CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Well, thanks for coming, everyone. Today, of course this Federal Budget will be brought down in the face of the best global economic circumstances in a decade. We have 120 economies around the world growing strongly and of course that flows through to Australia, which is very welcome.

 

But the key test for the Budget tonight is fairness and responsibility. Responsibility in returning the Budget to surplus and good growing, healthy surpluses. Paying down the debt, making sure that future generations aren't held responsible for the debt being generated by this Government.

 

And also providing genuine relief to low and middle-income taxpayers. Now, of course, there'll be all sorts of speculation between now and the Budget in a few hours as to what's in it. We'll wait and see what's in it but I'll tell you this: it would need to be quite a substantial tax cut to make up for the $77 a week lost by people who work on weekends who lost their penalty rates under this Government. It will have to be quite a substantial tax cut to make up for the extra being paid in private health insurance rebates and electricity costs.

 

What we've got is a Government which has for five years prioritised people on high incomes and corporations and, again, of course, that will continue tonight because what we do know - because the Government has told us this - the centrepiece of this Budget will be $80 billion worth of tax cuts over the next decade for Australian corporations, big business.

 

Now, of course, we have a different set of priorities and because Labor's done the hard yards, Labor's led the policy debate over recent months and years, because we've done the work when it comes to reforming negative gearing, reforming capital gains tax, reforming dividend imputation, reforming deductions for managing your tax affairs. Because we've done that work, we're in a position to look at this Budget and say we will consider sensible, well-targeted tax relief for low and middle-income earners.

 

In fact, we've been leading the debate when it comes to middle-income earners, standing up for those on penalty rates, standing up for people on low incomes, on the minimum wage. But what we'll also do is we will come to this Budget with a view to long term healthy Budget surpluses, not wafer-thin surpluses that Scott Morrison might be happy with but long-term healthy surpluses.

 

Now, just on aged care, of course, we would welcome any improvement in aged care and in home care. But through three Ministers for the Ageing we've seen this Government cut almost $3 billion. We've seen the waiting list for in-home care blow out. 20,000 people in just the last six months on this Government's watch while they've been cutting. They've cut the workforce compact that the previous Labor Government had in place, $1.5 billion they've cut in the aftermath of the 2013 election. So, again, we'll welcome improvements, but this is a Government playing desperate catch-up when it comes to aged care and in-home care in particular.

 

Happy to take any questions.

 

JOURNALIST: Pensioner loan scheme, what’s Labor’s position on that?

 

BOWEN: Well Eryk we'll have to have a look at the detail tonight.

 

JOURNALIST: Is Peter Costello right that you’d have to have at least a decade of surpluses before you can get…

 

BOWEN: Well it depends. It depends how big the surpluses are. He’s right about this: if they've wafer-thin surpluses, if the Government is prepared to leave us with surpluses of half a per cent of GDP which would blow over in a light breeze of international economic disruption, then he's right about that. I mean his surpluses varied up to 2 per cent of GDP. So while I don't agree with Peter Costello about everything, he's right to say this Government should be doing much better when it comes to debt repair and they will doing much better if they did the hard yards and were prepared to make tough decisions on things like negative gearing and all the other things that Labor has led the debate on.

 

JOURNALIST: Are the Government’s low income tax cuts something that Labor would be inclined to support, given it provides relief?

 

BOWEN: Fairness and responsibility. Now, in fairness to all of us, you know, I'll be speaking to most of you tonight and doing 20 or so media interviews after the Budget and I'll be answering those questions then. I've done this a few times now so I know not to jump at everything I read in the newspaper about what's going to be in the Budget. We'll have a good look in the Budget lock-up. There'll be some things I'll respond to and rule in and out tonight. There will be other things that will take a bit longer. Bill will respond on Thursday night. I'll be speaking at the National Press Club next Wednesday and there's of course plenty of opportunities for us to be making announcements between now and the next election as to what we think about what’s in the Budget and our alternative.

 

JOURNALIST: What about a low-income tax cut as opposed to a conventional tax cut?

 

BOWEN: Well obviously fairness and responsibility. Well targeted measures are what we will be looking for.

 

JOURNALIST:  Do you think the Government will capitalise on retiree anger towards Labor’s dividend imputation policy?

 

BOWEN: The Government always tries to play politics, don’t they? Now what we've done again is made the difficult decisions. We say we don't think it's right that people get tax credits when they haven't paid income tax. Now of course not everybody is jumping with joy at that decision but it's the right decision that puts the Budget on a sustainable footing. $6 billion a year at the moment rising to $8 billion. While I’m at it, I see a report in The Australian today. Congratulations to the headline writer in The Australian for valiantly attempting to find the negative spin. That report from the Parliamentary Budget Office confirms and vindicates every letter and every figure that the Labor Party has put out when it comes to the costing of our dividend imputation measure. And Scott Morrison might be happy that some Australians get up to $2.5 million in tax credits without having paid income tax. I'm not. I don't care if it is five, 10 or 15 Australians getting that. That is wrong and it will stop under a Labor Government.

 

JOURNALIST: $10.50 a week in income tax credits to help people be better off, does that meet a fairness and responsibility measure under Labor?

 

BOWEN: Well of course many Australians will look at the net impact of the Government's policies and say ‘I’m worse off’ but of course any relief is welcome but we'll look at the detail and I'll be responding to the detail tonight.

 

JOURNALIST: Your colleague Tanya Plibersek said it will be a hamburger or a milkshake. Does that mean Labor is willing to promise both?

 

BOWEN: Well, there's tonight, there’s Thursday night, there’s next Wednesday and there’s plenty of other press conferences between now and the next election.

 

JOURNALIST: Given we're seeing potentially a frame of a pro-pensioner aged care focus tonight and you’ve just offered a tax for some of the hit to pensioners who might be coming through the dividend imputation policy..

 

BOWEN: No hits to pensioners under our policy Eryk as you know, no hits to pensioners. Pensioner Guarantee.

 

JOURNALIST: But is the next election going to be based on that particular ground?

 

BOWEN: I'm happy to have an election based around many things. I'm happy to have an election around Budget responsibility and who has the better Budget plans. I'm happy to have an election based around tax, a referendum on the corporate tax cuts. I'm happy to have an election based around our different priorities and I'm happy to have an election based on us opposing lifting the pension age to 70, us opposing taking the energy supplement away from pensioners.

 

Is the Government going to take away the aged 70 pension tonight? Are they going to take away the energy supplement? Maybe they'll take away the energy supplement. Are they going to make Australians have the highest pension age in the world? Or are they going to drop that policy?

 

If they want an election based around which policies are better for Australians of all ages, bring it on. We won't make Australians work till their 70 to get the aged pension. We won't take the energy supplement off pensioners. We won't take the energy supplement off people on Newstart. They're Government policies. They may or may not be Government policies at eight o’clock tonight. They're Government policies today and they shouldn't be policies at eight o’clock tonight and I tell you what, there's one reason they're not the law of the land, there’s one reason they have not been legislated: the Labor Party blocking them, opposing them, stopping them.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, can you give us an update on Bob Hawke's condition?

 

BOWEN: I can only repeat to you, obviously I haven’t spoken to his family. I understand it's a relatively minor incident that's been called ‘the wobbles’, which I imagine, when you're eighty-eight is something which would concern you but most importantly, the entire Labor family and I'm sure everybody in this building wishes Bob the best.

 

JOUNRALIST: Any message you want to personally to send to Bob himself?

 

BOWEN: Bob is, of course, a Labor legend, our longest-serving Prime Minister, the Prime Minister through the period of our greatest economic reform with Paul Keating and of course he's much beloved figure in the Labor Party and all our thoughts are with him, with Blanche and with the family.

 

Okay? Thanks very much.