Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shrugged off questions about a potential hit to the Coalition’s election chances if interest rates rise on Tuesday.
It came as cost of living issues again dominated the campaign on Monday, and ahead of a widely expected decision by the Reserve Bank board to lift official rates for the first time in years.
But, campaigning in Victoria on Monday, Mr Morrison said the bank’s decision was not political.
“It is not about me … It is about Australians themselves,” he said in Geelong.
“It is not about politics. What happens tomorrow deals with what people pay on their mortgages. That is what I am concerned about.”
“I mean, sometimes you guys always see things through a totally political lens. I don’t. And Australians don’t. Australians are focused on what they are paying for and who they think is going to be best able to manage an economy and manage the finances so they are in the best possible position to realise their aspirations. Australians know that there are pressures on interest rates.”
If the RBA does lift rates on Tuesday, it will be the first mid-federal election campaign rate rise since 2007 – the year former prime minister John Howard lost to Labor’s Kevin Rudd.
But questioned repeatedly about whether he would be responsible for any rate rise, Mr Morrison referred only to “macro economic factors” and the economic hit from the pandemic.
He noted that the official cash rate was at a record low and said there were “hundreds of billions of dollars on household balance sheets” that Australians had saved during COVID – and many had also switched to fixed rates.
Australian had been preparing “to deal with these shocks that they knew would be coming”, he said.
“Could you imagine how much harder it would be to pay a mortgage if we had not had Jobkeeper and 700,000 people were out of a job, or we did not do the cashflow boost – which would have seen small businesses collapsing all around the country – all the support we are providing to first homeowners to get in and own their home in the first place?”
“We have been taking steps to strengthen the resilience of our and the resilience of household family balance sheets and small business balance sheets so they can deal and weather the challenges that we are going to face.”
Mr Morrison also took aim at Labor’s housing policy, announced at the party’s campaign launch in Perth on Sunday.
It will allow the government to take stakes of up to 40 per cent in first home-buyers’ properties, to help them get into the market. It is similar to a plan Mr Morrison announced in 2008 – which he denied on Monday.
“I had no plan for the government to own people’s homes,” he said.
Mr Morrison said Labor’s plan would put homeowners “last in line”.
“Labor has a plan where they want the government to own your home, it’s not only that, you are last in line when it comes to your home,” he said.
“The bank has the first call over it. The government has the second call over it, and you come last when it comes to your own home.”
Earlier, Mr Morrison and Mr Rudd were mobbed when they joined hundreds of people at Eid prayers, to mark the end of Ramadan, in Parramatta, in Sydney’s west.
He was there with the Liberal candidate for Parramatta Maria Kovacic. Mr Rudd was there with Labor’s candidate, Andrew Charlton.
The government announced on Monday it would expand access to the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.
An extra 50,000 older Australians will gain access to the concession if the Coalition is re-elected, with the threshold for singles being lifted from $57,761 to $90,000 from July 1.
The couples threshold will also rise from $92,416 to $144,000.
Labor said it would match the pledge.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese, meanwhile, joined thousands of union members marching through Brisbane for Labour Day, as the party promised higher wages and more secure jobs if it wins the May 21 election.
“We’ve been through a couple of really tough years and essential workers … have kept this country going during this difficult time,” Mr Albanese said.
“You deserve more than thanks. You deserve a government that cares about secure work. You deserve a government that wants to increase your pay.”
Addressing the media and a small crowd from the United Workers Union ahead of the march, Mr Albanese attacked stagnant wages over the past decade under the Coalition government.
“Our plan for more secure work today will be a theme of May Day and Labour Day, a day where we celebrate the fact that working people have fought to gain wages and conditions over a long, long period of time,” he said.
“The simple principle that we celebrate today is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”
But Mr Albanese and his industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke were unable to answer questions about what the party would accept as a benchmark for real wages growth.
“Whenever things are going up except pay, there is a simple benchmark,” Mr Burke said.
“I have made it pretty clear, people cannot continue to go backwards in their pay and conditions.”
Labor has pledged to convene an employment summit as one of its first actions if it forms government in May and draw up a “full employment” white paper.