Anthony Albanese, Peter Dutton in Question Time
Cost of living pressures are set to dominate parliament following the voice referendum defeat. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Voice silencing shifts focus to cost of living relief

Dominic Giannini October 22, 2023

Hip pocket hit, pain at the bowser, persistent price pressures.

All of these cliches have been used to describe the deteriorating bottom lines of Aussie household budgets.

After the voice referendum’s emphatic defeat, the major parties are looking towards December’s mid-financial year budget update, Christmas holidays and what could be Labor’s pre-election budget in May.

So, what happens in politics when you lose your voice?

Parliamentarians from both sides of politics told AAP that cost of living is the number one issue in voters’ minds.

A recent Ipsos poll confirmed this with cost of living being the top issue for 62 per cent of Australians.

It was followed by housing (38 per cent) and health care (30 per cent), while the economy came in a close fourth.

Only seven per cent of respondents put Indigenous issues among their top concerns, ranking them 14th.

Voting hadn’t even closed in Western Australia when it was clear the referendum had failed.

Liberal MP Melissa McIntosh, whose electorate of Lindsay spans Sydney’s western suburbs, immediately declared the prime minister needed to put his all into bringing down everyday costs.

The political calculation for the coalition is simple – it needs a net gain of 18 seats to sweep to power.

Western Australia will be a major focus, with a gain of four seats to Labor in 2022 delivering Anthony Albanese the prime ministership.

The coalition subsequently lost six and only holds five of the 15 seats in the state.

Coalition members believe there are gains to be made in the west off the back of unpopular environmental laws and Labor’s plan to phase out live sheep exports.

Queensland – where both the voice and Labor’s vote were low outside of city seats – is seen as unlikely to yield any dividends for the government at the next election.

Mortgage belt seats in outer Sydney and Melbourne are targets for the opposition with a large make up of “aspirational Australians” looking to shore up their incomes and invest.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
 Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is looking to regroup following the voice referendum defeat. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Both sides agree opposition to the voice in particular electorates won’t translate to Liberal-National support.

But the opposition’s plan is to tie the hundreds of millions of “wasted” dollars on the referendum to the government ignoring struggling Australians.

Voters were sick of hearing about the voice when they were struggling to make ends meet, Liberal MPs said.

Opposition questions in parliament this week ran along the lines “Why did the prime minister choose to focus on his divisive Canberra voice proposal and not on addressing X?”, often tailored to each member’s state.

Dorothy Dixers – pre-planted questions government backbenchers ask ministers to spruik their agenda or take a free hit at the opposition – focused on the same issue.

“How’s the Albanese Labor government relieving cost-of-living pressures on Australians and is there any opposition to these actions?” one went.

This gave ministers the chance to rattle off all the measures the government had taken to ease inflation and boost wages while slamming the opposition for ignoring the root cause of higher prices.

Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie is spearheading an inquiry into the government’s decision to back in a Qantas push to not give Qatar extra flights, which the coalition has tied to higher prices and a Labor Party focused on vested interests.

Ex-Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was a “fat cat” backed by the government while struggling Australians couldn’t afford a plane ticket, she said.

As the dust settles around the referendum result, both sides are hammering home that theirs is the party backing workers and small businesses amid the cost of living crisis.

Labor’s pre-election argument about wages not keeping up with inflation has been adopted by the Liberals and incorporated into their attacks.

The Liberals’ pre-election argument that petrol prices and inflation were driven by factors out of government control such as wars and the international economy has been adopted by Labor.

With the voice silenced, the calls for cost of living relief grow louder.