As Australians headed back to work in late 2021, few would have predicted cost-of-living pressures to emerge as a major election issue.
But as the economy roared back to life, prices started to surge, but wages didn't rise with them, creating an effective wage cut for most workers.
Generally when an economy grows stronger it produces more jobs, dropping unemployment and forcing businesses to raise wages in order to attract workers. But despite unemployment falling under four per cent, wages have risen feebly, although corporate profits have spiked.
In order to cool spending and rein in the threat of inflation, the Reserve Bank of Australia raised interest rates by 0.25 per cent in early May, with further hikes forecast. But an unfortunate side effect of the rate rise was a hit to the average mortgage-holder's monthly repayments, adding further cost-of-living pain.
The Coalition government has pointed to the invasion of Ukraine and lingering supply chain issues from pandemic shutdowns as the primary drivers of the inflation crisis, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his treasurer Josh Frydenberg have found it harder to defend the wage stagnation issue.
Economist Richard Denniss said low wage growth under the Coalition was "the system working as intended" and current government policy was designed depress wages.
While Mr Frydenberg has denied this, his argument has been undermined by former finance minister Mathias Cormann, who said in 2019 that low wages were "a deliberate design feature of our economic architecture".
An analysis by the left-leaning economic think tank The Australia Institute found real wages had suffered their worst decline of the century and were lower than in the lead up to the 2019 election.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese made the most of the issue, promising to advocate for a rise in the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation and stop workers going backwards.
But there are also a huge range of other ways people could be supported and seven of the candidates for Wannon have shared their ideas on how best to address the issue.
Gilbert Wilson said the Labor Party would advocate for a minimum wage increase of 5.1 per cent to the Fair Work Commission to address the gap between wage growth and inflation.
The Fair Work Commission determines a national minimum wage increase every year by reviewing submissions from employers, unions and the government.
He spruiked Labor's promises on eliminating wage theft, making TAFE free, reducing the gender pay gap, and introducing subsidies for electric vehicles, which he said would reduce cost-of-living pressures.
The Labor candidate said his party would invest $5.4 billion in childcare, bringing the maximum subsidy rate from 85 per cent to 90 per cent for families' first child in care, keeping higher subsidies for additional children, and extending assistance to out of school care.
Incumbent Liberal MP Dan Tehan listed several measures the Liberal Party had put in place to ease cost of living, including a one-off $420 tax offset for low-and-middle income earners, a $250 cost-of-living payment to pensioners and concession card holders, halving the fuel excise, and making medication more affordable.
He said his party would not match Labor's support of a $1-per-hour wage increase for the lowest paid workers.
"What Anthony Albanese did just two days ago was again make policy up on the run," he said.
"It's been an accepted practice by both sides of politics that it's the independent Fair Work Commission that determines what the wages and the increases will be."
Mr Tehan said his party had increased child care subsidies, including a 30 per cent increase for additional children in care, up to a maximum 95 per cent rebate, and removing the annual subsidy cap of $10,655 for families earning over $190,015.
"Around 50 per cent of eligible families will receive the maximum 95 per cent subsidy for their second or third child in care," he said.
"These changes will result in around 40,000 mums or dads being able to work an extra day per week."
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Greens Candidate Hilary McAllister said her party would legislate a minimum wage increase, lift public sector salaries, and re-introduce industrial bargaining to give workers more collective bargaining power.
She touted the Greens' $19 billion plan to make childcare free for all, expand early-childhood education access, create specialised First Nations early education, and phase out for-profit early learning providers. She said the plan would be paid for by taxing billionaires and large corporations.
Independent hopeful Alex Dyson said he favoured a targeted approach to supporting those hit hardest by rising inflation, namely pensioners on fixed incomes, low income earners and women employed in female-dominated industries.
He said his policies would increase income support payments including rent assistance and introduce measures to eliminate the gender pay gap.
The independent candidate said he was committed to increasing childcare subsidies and delivering "accessible, affordable and sustainable" early childhood education, and "free childcare where appropriate".
Craige Kensen of United Australia said his party would legislate a 20 per cent income and company tax concession to those more 200km from a capital city, abolish the fringe benefit tax, and increase the age pension by $180 per fortnight.
"These are things that would enable families in Wannon to be able to ease their cost of living pressures," he said.
He said he could not make a pledge for childcare as he was not in government and could not see "how much debt we truly are in, and how many problems we have".
Amanda Mead said the Liberal Democrats had proposed raising the tax-free threshold to $40,000 and introducing a 20 per cent flat tax to all other income earners.
"This will allow workers to keep more of their own money without adding to inflation," she said, despite most experts saying a flat tax rate would overwhelmingly benefit wealthy people.
For child care, Ms Mead said her party had a "decentralised education policy" which would remove the current system of rebating middle-class families the money for services like childcare which they had paid in tax.
"Middle-class welfare should be abolished, and the middle-class should instead receive significant tax cuts so that they can control their own money," she said.
Independent Graham Garner said he would keep wages "in check" with inflation and look to regulate "interest rate hikes and petrol prices".
The independent hopeful said his policies would also include a "$450 tax threshold" for second income earners and retirees returning to work, and a rise in pension payments.
One Nation candidate Ronnie Graham did not respond to requests for comment.
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