forward the recovery of the Australian economy from the pandemic, and this should hardly be surprising. After eight long years under the Liberal-National government, we’ve all become rather used to budgets like these. One only has to look at the flop of last year’s budget’s JobMaker scheme, with the headline of 450,000 new jobs. Where are they, Minister? Come on: 450,000 jobs—where are they? Yet the budget is forecasting that we maintain migration levels at 160,000, so this government’s priority is bringing more foreign workers into this country rather than supporting local Australians in finding work. Unemployment is at around five to six per cent, and that will fluctuate.

Senator Ruston interjecting

Senator CICCONE: It will, yet this government has no incentives encouraging those people to find work. There are lots of businesses around the country right now who are screaming blue murder. They need workers. They need help. What are the incentives for getting those people into a job? It feels like this budget is all about trying to make sure that we can get migrants into this country—cooks, chefs, nurses. Are we really not in a position to train our young people for these jobs?

Senator Ruston: Did you miss the training stuff?

Senator CICCONE: Don’t you worry, Minister; I’ll be going through this and I’ll be making my contributions in this place and making my views well known about this government’s lack of history of supporting traineeships, because what we’ve seen is a cut, not an increase, in support. You’ve taken $400 million out of universities—come on!—at a time when we need to be upskilling people.

Senator Ruston: You’re not this stupid; stop it!

Senator CICCONE: Come on, Minister. We know the facts: 12 months on we know that the JobMaker scheme, originally funded for $4 billion, has actually delivered only $100 million of that amount, and only 2.5 per cent of what was spruiked has actually made it out the door. I don’t have much time left, but I did also want to touch on the fact that household debt in Australia is at scary levels. We are looking at household debt of around 185 per cent when you look at the ratios. How on earth can people pay off their debt when this government keeps cutting wages of Australian workers? You are, and shame on the government.