Australia is an expensive country; not many people would argue with that. We noticed it from the day we arrived – just over five years ago – and we're still noticing it. Last weekend, two simple, over-the-counter, tickly-cough and sore-throat remedies cost $30.
I have kept two lists since our arrival: one of items that are appreciably less expensive, and the other of those that cost considerably more than I'd been used to. The former is a short list, and includes prawns, light bulbs, accountants' fees and fuel; the latter is extensive and ranges from insurance (car, house contents, you name it) to hotel accommodation, eating out, wine, electricity, mobile phone tariffs, internet, new cars, car registration, bank charges, repairs (shoes, for example), medical costs (dentistry especially), window cleaning, hairdressing and cosmetics, flowers, entrance fees to tourist attractions, books… even tattoos!
In the last week, two items in the press confirmed what we all know. Australia is well up the top ten of most expensive countries.
In addition to high retail prices, there are hidden service charges everywhere. When we moved into our first rental property, we couldn't pay our rent directly to the rental agency. Instead, we had to pay a middle man who then paid the agency. That privilege was going to cost us $2.50 a month. We refused the 'service', and the agency eventually agreed to let us pay them direct.
And then there's settling the bill up front. You're already paying through the nose for even modest accommodation in a popular destination, and then you have to pay in full as long as a month in advance. If you're renting a holiday house, there'll be a deposit to pay against damage. One condition of a booking I have in a month's time is that I send screenshot of the transaction, and another is that the deposit appear in the owner's bank account before I attempt to pick up the key.
If you have to make a claim on your car insurance, you have to pay hundreds of dollars of excess right at the start, before they'll instigate a claim, and you'll never know the actual costs of the repair.
The biggest item in the cost of living that worries most Australians is the price of electricity. Abbott's abolition of the carbon price didn't bring people's bills down like they'd been promised. In Queensland that's because the network companies over-invested in improving poles and wires. In itself, that was good, but energy companies overestimated their income at a time when power consumption was falling. More people were installing solar (nearly 400,000 homes in QLD now) and cutting their usage because of high prices. The high prices are not because of solar subsidies: this is LNP misinformation.
Electricity could be much cheaper if right-wing governments embraced renewables. There is masses of scope for solar take-up as the technology (including storage batteries) comes down in price. Large-scale solar farm projects have been scrapped rather than encouraged. The LNP is blinded by its love for fossil fuels (and mining donations) to the enormous scope of the Sunshine State.
There are lots of ways that I can see that people could cut their household budget. But I see little evidence yet of lifestyles being modified in order to reduce massive consumption. There has to be a will for there to be a way.