Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) (15:34): It's a privilege to rise on a debate about the economy, especially after the budget we heard about last night. I say to the House: if your No. 1 attack after a budget has been delivered is 'the people on the opposite benches were not sitting correctly,' I really think you might be failing in your duty to go through the budget papers and understand what is in there.
Facts without context, as the shadow minister just put forward to the Australian public, really don't provide a narrative about what's been happening over the last three years, and I think Australians understand what has occurred over the last three years and what the government's response has been and why we need to do it. The coalition government under Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg's leadership has supported the economy, and that has meant that we have had to spend in unusual ways. JobKeeper and JobSeeker were programs that wouldn't normally come from any Australian government, let alone a coalition government, but they came because of the extraordinary circumstance of the pandemic. I can say to the Australian people and I can say to every member in this House: the government does not regret one cent that was spent on JobKeeper and JobSeeker because it guaranteed the survival of hundreds of thousands of small, medium and family businesses and supported 700,000 jobs.
So, when Labor gets up, when the shadow economic spokesperson, the shadow Treasurer, says, 'They've gone into debt,' I think Australians are smart enough to understand that yes, we have gone into debt, but we've gone into debt to deal with an extraordinary circumstance. We spent at unprecedented levels to support an economy where governments had said: 'You can't open your business. You can't leave your home. You can't go to work.' If the government didn't act, if the government didn't spend, what would have happened to those livelihoods and those jobs? Facts without context are really irrelevant. The context matters.
I think Australians know that we made the right call in supporting the economy. When the government says, 'You can't operate; you can't function; you can't live as normal,' of course the government has to step in and support these businesses and the economy. It's only proper. What's important is that the government has a plan for economic recovery, and what you heard last night from the Treasurer was that plan to recover. The coalition has a track record of supporting the economy at the right time with the temporary, targeted, proportionate measures designed to deliver that and to ensure that we do get that economic recovery as quickly as possible so people are able to grow their businesses.
It's why we're seeing unemployment now fall to record lows. It's not just unemployment; youth unemployment has fallen to levels we haven't seen in many decades. Female participation is at the highest levels we've ever seen. Female employment is at the highest levels we have ever seen. And there's more to come. The Prime Minister has committed that, if we are re-elected, we will see unemployment go into the threes. We'll see youth unemployment continue to drop. We'll see more work being done on getting people into jobs. And that economic plan is working.
We know that, of course, world events continue. Global supply chains are pushing up the cost of every single container to Australia. In a trade exposed economy that means five times the cost on every single container coming to Australia which pushes up prices. We know that the war in Ukraine means that oil prices are rising which means people are paying more at the bowser. So what's important is that a government response through a budget delivers temporary, targeted and proportionate relief, and so we have said and we have announced that it will happen in the coming weeks—that is, a cut to the cost of petrol. This is the right temporary and targeted measure, and it's temporary and targeted because we don't want to add to the inflationary pressures on our economy.
We're seeing inflation around the world worse than in Australia. Prices are going up. People are paying more for all goods and services in other countries. It's starting here, and, if the government does something to add to inflationary pressure, that won't help us. That won't help our families. What will help families is a halving of the excise on petrol. Why? Because it's a deflationary pressure on the economy. We know that most of our goods are moved in Australia by truck and road transport. We know that removing the excise by half will actually act as a deflationary pressure, at the same time as providing relief to households and family budgets. It's temporary, targeted and proportionate.
Remember, every time the shadow Treasurer gets up and says the debt's too high, that this is the shadow Treasurer who said we should continue the Jobkeeper and Jobseeker programs indefinitely. He said we should never have stopped them.
Dr Chalmers: I did not!
Mr HAWKE: You did! You criticised us for stopping them!
Dr Chalmers: I did not!
Mr HAWKE: Take a personal explanation, then, and tell us why you didn't.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The minister will pause. The minister will refer his remarks through the chair.
Mr HAWKE: Certainly, Deputy Speaker. Well, the opposition criticised us yet again, for, in a timely way, removing those supports because it was time for recovery, not time to continue those measures. What would have happened to the debt if the Labor Party had been in office, if they had continued those measures, when at the same time we saw unemployment starting to fall and the recovery on? Again, they have no idea about the real economy in Australia.
We know now that with the government's temporary, targeted and proportionate cost-of-living measures in this budget we'll see households get cost-of-living relief at the right time. These measures will go for six months. We've also increased the cost-of-living tax offset—a $420 cost-of-living tax offset, affecting more than 10 million low- and middle-income earners. Again, this is the right measure, targeted at the right income brackets, ensuring that we will have not an inflationary pressure on the economy but a deflationary pressure, as well as providing cost-of-living relief. And you can see that every part of this budget is designed to support families, to support low- and middle-income earners, to support small and medium businesses, to support those people who are doing the heavy lifting and getting the economic recovery moving.
And that's without going into detail about our support for the regions. It's a word you don't hear from the Labor Party very often, but the regions are where we get most of Australia's economic activity generated. It's where we will get more jobs growth. The only time the Labor Party cares about the regions—when the shadow Treasurer was advising the former Treasurer in the Labor government—was when they banked record-high commodity prices that were never going to last. Every budget Labor delivered came in under the revenue that they banked at record high prices.
So, imagine the shadow Treasurer standing there and saying, 'I'm worried about the debt and the deficit,' when he worked for Wayne Swan. Imagine—when he says, 'Well, why are you not paying back the debt faster?' We've got the biggest bounce back, in terms of revenue, of any budget that we've seen for a long time.
Mr HAWKE: Well, of course we have a deficit, but who's going to be better, after a pandemic—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Rankin will cease interjecting.
Mr HAWKE: to get the budget back into balance? Who's going to do that?
Mr HAWKE: Well, I look forward to seeing it. I believe that people are going to look very carefully at this analysis—that we shouldn't have spent money. The Labor Party simultaneously says we shouldn't have spent money, we shouldn't have gone into debt—even though every business, family and household was shut by the government during a pandemic—and then of course we should have kept the supports going after we'd said we were going to remove them when the economic recovery was on. And somehow that would have led to less debt and deficit and the economy would have been sustained! It is pulp fiction, this narrative from the opposition.
When they stand here and say that their main criticism is that people weren't sitting up straight, or something, in the House, you know they've got nothing. This budget is temporary, targeted at the right people—families, households, small businesses, people who earn a living, the regions, people who drive the economic recovery out there. We're going to continue to support those people through every one of our measures through a budget from the Liberal and National parties that recognises the skill shortages—driving investment in skills, and people moving to our regions and taking those jobs and also being able to start their businesses and having them accelerated through our regional accelerators.
We're seeing a record rate of apprentice take-up in Australia. That means that now, under this budget, there will be a new $2.8 billion investment to increase the take-up and completion rate of the record rate of apprentices. These are the things I hear when I speak to businesses in Australia, when I hear from the regions—mayors, people I've visited around Australia. They're talking about skills. They're talking about support for business growth. They're talking about getting people into the regions, and that's what this budget will do.
When you ask any Australian community who they would trust to run the economy, well, we put forward our track record of understanding that it is the economy that drives growth, the economy that drives jobs and that relies on small, family, medium businesses. It's the Morrison government that will continue to support those businesses, to drive that growth, to drive that job creation and to get that record level of unemployment that we're going to see get to three per cent. It will be historic, and a re-elected coalition government will deliver that record unemployment result.