Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (16:31): The people of the South Coast are tired of waiting for this government to come up with a plan for the economy. While those opposite twiddle their thumbs, I am out every day talking with my constituents, and they are telling me their very real stories of hardship and struggle. Only last month I was out knocking on doors in my community to talk with locals about Newstart. I heard harrowing stories. There are 1.8 million Australians looking for work or looking for more work. In my electorate on the New South Wales South Coast, under the coalition government we now have the lowest workforce participation rate in Australia. At around 47 per cent, this is 20 per cent lower than the national average. These people are suffering while the government wastes time. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have no plan to try and turn things around for these local people who have to choose between taking their kids to the doctor or paying their bills.
In my first speech in this place I called on the government to lift the rate of Newstart so that people could be equipped for work. I so often hear from people who have given up because the Newstart payment isn't enough to help them look for work. Public transport is limited across my electorate, and the daily Newstart payment can be less than the cost of getting to a job interview. Yet the Prime Minister still says that if you have a go, you'll get a go. I can tell the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, that the people of Gilmore want to have a go, but they also want to feed their families.
There are so many ways that this government could be stimulating the economy, yet they do nothing. We know that the Princes Highway needs serious upgrades. This road is dangerous, and we know that fixing it can save lives. Between July 2012 and June 2017 there were 1,494 crashes on the Princes Highway between Jervis Bay Road and the Victorian border, resulting in 30 fatalities and 350 serious injuries. Sadly, between December 2017 and June 2018, eight people lost their lives in accidents on the highway.
During the election campaign the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development came to the South Coast and provided bipartisan support to fund important works on this notorious stretch of road. Projects like these will create hundreds of construction jobs on the South Coast and boost productivity by reducing the traffic congestion that affects local residents, tourists and truck drivers. But the South Coast and regional Australia need infrastructure investment now, not years from now.
We know this work can save lives and will also stimulate the worsening economy. For months the Reserve Bank has been asking the government to stimulate the economy by bringing forward infrastructure spending to create jobs and economic activity. For months I've been asking the government to bring forward the spending on the Princes Highway. For months the South Coast community has been asking the government to bring forward the spending on the Princes Highway. We have told them how and we have told them where, yet they do nothing. People are dying on our roads while the government is finger-pointing and blame-shifting. After six years of the Liberals, our economy just keeps getting weaker. Household living standards continue to decline; real household median income is now lower than it was in 2013.
I'm continually hearing from local people in my electorate about what this means for them: how they can't afford their dentures, so they aren't able to eat and are losing weight; how they can't get access to life-saving devices such as insulin pumps, because this government won't give them access; how they have given up trying to find a job, because they feel like people have turned their backs on them. I will never turn my back on them. I will always stand up for those who are less fortunate in my community. I will continue to call on this government to increase Newstart to stimulate the economy through extra retail sales; I will continue to call on this government to boost wages by restoring penalty rates for workers who are struggling; and I will continue to call on this government to bring forward funding for the Princes Highway to create jobs, stimulate the economy and save lives. On behalf of the South Coast community, I say: fix it faster.