PM drops major cost of living relief hint

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Two-in-five Australians struggled to pay their bills in 2023, according to ANU research. Picture: Tertius Pickard/NCA NewsWire.

Anthony Albanese said his government is “prepared to deliver” urgent cost-of-living relief as soon as possible, with an announcement to come as early as this week.

The Prime Minister has been criticised for the costly exercise of bringing all Labor MPs and Senators to Canberra this week - two weeks ahead of parliament’s return - for an emergency meeting to nut out what the government’s next steps will be.

Mr Albanese and his Treasurer Jim Chalmers last year tasked senior public servants with investigating what the government could offer low and middle income earners struggling to keep up with rising costs without adding to inflation.

That advice will be handed down to the pair this week, who will then ask their Labor colleagues for their thoughts.

The Wednesday meeting will come just a day before Mr Albanese makes his first National Press Club address for the year, where he could make a major announcement.

Mr Albanese remained tight lipped on Monday as to what any new measures might look like, doubled down in his messaging that he wanted to make lives easier.

“We’ve always said that we’ll continue to look for ways to assist people. If we can find ways to put extra dollars in people’s pockets, particularly those low and middle income earners who are doing it tough, then we’re prepared to do so,” he said.

“We’ll take whatever advice is given to us.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says the Coalition’s criticisms are ‘nonsense’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

The Coalition have been calling on the government for months to take more urgent action on cost-of-living, but have warned Labor not to make the meeting just a “political Academy Award” amid revelations the snap-caucus will cost up to half a million dollars according to The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Albanese said it was “nonsense” to suggest it was too expensive.

“(The) ministers are here already this week, we were here last week, people will be here for the pre-Australia Day address I’m doing at the press club on Thursday, and then we have the … Australia of the Year awards on Thursday night,” Mr Albanese told Sky News.

“It’s good that caucus is able to gather without Parliament, without meetings and bells ringing. We do that from time to time, as does the Coalition.

“We’ve been working away throughout January and what we will be looking at of course, is the advice we have received about how we can take pressure off costs of living for people who are doing it tough without putting pressure on inflation.”

Murray Watt said the meeting would be more than a photo opportunity. Picture: Martin Ollman/NCA NewsWire.

Nationals frontbencher Barnaby Joyce had earlier hit out at Labor’s snap meeting.

“This is not about the cost of living issue. It is about a political Academy Award issue when he can have the cameras rolling as they walk in,” Mr Joyce said.

“For over half a million of your money. We are back there in any case in about two weeks.”

NSW Liberal senator Dave Sharma said Mr Albanese and his Labor colleagues should make “serious decisions” on fiscal policy to reign in inflation and commit to stage 3 tax cuts.

“Firstly, I think it’s s a bit of a stunt by Albanese trying to substitute movement for actual action and decisions,” he said.

“The truth is under this government, which has now been in power for 18 months, we’ve seen food prices go up by eight per cent, housing by 12 per cent, everyone’s paying more on their mortgage.”

“I hope something substantial comes out of it rather than just a headline or a media opportunity.”

Barnaby Joyce on Sunrise Monday
Barnaby Joyce said Labor’s meeting couldn’t be just a political ‘academy award’.

Mr Albanese said his government had already done significant work to address cost of living, spruiking the Energy Bill Relief Plan, cheaper childcare and medicine.

He also singled out the rising cost of groceries as an area of focus for his government.

“Another (cost-of-living relief measure) is making sure that customers, when they go to the checkout in the supermarket, can get things at the cheapest possible price,” he said.

“That’s why we’ve also asked the ACCC for advice about what further powers or what further action can be taken.

“How is it that farmers are getting less for their produce but that is not flowing through to lower prices?”

According to the most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over the past 12 months the price of food has risen by eight per cent in Australia with the cost of electricity skyrocketing to over 15 per cent – the highest annual rise since 2013.

Emergency Services Minister Murray Watt earlier said Labor has already legislated to lower costs for childcare, medicine and utility bills and said living costs would be the number one issue that the government dealt with this year.

“I’ve seen the opposition criticising the fact that we’re getting back together. These people just can’t ever get their story straight on the one hand, they spend months criticising us, not doing enough about cost of living relief, even though they voted against everything we’ve done to provide that relief,” Senator Watt said.

“And now they don’t want us to actually deal with cost of living relief. At some point, they’ve got to work out whether they’re just going to remain negative and snipe from the sidelines or actually come up with some solution.”