Cost of living pressures mount on first cabinet meeting

Steven Deare and Kat Wong |

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called a cabinet meeting weeks before parliament resumes.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called a cabinet meeting weeks before parliament resumes.

The prime minister is calling cabinet colleagues to Canberra weeks before parliament resumes to tackle mounting economic and cost of living issues.

Everyday pressures facing Australians are expected to be discussed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, which some MPs say is routine.

Inflation has pushed interest rates substantially higher since the COVID-19 pandemic, while energy costs have climbed due to domestic and overseas factors.

Health Minister Mark Butler says the government is determined to hit the ground running two weeks before the first parliament sitting period resumes in February.

“We’re coming together early,” he told reporters in Adelaide on Sunday.

“The prime minister has called his caucus colleagues even though parliament doesn’t commence again for a couple of weeks because we recognise Australians are doing it tough.”

Employee putting price tags on supermarket shelves.
A Senate inquiry is examining supermarket prices after complaints by shoppers and farmers. (Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS)

However, Nationals leader David Littleproud accused the federal government of dragging its heels on addressing cost of living issues.

Mr Littleproud said his party, in late 2022, urged for a Grocery Code of Conduct Review to be brought forward by one year but the government refused.

The Nationals had also previously called for the code of conduct to be made mandatory and penalties increased.

“It was obvious the cost-of-living crisis that families have been feeling for the last 18 months was not the priority of the Albanese government, which instead spent 2023 focused on its failed $450 million referendum,” Mr Littleproud wrote in an opinion piece on Sunday.

A Senate inquiry is examining supermarket prices after shoppers and farmers complained big retailers were taking advantage of rising prices.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said tackling inflation is a constant focus of the government.

“We need to see inflation coming down and so finding cost of living relief that doesn’t add to the challenge – the inflation challenge – is something our government’s been very focused on,” she told reporters in Adelaide on Saturday.

“I don’t think it’ll be over in one meeting or a couple of meetings.

“This has been a constant role that our government’s played and we’re seeing impacts.”

Ms Rishworth dismissed suggestions of immediate measures to reduce energy costs, citing the government’s capping of gas and coal prices in December 2022.

“We’ve also implemented our energy rebates which are flowing through to consumers now, so that is the short-term action we’ve taken,” she said.

The minister said new figures showed one million people had benefited from the government’s increased rent assistance.

This was an example of a measure that eased the cost of living without adding to inflation, she said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to speak to cost pressures when he addresses the National Press Club on Thursday.

The government also faces its first major test of public opinion in 2024 when the Mornington Peninsula by-election is held on March 2.

The by-election was triggered by the death in December of sitting Labor MP Peta Murphy after a long battle with cancer.