By Jim Hayes
Hours before Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivers this year’s budget, the big issue is the rising cost of living beginning to push down the standard of living for millions of Australians. Instead of addressing this, the Morrison government is set on a $26 billion pork barrelling spree to shore up its fracturing political base in marginal seats.
These electorates will get new roads. Some will get new railway stations and upgraded rail lines. In some cases, there will be new car parks. Although these giveaways are not bad in themselves, they become a problem when designed to buy votes, and attention on them takes attention away from what should be the main concern. The pressure on living standards calls for urgent action.
This is about justice in fairly sharing the wealth we all create. It is also about setting a solid foundation for the future of the Australian economy. Increasing the capacity to participate through work and as a citizen are needed.
Costs of daily necessities are going up. The consumer price index, the measure the government uses, says prices are set to rise by 3.5 percent this year. But the consumer price index removes the top and bottom 15 percent of price rises and therefore underestimates the true situation. For example, the biggest price rise in in the cost of housing. On top of this, Important items are left out altogether, such as the cost of access to computer technology and the internet.
In the United States, the economy into which Australia’s is substantially integrated, is expected to experience inflation of at least 7.9 percent. This will have a flow through effect into Australia. In short, the cost of living is rising and set to rise even higher.
The rising frequency and severity of natural disasters must be factored in. The burden of rebuilding from the damage has an impact on living standards, and the damage to agriculture raises the price of food. Australia is already feeling the cost of climate change, and this is going to get worse, if we continue on the same trajectory.
Is the budget going to deal with the problem of falling living standards?
This will require more than a few roads, stations, railway lines, and car parks. It would mean measures to raise wages and create real jobs. It would mean lifting social security payments, so that the least well off are able to maintain a basic standard of living. It would mean measures that will lead to lowering the cost of housing. It would mean spending more on health an education and making them affordable. It would mean lowering the price of petrol at the bowser.
Tackling the cost-of-living problem means taking sufficient action on climate change by shifting form dependence on fossil fuels and having a plan for transition into a sustainable economy. Without this, the rest will ultimately fail.
None of this is likely to be taken on in today’s budget.