BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I'm pleased to announce to 10 million Australian workers, that Labor will be voting for a tax cut for you and we are ready to do so today. We will support the first stage of the government's tax cuts, not because we think they are as good as the ones we are offering, but we certainly want to see Australian workers dealing with cost of living issues and low wage stagnation. We want to see them get a tax cut and we are ready to do it now. But as for the rest of the Turnbull Government's 10-year tax trick, it is an irresponsible plan from an irresponsible government and no responsible opposition would vote for it.
We say to the government, that if you want to talk about promises in more than two election cycle's time, take these radical proposals to the people of Australia and see what they think about them. What we also say to the Turnbull Government, is that you should not hold hostage tax relief for tradies and teachers, so that you can give the top end of town tax cuts in seven years’ time.
Our commitment to the Australian people is this: we will vote for tax cuts for you right now. And if Mr Turnbull insists on playing silly political games over the next two weeks, our commitment to 10 million working Australians is that when we are elected, we will provide tax cuts for you, which will actually be nearly double what the government is offering in this fortnight. I would like to ask my Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen to talk further about our plans.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, Bill. The position unanimously endorsed by Labor's Caucus this morning represents Labor voting in accordance with the principles of fairness and responsibility. Voting in accordance with our values and with our principles. The government has taken a highly cynical approach; modest tax relief for low and middle income earning Australians in the short-term, and the promise of tax relief on the never-never which is unfunded and irresponsible.
Labor is taking the more responsible approach and we are also taking the fairer approach. I'll just run through in some detail what the Labor has decided unanimously to do. As Bill said we will vote for the 2018 tax cuts, tranche one of the government's tax plan. We're prepared to do that right now, and we will vote accordingly in the Senate. In relation to firstly stage 3 of the government's tax plans, the tax cuts which will come into force in 2024, these will cost at maturity $10 billion a year. They are expensive, they are unfunded and they are unfair. They undermine the progressivity of our tax system and we will not vote for them. They will also grow at a cost of 12 per cent a year, much faster than the economy will be growing. If we proposed a scheme which was going to blow out in costs at 12 per cent a year, you would be holding us to account and we would hold the government to account. We don't believe the tranche 3 tax cuts are fair and we don't believe they are responsible and we will be voting accordingly.
In relation to stage two, tranche two of the tax cuts we have taken our time to look at these in some detail. We will also will be opposing these tax cuts. This is the most expensive part of the government's scheme, costing $80 billion out of the $140 billion of the total. The stage two tax cuts are predicated on the government's low and middle income tax offset being temporary. We of course, as Bill announced in his Budget Reply, have a permanent tax offset for low and middle income earners. So Australians will be better off even after stage two comes into force, if it does, with our tax plan if you earn less than $95,000. That is 70 per cent of Australian workers better off under Labor's plan. So hence accordingly our plan is fairer and more responsible and we will be opposing stage two of the government's tax cuts.
Now let me just run through in some detail what the Labor Party has decided to do in relation to this matters’ handling in Parliament. When the vote comes on in the Senate, as I said we will vote for stage one. We will vote against stage two and we’ll vote against stage three. If the government insists in whatever form, we don't know what will happen in the Senate, nobody can accurately predict exactly how the Senate votes will go, and we are not pretending that we can today. But if the Labor Party is asked to vote yes or no on the total package including stages two and three, we will vote no. We are taking the responsible approach. As we emphasised, we are prepared to vote for the 2018 tax cuts today. More than that, because the bulk of the 2018 tax cuts are being provided as a rebate, Australians won't actually receive them until 1 July 2019. Accordingly, they can be passed at any time over the next financial year. If the Turnbull Government won't pass the 2018 tax cuts, an incoming Shorten Labor Government will. Including the relatively small part of the tax cut which is a change to the threshold, which still can be done retrospectively and refunded to Australian workers as a rebate at the end of the year, a tax refund at the end of that financial year. If stages two and three are legislated it would be our intention on coming to office to repeal them, and provide further and better tax relief when and if we can afford it in the Budget. And also we have formalised our position of keeping the Budget Repair Levy until the Budget is back in sustainable surplus which we would see as being in 2022/2023 under our plans.
Now, as I said the Labor Party's position is fair, responsible, some may say brave, we'll take that criticism. But we're prepared to stand for our values. We're prepared to do what we think is responsible. We're prepared as we've shown time and time again in the economic debate over the last five years, to lead and to take risks and to be the responsible Party when it comes to the budget. We're providing better and fairer tax relief for 10 million Australians but we're also providing a more responsible budget repair approach. Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull may have thrown budget repair out the window, we have not. We are prepared to take our plans to the Australian people at by-elections or a general election, and the Labor party's position will be, bring this debate on. In whatever form the Prime Minister and Treasurer choose to have it, Bill and I will be there, willing to have it with them.
SHORTEN: We might just start off on my right and then move across. Andrew?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten it's been 17 years since Australia's had a rolled back election. Is it - how dangerous is it for you to actually go into an election contest, essentially saying that you're going to be denying tax relief for workers, some of whom aren't that rich.
SHORTEN: First of all there’s a couple of assumptions in your question which I'd like to address.
JOURNALIST: Well the assumptions have been addressed by your Shadow Treasurer.
SHORTEN: As I said, there are a couple of assumptions in your question. The first one is that the legislation passes. I don't think anyone here can predict what this Senate is going to do, we can't even predict what party some of the Senators are in from day to day. So let's just hold your horses before you assume the Government gets its plan up. And secondly, when you talk about a rollback, this government's proposals are due in some cases not to start till - for the next seven years. So it's a bit rich to say that we'll be rolling back fictitious tax cuts which haven't yet been paid. The only group who we are concerned about and would be affected by an election timetable is, of course, the people - the 10 million Aussies who are being offered $10 a week from the Turnbull Government.
Now Labor has offered a better tax refund for 10 million Australians and that's our commitment, but what we accept is that we're not going to make the good the enemy of the perfect. So therefore, we will support the government's first tranche. Now if the government wants to hold hostage tradies and teachers and say that unless they can get through tax cuts on the never-never, in seven years’ time for the top end of town, well be it on their head. And what we've also said as Chris outlined, is that our commitment to Australians is, either Turnbull does it the easy way over the next two weeks and gives these tax cuts such as they are, or when we're elected we'll make sure that Australians get it. So the government needs to have a good long look at itself. It is capable of separating parts of its legislation. Remember for months they bellowed about their Enterprise Tax Plan; they said they'd never split the corporate tax legislation, well they did. And if this government really gives a damn about 10 million working Aussies, they won't play a hostage game with them to make a promise which Turnbull and Morrison probably won't even be around to keep in seven years’ time.
Sorry, Phil and then David.
JOURNALIST: You talk about seven years’ time, can I talk about four years’ time which is the end of the forward estimates when stage two is going to kick in. You're talking to people, though the main element of that was lifting the income threshold from $90,000 to $120,000 under which the 37 per cent rate would apply. Are you now telling people on $90,000 and over that they are - that they don't deserve a tax cut.
SHORTEN: No -
JOURNALIST: That's what you're saying, why aren't they - are they the new rich?
SHORTEN: Well, I'm going to let Chris supplement my answer but first of all, only Labor has got a fair dinkum plan to look after people up to $125,000. Let's not forget in my Budget Reply Speech two days after the Government's $10 a week offer, we're offering almost nearly double to people up to $125,000. So I don't accept what you're saying, that we don't have a plan for these people, in fact our offer is more generous. But again, I make this point; what Mr Turnbull is trying to do is buy the next election with a promise of future benefits four years hence. Go and fight the next election and see what people think. What we will do is vote for this year's tax cuts this year, and if Mr Turnbull is so confident of his propositions. take it to the people, but I might get Chris to supplement.
BOWEN: Just to say Bill that as you said, every Australian earning less than $125,000 is better off under our plans, delivered earlier and better than the government's. And in relation to 2022 and 2024 I mean, we're fighting the 2018 election and the policies that should be put to the Australian people for 2022 should be put in the 2021 election, when we know what's affordable, when we know what's responsible. That's what careful, prudent budgeting is about. Scott Morrison wouldn't know prudent budgeting if it hit him in the face. Well, we've made a virtue of making tough decisions and we'll continue to do so.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the $928 tax offset that you're offering doesn't take effect until somebody lodges their tax return for the next financial year. Have you had any advice, are you considering any way in which you can, assuming you win the next election if that happens, back date that, implement it after the fact, after the next election?
BOWEN: Well the model that we're proposing David, is the same model as the government's 2018 tax cuts and that's fair, we don't criticise the government for that. It's a rebate paid at the end of the financial year that is correct. We designed it that way, that wasn't an accident, I assume it was deliberate on behalf of the government, it was deliberate on our behalf as a carefully designed policy.
JOURNALIST: It was a technical question. Have you looked at that technical question?
BOWEN: Well obviously we in our policy development consider all sorts of options, but that's the option we’ve settled on and that's the option we're taking to the people and we'll implement.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you've basically said you'll take this to the election. Mr Bowen has mentioned the 2018 election. Are you prepared and will you survive with this through to a 2019 election? Are you prepared to fight on this for the next nine months?
SHORTEN: We are prepared to oppose the government's so called Enterprise Tax Plan which sees billions of dollars being handed to the big end of town. And we are prepared to fight on our bigger, better, fairer tax refund, tax cut for 10 million Australians, absolutely. I think the real question Dennis is, is Mr Turnbull willing to take all his tax plans to the next election, or will it be like so many kites this government flies - it goes up and then it goes down.
JOURNALIST: I think you've been pretty clear, but just so that I'm 100 per cent clear, the bit of the tax plan that looks diciest in the Senate right at the moment is stage three, if the Hanson’s stay where they are at the present time. So let's just say - I know it's a big if, but let's say if (inaudible) so, in the event that stage one and stage two is legislated by the Senate, and for some reason the government says, oh yeah, fair cop, what's Labor's position then? Is there any circumstances in which stage two is acceptable to you?
BOWEN: No, we've indicated we'll vote against legislation which includes stages two and three – two and/or three. We're in favour of stage one. Now of course, there will be crossbench discussions, there already has been. Bill and I and Penny and no doubt the government are in discussions with the crossbench and there will be some discussions with them. But our policy position is as we've outlined to you this morning.
JOURNALIST: Can I come back to Phil's question. For those earning more than $125,000, what is your message to them? They haven't had a tax cut for a decade, they pay a lot of tax and haven't seen a wage rise. Is it simply unaffordable? They don't deserve it? What's the message for those on $125,000 and up?
SHORTEN: First of all, our message to them is we'll make sure that when your kids are sick, you can afford to see a doctor. We'll make sure that when - regardless of what postcode you live in, you'll have a properly funded school whether or not it is a Catholic parish school or a government school. What we'll also make sure of is that we have a better plan to pay our national debt. At the end of the day, you do no one a favour at any level of income in the economy, if you keep living with a situation of half a trillion dollars of debt. So our plans are both fiscally responsible, they're about restoring the very services, the fabric which all Australians rely upon, and we are offering a plan which sees 10 million plus Australian workers - and what will happen is that people on lower incomes, it's a fact, they get the opportunity to save less because they've got to make ends meet. And what it means is that with these people spending more of their tax refund, having a better quality of life, that is a rising tide which lifts the whole economic system of boats.
JOURNALIST: But if the Budget is in a better position down the track - I get what you're saying about going back four elections down the track. But if the Budget is in a better position, will they be the next cab off?
BOWEN: David, what we've said is we’ll provide better and further tax relief when and if it's affordable, and that applies to all Australians. Of course we recognise that tax relief has to be considered across the board when it is affordable, and that applies to low and middle income earners, it applies to high income earners. But your plans have to be responsible and for Scott Morrison, who this time 12 months ago was arguing for a $44 billion tax rise, was calling Bill and I irresponsible, unAustralian even, for saying that tax rise was unjustified. That was less than 12 months ago he was arguing that. He was actually arguing that just a couple months ago before they dropped the policy. Now he says we've gone from a $44 billion tax rise to $140 billion tax cut in less than six months. You know, $184 billion turn around in his position. And he says, I might have got it wrong 12 months ago when I was arguing for a tax rise, but I can tell you down to the last cent, what I can offer you in seven years’ time. Now that is just nonsense. We call it out and with due respect, you should call it out too. It is nonsense.
JOURNALIST: The $80 billion that's now freed up, are you going to use that as part of future tax promises or promises in other spaces, or are you going to use it to pay the debt?
BOWEN: In my speech at the Budget reply, after Bill's Budget Reply at the National Press Club in my further speech, I outlined our fiscal approach which was return to budget balance in the same year as the government, bigger budget surpluses cumulatively over the four years and using the majority of revenue from our revenue measures over the decade to pay down debt, that's our position. As Bill said, we have important priorities in health and education. We also have an important priority of paying down debt and returning to sustainable, healthier budget surpluses than the government is offering. That remains the case.
JOURNALIST: Could I just clarify based on what you're saying, and going back to Dennis' question. If you're going to a 2019 election, 2018 tax cuts will sort of be history. Is the Labor Party's position now that tax promises you make will only be made within the life of the next Parliament or within the life of the forward estimates?
BOWEN: That as you know Laura, is the traditional way of doing things, that you provide a promise for the next term. That's traditionally how these things work and you provide relief and policies for the term for which you're seeking the mandate -
JOURNALIST: Except for the NDIS.
BOWEN: Well, NDIS was implemented in that term, of course it goes on. There are policies which go on, and when you deliver a tax cut in one term, it continues because it's a permanent tax cut, of course that's the case. That's the case with our tax cuts; delivered and then permanent. But in terms of new policies, we're seeking a mandate from the Australian people in 2018 or 2019 or whenever the Prime Minister calls the election. It's not in our hands but we're ready. But we're seeking a mandate for this term and the responsible thing for us to do during our first term if we're given one, is to implement the policy and develop policies then that we seek a further mandate for.
JOURNALIST: So that you might in the 2019 election campaign, you may make further offers on tax but they would only be within the life of the next Parliament?
SHORTEN: I think it's clear that what you can't do is make these long term, multiple elections promises to try and buy the current election. It really doesn’t matter what you or I think, it’s what the people think. How many people have you met out there that believe a promise from Malcolm Turnbull that they’re going to get something in seven years’ time? Most of you aren’t even sure he’s even going to be here to keep that promise. So let’s not treat the Australian people like they can be bought off on a promise of you know, a free beer in seven years’ time so vote for me now. What we’re doing, is we are prioritising 10 million Australians right now. We say to Mr Turnbull you’ve got your radical proposal, we think it is poorly designed, his proposal, for the second and third tranches. The idea that someone should be paying the same rate of tax an aged care worker on $50,000 and someone earning $195,000 - I don’t think that is a sensible system. But leave aside what we think of the poor design, making a promise and trying to bind this Parliament and the future parliaments for a seven year promise, it doesn’t fly does it?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what the Australian people end up here with is a political game of chicken. The government says it won’t split the bill, you say you won’t support the bill if it’s not split. So the greater good in the end if everybody holds those positions is absurd, no one gets a tax cut. Why not then just accept that you both agree on a first tranche – it’s the only tranche that can be affective before the next election, accept the lot and then amend it in government?
SHORTEN: Well, you guys often criticise politicians for voting one way and then doing something else, I mean that’s what your question -
JOURNALIST: No, that is a clear principle when you vote for it, that you don’t accept the second and third tranches which aren’t going to come into effect until another election, possibly two.
SHORTEN: Well I often find in life, it’s easier to remember your lines if you’re sticking to what you believe in. Why don’t we just vote for the first tranche? This is a government - if they think that their second and third tranches are so fantastic, put it to the people, just put it to the people. And I have to say, I don’t think there is a lot of consistency from this government, but one thing they are consistent about is they can swear uphill and down they will never change, we’ll never blink – then hey presto. I mean, remember when they were going to back in the GST, then they dropped that. They were going to back in negative gearing reform and they dropped that.
BOWEN: State income taxes
SHORTEN: State income taxes. This is a government who’s only consistency is dropping stuff. So why don’t we actually put all the politics to one side as you’ve suggested Mark. We all support tax cuts for the first group, let’s do that, and where we disagree, why don’t we agree to disagree and trust the Australian people to make a choice at the next election.
JOURNALIST: Prior to this announcement, I think rough estimate, you got about $220 billion over ten years in extra revenue from your previous policies decisions. Can we now add onto that the $80 billion – the stage two plus the $40 billion in stage three?
BOWEN: Well Phil, of course we have our own tax cuts in 2019. We support stage one, you put those two together, that costs around $73 billion. The government’s plan costs $140 billion, so we do have a more responsible plan in response to Shane Wright. We’ve outlined our fiscal rules, what our priorities are in terms of health and education and budget repair and paying down debt over the decade.
JOURNALIST: Can I just check something you said Shadow Treasurer on the tax increase for high income earners in the budget. Is that you saying the hard and fast rules (inaudible)?
BOWEN: That’s our policy and that what we have adopted in 2022/2023. Bill has already previously indicated that we would see that as a temporary measure to help get the budget back to sustainable surplus, healthy surplus. We’ve had a look at it obviously, we think that that timeframe is a reasonable one. We say to high income earners, we don’t do it lightly, we don’t do it for fun, we do it for the right reasons but we think that it’s an appropriate –
JOURNALIST: I just want to check that it’s not going to change if the budget circumstances change.
BOWEN: No, that’s the policy that we have announced.
JOURNALIST: Sorry so what is a high income earner Mr Bowen?
BOWEN: Well the Budget Repair Levy applies to Australians who earn -
JOURNALIST: Yes okay, but you’ve made some judgements on people between $90,000 –
SHORTEN: Sorry, but I’m not about to lecture any individual about how they’re finding making ends meet. You can put subjective judgements, that’s not my job.
JOURNALIST: Well you’ve made a subjective judgement in some of your calculations.
SHORTEN: Well let me answer your first question. I’m not about to tell Australians how to live their lives and how they’re doing making ends meet. But when it comes to priorities, a Labor Government is going to prioritise people who are earning less income. I make no value judgements about my fellow Australians, but where do I think the scarce tax payer dollars should go, it shouldn’t go to multinationals or big banks. It doesn’t need to go to millionaires, they’re already doing well. I’m interested in aged care workers right now who are doing the shifts, looking after the vulnerable. I’m interested in teachers who have no prospect of earning more than $100,000 but they are teaching our kids, the future of Australia. I’m interested in tradies working right now on building sites, they’re not earning this fabulous amount that Mr Turnbull is talking about. They will benefit for our tax cuts, they’re my priority.
And by the way whatever your income, I want to make sure that if you need to see a doctor, you can afford to see a doctor. I want to make sure that wherever you live in this country, if your kids want to do an apprenticeship - Mr Turnbull loves to talk about our aspiration, he’s got only one definition of aspiration; more money. Now that’s not unreasonable, but I think there is plenty of aspiration in this country. I don’t judge a person by how much money they make. If you’ve got an aspiration to send your kids to TAFE, that will do me. If you’ve got an aspiration to find decent home care or residential care for your parent who has been diagnosed with dementia, that’s aspiration. If you have an aspiration to be fair dinkum on climate change, that will do you. I take a view of Australians which is not defined by how much money you’ve got in the bank.
JOURNALIST: Just on the question on the prices and energy prices, what’s your reaction to the release of Josh Frydenberg’s National Energy Guarantee and have you had any discussions with your state counterpart?
SHORTEN: Well I think that Josh Frydenberg’s energy policy is in more trouble than the early settlers isn’t it. I mean you’ve got the insurgency from the right, it’s got the fairly lame targets that they’re proposing, and this National Energy Guarantee yet again - and once a month you can set your clock by it, you can set your watch by it. The Turnbull Government rushes out and says we’ve solved electricity and gas prices, until of course Australian’s get the bills. We did say last question but we haven’t heard from Rob.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, a lot’s been said about respect toward women over the last couple of days, just given the allegations towards Bob Ellis over the last couple of weeks, do you regret in hindsight delivering his eulogy and would you do it again?
SHORTEN: Well I didn’t know then what we know now, so I think they are shocking allegations and I just - yes, I do.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten just on China very briefly – quickly. Do you share the Foreign Minister’s concerns about China using debt entrapment to threaten sovereignty of Pacific Island states and do you agree with China’s Foreign Minister to Australia who says that there is a Cold War mentality besetting the government?
SHORTEN: I actually agree with what Senator Penny Wong has said and I would encourage you of all to read what she has said. But in terms of the Pacific, politics is like nature it hates a vacuum and Australian Government policy in the last five years has created a vacuum. Do I blame Pacific Islands and China for reaching out to each other when Australia has vacated the field, no. The answer here is not to reignite cold war rhetoric. I mean we depend on - the government’s budget numbers depend on China’s success, let’s be honest. This government’s budget numbers are built on China. What I think we need to do in the Pacific is just treat the Pacific and the nations there not as big brother, but certainly as family. And we need to extend a lot more aid, interest and support into the Pacific and I think that’s how we can actually see the proverbial win-win all round.