Josh Frydenberg says his next budget will ease cost of living pressures on Australian families – but how much can he figure out on $433,000 a year?
That’s the one question Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is reluctant to answer as he hammers home the theme of ‘cost of living pressures’ on Australian families.
How does he stay connected to the struggles of ordinary Australians when he earns $433,000 a year?
In an exclusive interview with news.com.au, Mr Frydenberg would not say how much he earns as he spouts facts and figures on all the other budget topics next week.
When asked how much he gets paid, there is a five-second pause and a sigh. “You can go check it out. More than most,” he said.
That’s over $400,000 a year, right?
“I am a high income person. We are a two income family. So taller than most. My wife’s salary is confidential. Mine is public,” he replies.
The average full-time salary in Australia topped $90,000 for the first time last year, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
However, when the salaries of part-time and full-time workers are taken into account, the average salary drops to $67,902, or $1,306 before taxes.
In other words, the treasurer earns five times the average full-time worker’s salary. The Prime Minister, who pockets $550,000 a year, earns six times the average full-time salary.
A couple with two full-time average earners earns about $164,000.
Critics say it’s the politics of the urge to talk about how much politicians get paid. But even if you accept that they deserve to be paid for their hard work, it’s hard not to wonder how out of touch they are with the struggles of the voters who put them there.
“I don’t think his own salary indicates whether or not you can get the economy right,” the treasurer says.
“I fill up my own car. I do some shopping and buy my own coffee.
Does he sometimes go to the supermarket and worry about the price of vegetables?
“I understand that prices have gone up. And my focus right now is to respond to those cost of living pressures,” he said.
The treasurer says he has relatives who live on pension and he accepts that “the prices are high”.
“My job is to look at what’s happening across the economy as a whole,” he said.
“What we will seek to do in this budget is to provide some relief from the cost of living. We will do this in several ways.
These measures should include cash distributions to certain families and excise duty relief on fuel.
By the standards of former treasurers and prime ministers, Mr. Frydenberg’s personal wealth is relatively modest.
He bought a house in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs for $1.76 million and spent $75,000 on a renovation in 2016.
According to RP Data, he is now worth $2.85 million. He has a mortgage. In line with his advice to families to shop around, it’s not with a major bank.
According to his register of interests, his mortgage is with Liberty Financial, which currently offers rates starting at 2.59%.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese earns $390,000 a year as Leader of the Opposition and has an impressive property portfolio. Last year he sold a three-bedroom house in Sydney’s mid-west for $2.35million, more than double what he paid nine years ago.
The Marrickville investment property has been sold ahead of a scheduled auction following his divorce from wife Carmel Tebutt.
Former Treasurer Joe Hockey has previously been criticized for being out of touch after claiming the government’s planned fuel tax hike would not hurt poorer Australians.
“Well, the fuel excise change does exactly that. The poorest people do not have a car or do not drive very far in many cases. But, they oppose what the Treasury says is supposed to be a progressive tax,” Hockey said.
Treasurer Frydenberg isn’t about to make that mistake. He ruled out a freeze on fuel indexation, the route taken by John Howard in 2001 as a GST offset.
But he is expected to offer a short, sharp reduction in fuel excise duty as a temporary measure, as news.com.au revealed this week.
“The main thing I would say is what we do will be temporary and targeted and that’s all I can say,” Mr Frydenberg told news.com.au.
“A fuel excise change affects people who buy fuel.”
And one-time cash bonuses are also in the game.
But the danger for average earners in an environment where inflation and interest rates are rising, but wages are not, is that it won’t go very far.
“The cost of living pressure has been seriously exacerbated by nearly a decade of record or near-record growth in low wages under this government,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said.
“One-off documents will not solve the problem.”