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Speech on Treasurer's Failure to Address Poverty in Budget

On Wednesday 10 May 2023, I made a speech in Federal Parliament calling out the Treasurer and Labor Government's failure to support struggling Australians and address growing poverty in this year's budget. You can watch the speech here or read the full transcript below.

E WATSON-BROWN: I'm currently running a survey on housing in my electorate. The responses have been astonishing and heartbreaking. I've heard from renters struggling with exorbitant rent increases and mortgage holders being pushed to their absolute limit by interest rates hikes: cutting back on groceries to only bare essentials, no longer able to pay for preventative health care or exercise. Only recently one person shared with me that, even with a full-time job, they've had to rely on family support and food banks just to get by. There are families living in cars and tents in Ryan—in Australia. Shame!

Is this the Australia we want? It's not the Australia that I or the overwhelming majority of Australians want, but it's the Australia that the Treasurer seems to be more than happy with. Budgets, more than words, reveal who's side a government is on. With this budget, Labor have shown clear as day that they are on the side of billionaires, of big coal and gas corporations and of property moguls. They are not on the side of everyday Australians struggling with the cost of living. The Treasurer talks of $14.6 billion in cost-of-living relief. Sounds big, right? But that's actually over the next four years, so, in fact, it's only about $3½ billion dollars. Sounds a bit less now, doesn't it? If you divided that evenly across the population, that's $137 each a year. Sounds quite small now, right? Well, it gets worse. That $3.5 billion is one-eighth of what the government is spending each year on tax cuts for the very wealthy. It is one-quarter of what the government is shelling out each year on those nuclear subs that we don't need. It's one-fifth of the government subsidies to property investors every year, and it's far less than this government pays to fossil fuel corporations. The federal government is also spending twice that amount, about $7 billion, on the Brisbane Olympics. Make absolutely no mistake: cost-of-living relief is not a priority in this budget.

So spare us the 'difficult decisions' rhetoric, Treasurer. You didn't make difficult decisions in this budget. Difficult decisions are the ones millions of Australians are making every day, and your budget will not make any difference for those having to make those decisions. Your budget will change nothing for families having to choose between paying for groceries or filling up their car. None of the, frankly tokenistic, cost-of-living relief is going to help my constituent who told me they are under such severe mortgage stress that they can no longer afford meat for their family. An extra $1.15 in rent assistance a day is not going to help renters facing eviction after a $150-a-week increase.

But, wow, congratulations on the surplus, Treasurer! Gold star! I'm sure that a surplus is really comforting to people out there on the brink of homelessness, people who are unable to afford anything more than the barest essentials at the supermarket or people struggling to pay to heat their homes this winter.

There's an alternative. If we got rid of the stage 3 tax cuts and the nuclear subs, and if we made multinational companies pay their fair share, we would have well over half a trillion dollars to provide real cost-of-living relief. And here's what we could do with that. We could invest $5 billion in public and affordable housing each year and build enough homes to ensure everyone has a secure place to live. Surely that's what we want, isn't it? We could wipe out all student debt. We could freeze power bills at their pre-crisis levels and substantially invest in cheap and reliable renewable energy to bring down power prices long-term. We could raise the aged pension and JobSeeker, as my colleague mentioned, over the poverty line. We could make public transport free for everyone. This is the money we could have. We could fully fund our healthcare system by putting dental and mental health into Medicare. We could fully fund our public schools and eliminate out-of-pocket costs for parents.

The government wants you to believe that genuine help for struggling Australians is impossible, but ask yourself this: why can they find the $368 billion for subs and $254 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy, but only $3.5 billion for cost-of-living relief? Why? Thank you.

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