Politicians from both sides of the divide have told Q+A they have seen families begging for food and Australians “counting coins” to buy a loaf of bread as the cost of living crisis deepens and interest rates continue to rise.
And while she defended the government response, Minister for Early Childhood Education and Youth Anne Aly admitted that nothing the government or politicians say is going to make life better for Australians struggling with the rising cost of living.
The blunt comments from Dr Aly came after she said she had seen a man in her West Australian electorate struggling with the cost of a loaf of bread, while a Q+A audience member said she faced selling her house due to rising interest rates.
Audience member Amy Yet Foy said she and her partner had recently refinanced but are still looking at an extra $500 a week on their initial loan.
She was asked by Q+A host Stan Grant where that would come from and she said it involved cutting back on “everything”.
“At the end of the day I can’t earn anymore,” Ms Yet Foy told Q+A.
“My capacity is what it’s at, so is my partner’s.”
Asked if that meant selling her home by Q+A host Stan Grant, Ms Yet Foy said she and her partner were considering it.
“When our fixed rate comes up in the next 12 months and we can’t afford an additional $500 a week,” she said.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do.
“I’ve talked to my husband about it lot over the last 12 months and he says we couldn’t even sell this house to buy another one.”
She then asked why banks had so much power and why could other things not be done for the economy other than raising interest rates.
Dr Aly was sympathetic and said she backed government measures, but ultimately her words meant little.
“I think a $500 increase a week, I just think that’s crazy,” she said.
“I really feel for you, having been in that situation myself, where I’ve had to scrimp and save to put food on the table.
“I really feel it acutely the pain that people are feeling, both in my electorate and across Australia.
“What I can say is, the Treasurer said he believes inflation has peaked and we can look forward to the future and I think there is a glimmer of optimism there, and that things will get better once more of our cost of living relief measures come into play.
“I know it feels like empty words coming from a politician, but take it from somebody who is a single mum, and who’s been through that as well and who has lived in poverty, that I know nothing we say is going to make it better for you.”
‘Mums begging for food’
Dr Aly said she believes many Australians have been struggling with cost of living pressures for some time, but that now those pressures were impacting even wealthier Australians.
“The other day I was at the shops and I was just observing a gentleman there who was buying bread and was counting his coins to buy the bread,” she said.
“And [saying] how expensive the bread was.
“I remember those days from when I was a single mum, but to see people in some of my wealthier suburbs doing that, it really does hit home.”
Liberal Member for Menzies Keith Wolahan said he had seen parents begging for food, with their kids in the car in his electorate, in the north-west of Melbourne.
“In my seat in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, families are doing it really tough,” Mr Wolahan said.
“I’m genuinely worried, there’s six food banks in my electorate and the lines are out the door.
“I see mums begging for food with kids in the car.”
Reserve Bank under fire
That’s the plight for some Australians right now.
And with interest rates rising to 3.35 per cent on the back of last week’s rise, and fears of a recession growing, anger turned to the Reserve Bank of Australia and its Governor Phillip Lowe.
Mr Lowe has come under fire in recent times for comments he made that indicated to Australians these rate rises would not happen until at least 2024.
He apologised, but for many Australians who are struggling that may not be enough.
Mr Lowe’s current term comes up in September and asked if she wanted him gone by Grant, Dr Aly deflected.
“That’s not even in my portfolio and something for the Treasurer and the government more broadly to decide,” she said.
Mr Wolahan said he expected Mr Lowe to face heavy scrutiny at Senate Estimates later this week.
“He will be at the Senate on Wednesday and I’m on the House Economics Committee.
“We’ll be asking questions.”
Make a choice on China
Dr Aly was later questioned by Grant over the belief that Australia could maintain a good relationship with China, while being a partner member of AUKUS.
The issue came about after audience member Brenda McMinn asked if the AUKUS agreement could draw Australia into a fresh conflict.
Dr Aly defended the partnership as important for Australia and “security and peace in our region”, before she lauded the work of Foreign Minster Penny Wong in the Asia Pacific region.
“Penny Wong has been incredibly active as the foreign minister, going out there in the Pacific, Indonesia and even resetting our ties with China, or the in which we relate with China,” she said.
“There is a huge part for us to play in our region, but there is also an importance for us to maintain a security alliance with like-minded countries.”
Grant then said that Dr Aly was “trying to walk both sides of the street” and that if there was conflict with China over Taiwan the government would have to make a choice between our traditional allies or closer ties with China.
Dr Aly said Grant was “misconstruing the relationship” and defended the government trying to mend ties with China.
That relationship had been heavily strained under the Morrison government, over a range of issues including the origins of COVID, human rights abuses in Xinjiang and trade restrictions put in place on Australian industry by China.
“We have a strong trade relationship with China (and) we rely on China for a lot of the products we use every day,” Dr Aly said.
“I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
“We need to build our sovereign capability more … and we need to be more independent, but China is an important trading partner for Australia.
“That doesn’t mean that we can’t have the kind of relationship or diplomatic ties with China that allow us to still maintain our sovereignty and security and the security of our region.
“You can have a friend but be able to be very frank with that friend. And have that friendship on your terms.”
Asked if he agreed, Mr Wolahan deflected, and added it was important for Australia “to form alliances, especially with like-minded democracies”.