Ms LE (Fowler) (19:40): It has been one year since I took office as the first-ever Independent to win the seat of Fowler. In that time, I’ve advocated strongly for the government to provide measures that would help our families in Western Sydney and Fowler, with the cost-of-living crisis the biggest issue facing our community. The skyrocketing rise in grocery prices, rent, energy and gas bills is affecting so many families and businesses in my community and, no doubt, in other parts of the country. And, with 11 interest rate rises in 12 months, that is anything but death by a thousand cuts to our people and economy. That’s why I’ve been in this House since my election constantly asking the government to implement measures that will ease the cost-of-living pressures for families.

I was excited, to say the least, when I discovered there was a Senate Select Committee on the Cost of Living. I reached out to the committee and urged them to visit Western Sydney to hear firsthand from people and businesses at the grassroots level about the daily challenges they face. The committee held its hearing on 21 April at Holiday Inn Warwick Farm. It was the first time that a Senate committee has come to Fowler, and I want to take the opportunity to thank Senator Jane Hume and Senator Jana Stewart for coming to our city. Many individuals from Fowler had the opportunity that day to share with the committee the genuine struggles they’re seeing daily in the community. I would like to thank local residents, not-for-profits, small businesses and chambers of commerce for sharing their insights.

A common theme shared during the hearing is that there has been an increase in double-income or middle-income families needing help more than ever. Kirsty Parkes, founder of Community Cafe, runs a community pantry in south-west Sydney. She told the committee, ‘The line now between the poor and the disadvantaged is blurred, and there is a growing number of working poor in the community who are struggling to put food on the table.’ She says there have been record-breaking numbers coming through their door, reaching 237 people in one day. Government do not have the solutions for everything, but where government can be effective is improving how it facilitates coordination, for example, within the charities and not-for-profit sector who are providing emergency support and relief. There are often barriers and gaps in service delivery, as they do not fully understand what other services provide.

Mohan Gunasekara, Acting CEO of Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre, highlighted his concerns around the inconsistent allocation around TPV visas. The Albanese government went to the May 2022 election promising to abolish TPVs and SHEVs. But in March this year they announced a pathway for TPV and SHEV holders to apply for permanent residency—just to apply. This group of people is still in limbo about their ability to work and support their families. They need this certainty now more than ever, with the inflated cost of everything. This is an underutilised group of people who are wanting to work and contribute to our society. Our government must drive this change, and our bureaucracy must enable this.

Michael Foulkes, Chair of the Cabramatta Chamber of Commerce, shared that local small restaurants and businesses are being affected by the high energy prices—the same stores that I often hear from when I walk through the streets of Fowler speaking to local business owners. Small businesses are crucial to the infrastructure and backbone of my electorate—of any electorate, actually. In Fowler nearly 28,000 small businesses contribute immensely to the social fabric, making up nearly 99 per cent of all businesses in Fowler.

It is stories of families, individuals and businesses who are struggling that the Senate Select Committee on the Cost of Living heard this month. I hope that the committee walked away enlightened by the diverse stories and lived experiences of our local people. I look forward to seeing the committee present to the government the tangible and practical solutions that can make a practical difference to families, businesses and individuals. I also welcome other Senate committees to come to Fowler and to hear our local stories.