Thursday 18th May 2023

Topics: April labour force figures, small business rising costs, JobSeeker, Labor’s infrastructure review


DARREN PILCHER: Hello, I just want to thank these good people for coming and hearing my story today in my café. I’ve been here, eight and a half years and as we all know, things aren’t getting tougher, it’s harder for all of us. So, we have a few different issues and challenges out there with employment on the Sunshine Coast and everywhere. I’ve been lucky enough just to get one latest employee, it took me four months to get this last employee, whereas in the good old days, it would take a day to get 80 applicants and then you’d interview and go from there. So, things are pretty tough, in that situation. We also have, of course, rising costs, so with energy also produce, everything going up. Unfortunately, in small business, we can’t redo a menu every month because the menu costs $500 by the time you print it and laminate it. So just because our prices go up every month doesn’t mean that we pass those costs on to our customers every month. We also by doing that, we’re lowering our profit obviously, but I feel if we can do that and keep bringing people back to our business to help keep it going. But things are biting out there, whereas my regulars used to have coffee and cake, now they’ll just have coffee.

An example with my eggs, my eggs have gone up around $20 a carton in the last few months. So that’s a real one. My power used to be $35 a day, is now $55 a day and gas from around $98 for 45 kilos at the moment it’s 122 (kilos) so that has gone up as high as $150. So, all these things hurt. So, means we do more hours as small business operators, and we get to see our family less.

TED O’BRIEN: Firstly, I just want to acknowledge that here we are in beautiful Maroochydore at Beach Street Deli Cafe that Darren Pilcher has managed now for well over eight years. And I can assure you that the hospitality, the food, the drink is every bit as spectacular as is his position directly opposite the Maroochydore Beach. Also delighted to have here today the Shadow Treasurer, Angus Taylor, as well as the Shadow Attorney General and Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relation, Michaelia Cash. We’re here to listen to the challenges faced by small businesses across the Sunshine Coast. Only a week ago, we heard from the Albanese Labor Government, its budget, which locks in high prices, high taxes, high mortgages, and it’s middle Australia that cops it the worst. It’s middle Australia, like Darren, who owns small businesses, employs locals. It’s also middle Australia, who works in this such businesses. They’re the ones that are copping higher prices. And right across the Sunshine Coast, we hear echoes of what Darren has told us today, prices are going up. In particular input costs, energy prices, here at this one café Darren has seen his electricity prices go up by nearly 60 per cent over the last 12 months. He’ll come off contract in six months time, and they’re going to skyrocket even further. Forecasts are that for small businesses, they’ll see price rises in electricity of over 30 per cent. That’s how high some small businesses will cop it even further after July one this year. Why? Because we have the Albanese Labor Government with a suite of policies that are forcing up prices for people, their only solution is taxes. Now, as we know prices go up, mortgages go up. When taxes go up, everybody hurts and that is what we are seeing on the ground and that’s why it’s important that we have both the Shadow AG Employment Workplace Relations Minister and Shadow Treasurer with us today. And with that, I’ll pass over to Michaelia.

MICHAELIA CASH: Thank you so much Ted and it is absolutely fantastic to be on the ground with you and Angus Taylor, and just out and about talking to people in middle Australia. The story that we have heard this morning from Darren is just now so typical of stories that we’re hearing, it doesn’t matter what state you’re in, the story of middle Australia is the same. There costs of living are rising, their cost of doing business are rising and what’s Mr Albanese doing for them? Absolutely nothing. And we’ve seen more concerning figures come out today with the release of the April labour force figures. We’ve seen unemployment in Australia now rise to 3.7% and against all market expectations, the economy actually shed in excess of 4000 jobs, but what we also saw was an increase in the number of hours worked by those that were already employed and in particular, over that Easter period. What does that say? Well, that says, people like Darren, they find it hard to find labor. So, what they’re doing is they’re asking their employees, the ones who are currently on the books to work more hours, and the employees are doing that. But they’re doing it because they themselves need more money, because of the impact of the decisions made by the Albanese Government, which means that their costs of living are rising. So again, Darren’s story is just so typical of a story that we are now hearing across Middle Australia and the bad news for people like Darren, for small business owners, and for middle Australia, is last Tuesday night, the Prime Minister, he showed you, he has nothing for you. There was nothing on offer in that budget for middle Australia. The Coalition on the other hand, we are focused on measures that will strengthen the economy. We want to see people in middle Australia, people like Darren, who are just hard-working people out there running a business, giving jobs to other Australians, we want them to get rewarded for their effort. What we don’t want to see is for them to become Mr Albanese’s working poor.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Great. Thanks Michaelia, great to be with you and with Ted here in Maroochydore, hardworking, local member in this area and of course, Darren, who is absolutely one of those hardworking Australians trying to get ahead, which is what this budget should have been all about and sadly, it wasn’t. Right now hardworking Australians wanting to get ahead are really feeling the pinch, dramatic increases in the costs of everything, whether you’re in business, or trying to make ends meet in a household, you’re struggling with that rising cost of living, rising cost of mortgages, rising cost of energy, rising taxes, and rising everything else. And that pain is really being felt. Now, the truth of the matter is that the Labor Government had an opportunity in this budget to deliver for those Australians and they failed. And they failed because they didn’t demonstrate the fiscal restraint required to take pressure off the Reserve Bank, $185 billion of extra spending in this budget, and meanwhile, the real wages of Australians are going down. They failed to deal with the pressures in areas like energy, they failed to deal with the pressures of getting more Australians in work, or at least giving them the incentive to do that and we’ve seen that with their approach to our JobSeeker proposal. And of course, they’ve failed by raising taxes for Australians on franking credits, on superannuation, and we’re seeing the average income tax go up as inflation is bearing down on Australians with bracket creep. So, these are real pains being felt. It’s a missed opportunity from Labor. We’ve seen it talking to Darren today and I’m sure we’ll see it again and again around Australia in the coming weeks and months.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the unemployment rate that was just released.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, let me make a couple of comments about the figures that came out today and I think Michaelia summarised it well. So, it’s good to see a strong labor market. There’s no question about that. I mean, we all want to see that. The reality embedded in these figures, is Australians having to work harder to make ends meet. The hours worked in these numbers that came out today from the ABS have increased for Australians and we know why that is. On the one hand, employers are needing their workers to work more because they can’t fill their vacancies but on the other hand, Australians are having to work more to make ends meet and the reason for that is real wages have gone down under Labor. And the real question I ask every day to Australians is – ‘Are you feeling better off than a year ago’? And the answer is no, we’re feeling worse. And the truth of the matter is real wages have gone down. Inflation has gone up much faster than wages and Australians are having to work more hours to make ends meet, to be able to pay for their kids sporting clubs, to be able to pay to go on holiday. We heard from Darren just a moment ago we’re seeing less foot traffic here from tourists and that’s real pain being felt by Australians who aren’t able to get away on a family holiday like they might have in the past.

JOURNALIST: Would you support a 7 per cent increase to minimum wage workers?

ANGUS TAYLOR: You know, what we want to see is higher real wages. We’ll leave the Fair Work Commission to make a decision on this is an independent commission and it should be, and Michaelia might make some comments on this as well. But the way to get real wages up, to make sure Australians are better off, make sure Australians can make ends meet, is to get inflation down. Labor said this was going to be a budget focused on fighting inflation first, we saw the exact opposite and that was the huge disappointment, I think, certainly for me, for my colleagues, and I think right across Australia, it was a missed opportunity.

MICHAELIA CASH: Yeah no, absolutely, and I mean, as Angus said we all want to see higher real wages, and the Fair Work Commission are in the best possible position to actually work out what that wage increase should be. They are independent, and we respect they’re independent. They take evidence across the board, whether it’s from unions, employees, employers, the Government makes a submission, but ultimately, they are in the best possible position. But as Angus said, we all want to see real wage increases. That is what Mr. Albanese promised the Australian people prior to the election, and he has failed in the first year of government to deliver those real wage increases. In fact, you know, people are battling a three point, I think it’s 7 per cent increase versus 7 per cent inflation. That is a huge gap that Australians are now feeling, but again, the Fair Work Commission is the most appropriate independent body because of the information that it analyses across the board.

JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton in his speech to the APPEA said the Coalition would reverse the market intervention measures imposed by the Albanese Government is the Coalition for or against changes to the RRT.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, let’s be clear, it’s death by 1000 cuts to gas suppliers in this country, to energy suppliers in this country to wait, there’s many things to be done. They’ve hit these businesses with the safeguard mechanism, they’ve hit them with price caps, they’ve hit them with getting rid of carbon capture and storage initiatives. They’ve made approvals much more difficult, they’ve delayed approvals, and now they’re hitting them with another tax. That particular initiative will go through the normal processes as we do. We’re dealing with it, but I have to say, if you want the price of something to go down, you don’t hit it with another tax. That’s not the answer to getting the price of something down and we want the price of energy down in this country that’s absolutely a priority, the priority when it comes to energy for us, and Ted might want to add to that.

TED O’BRIEN: What Angus says is dead right. The priority is to get prices down and Australian economics. Price is a function of supply and demand if you suffocate supply, well, at the end of the day, prices go up, and that is precisely what is happening under the Labor Government. You know, we’ve got to make sure that we have supply available for Australian businesses, Australian households, and the more that Labor takes action, to strangle supply, the more people have to pay for it. And these are the same people in middle Australia that are paying more for everything. And that translates into paying more for your groceries, paying more for laying a concrete slab. I mean, this is exactly what Labor is doing. It is driving up prices and it’s middle Australia that is copping it.

JOURNALIST: And do Australians doing it tough deserve to see some benefits from the minerals and resources being taken underneath their feet when companies make big profits?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I mean, I think it’s very important that when companies are making good profits that they pay good tax, and they absolutely are. I mean, the reason why the budget is in surplus or one of the reasons is that we’ve had extraordinary strength in commodity prices. That’s a good thing. It’s good for Australia, it’s good for the budget, we’ve got a Western Australia here, Michaelia, of course, it’s her state, as is Queensland are absolutely central to achieving that outcome and it means that we’re in a strong position. That helps us to pay for the roads and the other infrastructure we need. It helps us to pay for the services we need, the health and education and so that’s a good thing. And long may it continue because the strength of those export sectors in Australia, in agriculture, in mining, in minerals, in downstream processing, all of those sectors are hugely important to our economy. If they’re strong, Australia’s strong and they pay good tax, and we can use that tax for all those things we need.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us how the coalition’s proposed changes to the JobSeeker policy would help people like Darren?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, I mean, the whole point of these policies is to give people more of an incentive to work extra hours or to get into work, perhaps more important, and help people like Darren with getting access to the people they need. I mean, we’ve heard a story today about putting on a new person – five months, five months. So, it’s a long time period to be looking for someone to work in a business like this and in the meantime, everyone else has to work a lot harder. So, it will help with that, and I’ll give you a sense of the magnitude of this. What we’re suggesting will mean that someone who is getting into work who is currently on JobSeeker, will in fact, get double or more of the after-tax pay. Now, that’s a huge incentive to want to get into work. A huge incentive to get into work. And, you know, Labor running around saying, oh, people won’t work for double a wage, I mean, really, come on. It is a big incentive. It’s why we propose this for pensioners, and why we’re now proposing it for job seekers. And it’s an important way to help businesses like Darren’s and help those job seekers as well.

JOURNALIST: Can you also talk about Labor’s infrastructure review? We have two critical projects here that have been subject to that review. What’s your thoughts on that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, couple of comments, and I’m sure Ted will want to add to that. Labor is proposing a massive population growth for Australia in the coming years, and we believe strongly in a well-managed immigration program in this country. It’s been a great part of our success as a nation, but it has to be well managed and if the infrastructure is not supporting that growth, that program will fail. We’ve seen it in the past, and you’ll see it again, if it’s not well managed and it’s why these infrastructure projects, like the ones that are proposed here, I think it’s a road and rail project, that are hugely important to supporting the growth, the phenomenal growth we’ve seen in this region in recent years, which is a good thing, but it’s got to be managed and it’s got to make sure that communities remain strong. Ted might want to add to that.

TED OBRIEN: Thanks, I will add to that. The key is to ensure we build infrastructure ahead of the population curve, and the population is coming. They’re coming in droves, but this Labor Government has decided to put a big fat question mark over all key infrastructure projects. Here on the Sunshine Coast alone the Coalition Government had fully budgeted for a rail line all the way through the Maroochydore CBD – $1.6 billion. We had also committed $160 million for the Mooloolah River Interchange, to basically bust a congestion point, a real pain point for local communities. That project too is under question. You can’t have major infrastructure projects on the chopping block at the very same time when you have a bursting population. You know, we’re less than 10 years now away from hosting the world at the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and yet Labor is dragging its heels. These are fully budgeted for projects, and they’ve got a question mark over them. What’s worse with the Mooloolah River Interchange at a time of a housing crisis we have nearly 400 people evacuated from a community for that project, gone, without homes, and now Labor is saying, we don’t know if that project is going to go ahead at all. Now, these projects were fully funded, fully budgeted for they should be getting delivered now, they’re shovel ready, but yet again, Labor is making its decision to hold back on key productive infrastructure. They don’t care about productivity; all they care about is taxing people. Taxing, taxing, taxing, and it’s the middle Australia that’s going to cop it in the neck, including residents of the Sunshine Coast, as roads and rail fail to get delivered.

JOURNALIST: Ted, we’ve just seen the latest unemployment figures. Can you give us a bit of an idea of how the Sunshine Coast is fairing on that front?

TED O’BRIEN: Well, the Sunshine Coast is more fortunate than a lot of regions in Australia and we are blessed because we have had a lower unemployment rate, as well as lower youth unemployment rate than other places. But as we’ve heard from Darren here today, one of the real challenges we have with businesses is getting people into work. Now unless we have the incentives in place, because we still have a lot of people searching for work. Just because we have a lower unemployment rate in this region, doesn’t mean we don’t have thousands of people still looking for work. They need to be encouraged to work; we need to incentivise people. And that’s a big difference between what Peter Dutton presented last week, and what Albanese presented. Peter Dutton presented a proposal that encourages, incentivises and rewards people and businesses. Whereas the Albanese Government is only going to make it harder for businesses to get work and there is no incentive for those who are on JobSeeker.

JOURNALIST: Darren can we ask you a couple more questions. What is your last name?


JOURNALIST: Can you spell it for us?


JOURNALIST: You said before that it took four months to fill a role that you’ve had advertised? Why was that? Were you getting applicants and they weren’t skilled enough?

DARREN PILCHER: We have people that have no skills that also applied because some of them, they need to tick that box off for the unemployment and I will say that, because you offer people interviews, and they don’t turn up. And we had people just outright say, I don’t want to do the hours that you’re offering they want to try and keep under like 20 hours a week, but I couldn’t do anymore because of the interference with JobSeeker there. And also, then finding the right people. So, but young Ethan, who I’ve put on, great guy, he’s come down from Toowoomba, but it was also my wife being proactive. Ethan approached us, he put a comment on our post, and my wife contacted him to arrange an interview and to get him in.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any examples of current employees that you can give us who might be on Centrelink payments and can’t work as much as they would like to work?

DARREN PILCHER: I can’t give you that, but I’ve got one that is just over the threshold now. So, because I’ve asked her to do more hours, so she’s lost all her other benefits. So, if they were to raise those up, she’d be more happy because it’s hard job hospitality, especially on the on the Sunshine Coast than anywhere because it fluctuates. So, some weeks, you might get 20 hours, some weeks you might get 40 hours. So, when you don’t have that balance it makes it hard.

JOURNALIST: Given your costs are rising so much, how close have you come to maybe having to call it and not operate anymore? Is that a reality?

DARREN PILCHER: It is a reality. I’m just lucky that I know my costs. If you’re in small business and you don’t know what your costs are, you’re in trouble. So, it makes it hard though, when, I’ll use the example of the eggs again, it’s gone from 35 cents to 45 cents. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but as a percentage every percent cuts into what I normally make and in small business, we’re only making around ten per cent for 70 hours a week work so it’s not a lot.