Four things we learned from Bill Shorten’s 2017 budget reply speech
Emma Koehn / Friday, May 12, 2017
Opposition leader Bill Shorten says the federal government’s 2017 budget is an “admission of guilt” that the economy has stagnated under its leadership.
However, while Labor has turned the focus back on skills and training, there was no mention of the small business community at all when Shorten delivered his budget reply speech on Thursday night.
Instead, he labelled policies unveiled by the government on Tuesday as misplaced and ineffective — from the levy on banks to the government’s first home buyers super plan — and said the Labor Party would not “waste $300 million” to pay state and territory governments to reduce red tape.
Here are four things we learned from the Opposition Leader last night.
1. Going after the big end of town
Shorten took aim at the government for delivering corporate tax cuts to business while failing to take proper action on the tax avoidance of multinationals and high net worth individuals.
Claiming the Coalition is “clinging” to corporate tax cuts that are now projected to cost the budget bottom line more than $65 billion, Shorten pledged Labor would “close loopholes” that allow businesses to hide the true state of their affairs and move money offshore, as well as taking aim at individuals who play the tax system.
“In 2014-15, 48 Australians earned more than $1 million and paid no tax at all, not even the Medicare levy; instead, using clever tax lawyers, they deducted their income down from an average of $2.5 million to below the tax-free threshold,” he said.
“Instead of beating our chests about welfare crackdown 9.0 and setting robo-debt collectors loose, Labor will get tough on the people who earn and owe big dollars — that is fair,” he said.
Labor policies in this area include capping the amount individuals can deduct for management of tax affairs at $3,000.
2. A promise on apprenticeships and training
Labor would reverse the most recent $600 million cuts made to the TAFE sector, Shorten promised, and would establish a $100 million “future fund” for training.
“We will deliver world-class facilities for a world-class training system. And this rebuilding work will begin where it is most needed: in areas of high youth unemployment around the country,” he promised.
The opposition is also spruiking a “one in ten” rule for Commonwealth infrastructure projects, aimed at boosting the number of apprentices getting experience through major building initiatives.
“For every major infrastructure project funded by the Commonwealth, one in every 10 people employed must be an Australian apprentice. That means, when we invest in public transport for our cities … when we develop the north for tourism infrastructure, we will also be investing every time — every time — in Australian jobs and Australian apprentices.”
The same rule would apply to Government-Business Enterprises, Shorten said, including the National Broadband Network, defence procurement and the Australian Rail Track Corporation.
3. Rejecting the “joke” of housing affordability measures
The Opposition Leader has also strengthened battle lines when it comes to housing policy, calling the government’s affordability measures “an insult”.
Reaffirming that the opposition would tackle negative gearing and capital gains tax to remove “tax breaks which give every investor a head start and every option”, Shorten called the government’s First Home Owner Grants scheme a “joke”.
“When you study the detail you see that this program offers microscopic assistance for young people,” he said.
“This is not a solution; it is false hope for people who do not have rich parents. Labor will not support this cruel hoax. But we will deliver on our plan for affordable housing, driving the construction of 55,000 new homes over three years and creating 25,000 jobs every year.”
4. Calling out the costs of policy on everyday Australians
While Shorten said Labor won’t oppose the federal goverment’s proposed bank levy, he said the Opposition is “deeply sceptical of a banking culture that takes every opportunity to hit customers with higher fees and charges”.
Driving home the belief that the budget “fails the fairness test and it fails the generational test”, Labor will continue to gun for a Royal Commission into the banking sector and says Scott Morrison’s planned levy on bank deposits could also put everyday Australians in line for more fees and charges.
“Let me make this clear tonight: if the banks pass on a single dollar of the government’s tax to Australian families then that should be the end of this Treasurer, this Prime Minister and this whole government because their weakness will be there for all to see,” Shorten said.
“The big banks know they can run right over the top of this weak Prime Minister.”
Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.