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Good afternoon, everybody.
First of all I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders both past and present.
And I'd like to acknowledge my Senatorial colleagues, Senator Keneally and Senator O'Neill.
I should also say that there are some former Members of Parliament here too, Senator Foreshore, Craig Emerson and Jamie Briggs, welcome to the McKell Institute.
And I would like of pause to therefore thank our hosts the McKell Institute.
This is the third time that the McKell Institute has generously invited me to deliver the Opposition Leader’s Pre-Budget address.
I mean this in the nicest possible way, but I hope that it's Peter Dutton or Julie Bishop or Tony Abbott giving this address next year.
But we are in what I mentally coin the 'festival of budget'.
It is a familiar season for Australians. We know the rhythms and rituals of the next week: there are the tailored leaks, the careful drops, the interviews, the speculation.
And then of course the contributions from Michael McCormack.
But of course, next Tuesday night no doubt and Wednesday morning, I want to predict there will be the usual near-universal acclaim from some of our media.
The front pages about Santa and Superman, pick your favourite digitally altered image of your current Marvel or Avenger character and superimpose Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison's face on them.
There will be forests chopped down to fill the columns of praise of the clever politics, the cunning plans and the inevitable predictions of Labor's demise.
But I think especially this year – when conveniently, there’s been a marvellous surge in revenue, a tremendous improvement to the bottom line, just in the nick of time for a desperate pre-election cash-splash.
But I also predict that as the breakfast TV shows pack up in the days after and leave the lawns of Parliament for yet again the end of another festival of Budget, the real story will emerge.
The bits designed to be hidden will come to the surface, the substance will come into focus.
That’s what happened in 2014, that's what has happened in every budget since.
We've seen the movie four times now from this Government, we know how it ends.
The nearest sensation I can explain it to, it's a bit like a late night trip to McDonalds. Everything looks so good, goes down well at the time, but soon enough you're experiencing buyer’s remorse.
Because what really counts, in all seriousness, is not what the Budget does for the job security of a Prime Minister and a Treasurer, or the electoral prospects of a Government.
It’s what a Budget does for your family and for our nation.
- Does it invest in your child’s school, your daughter’s university, your son’s TAFE?
- Does it guarantee that you can afford to see a doctor when your loved needs to?
- Does it help with your cost of living: will it reduce your power bills, will it cap increases in private health insurance premiums?
- Will it boost wages, so that you can earn fair reward for hard work?
- Does it actually invest in better aged care and stronger pensions – so that older Australians can receive some of the respect and support they so richly deserve.
- Will it in fact reduce the deficit, pay down the debt – or have the indeed the Government abandoned the economic fundamental test they used to set for every Labor budget?
Perhaps I can put it another way even more directly, does the Budget deliver on what good government should do: fulfil the generational contract.
You all understand the generational contract in this room and Australians understand it wherever they live in this marvellous country.
You understand that as families and parents that DNA hard wired into every parent making sacrifices, working hard to ensure that we can pass on a better set of circumstances than that which we inherited from our parents.
I remember clearly, my Mum took my brother and I on a total of three holidays until we left school, my parents lived modestly in a Californian bungalow, in Melbourne's south eastern suburbs.
They made these decisions to go without in order that my twin brother and I could receive a good education.
I have no doubt that that DNA decision, that sacrifice, changed my life. It is a key reason I even have the opportunity and privilege to stand before you today.
But I don't think I'm unique, I meet so many people living the same values: parents going without, to provide for their children.
But in 2018 my fellow Australians that I hear from in my town hall meetings – from the Brothers Leagues Club in Cairns the week before last, to Wanneroo Tavern in Perth's rapidly growing northern suburbs, the week before that.
Too many of our fellow Australians feel that their return on the hard work they do is diminishing.
Our fellow Australians are resilient people, they don’t want charity, they don't expect a free ride - they don't expect something for nothing.
But they do feel all too often that when it comes to Australian politics and the big economic decisions, that there is a fix in. That the game is rigged in favour of a few loud and powerful interests.
And when they hear politicians boast about job creation it doesn’t automatically transfer into the lives that they are living.
Tell it to the 730,000 Australians who are unemployed.
Tell it to the 1.1 million plus Australians who every month record they want to work more hours, but can’t find hours.
Tell it to the hundreds of thousands of people stranded on the disability support pension.
Tell it to Australian's who are working two jobs with no sick leave or job security, just to pay the bills.
People in Australia are thoroughly dissatisfied with unfettered privatisation, with the 'leave-it-to-the market’, genuflections to big-business as usual:
- Australians understand that corporate profits are soaring but wages are stagnant
- The big private health insurers are turning their industry into a con: pushing up premiums and adding exclusions to policy in the fine print – charging people more money for less coverage.
- The power companies that are gouging businesses and families alike.
- Aged care providers charging massive fees, demanding huge bonds – enticing people into complex contracts at the same time as their staff are underpaid, undertrained and the residents suffer abuse and neglect.
And I also understand keenly that part of the dissatisfaction with politics as usual is the name-calling on the news, some of our antics in Parliament. And all sides contribute to that.
But I actually think there is a bigger challenge it is the perception that Government isn’t on the people’s side anymore.
Companies pushing staff into casual employment, relying on labour hire to replace jobs once considered intrinsic to businesses reason to be.
Sending jobs offshore, depressing wages – and the Government is following their lead, moving literally thousands of Centrelink and now NDIS call centre workers onto labour hire contracts and lower wages.
At the same time in the past five years, the tax on workers has grown 25 times more than the tax on companies – eight times faster.
Let me repeat this remarkable statistic which confirms what millions of Australians intuitively understand already.
In the past five years of Coalition Government, the tax on workers has grown 25 times more than the tax on companies and eight times faster.
It’s easier now to import skills through the visa system than train an Aussie – yet TAFE is getting cut, reinforcing this problem.
And when whole suburbs have been short-changed on decent internet – because the Government decided to spend billions of dollars on 19th Century copper instead of 21st Century fibre.
Australians know that in too many ways to count, the fair go as we know it is under threat, that the middle class is feeling the pressure and it's harder than ever if you're income reliant to climb out of the working class into the prospects which we used to take for granted.
So today in line with this, I'd like to outline four things that next week’s Budget must do to pass the fairness test:
- Remove the cuts to Medicare and restore and reverse the $715 million cuts to hospitals.
- Put back the $17 billion that the Government has cut from schools.
- Give up on the so-called zombie cuts that hurt families and pensioners – cuts which have no prospect of ever passing the Parliament but which the Government fictitiously thinks, in a zombie like state is to pretend like they can balance their books. Cuts like axing the Energy Supplement and increasing the pension age to 70. And -
- Dump the multi-billion dollar giveaway to multinationals and the big banks.
On test number four, let’s get something straight – every year that this giveaway sits on the Government's books, it gets more expensive.
Because some of the biggest cuts are in the out years but of course as we get towards the out years these cuts just keep increasing.
So let me put it this way, it’s gone from $50 billion, when it was bolted on to the 2016 budget.
To $65 billion in last year’s budget, on Tuesday night it will be - in this year’s budget, on Tuesday night, $80 billion in corporate tax handout.
Put another way, last year, courtesy of the Coalition Government the four big banks could expect $13 billion in taxpayer funded corporate handouts.
This year it's estimated to be more like $17 billion taxpayer dollars to Australia's big banks.
$17 billion, of forgone taxpayer income for institutions that are being exposed, indeed as we speak, for shocking, predatory, exploitation of Australians.
There is no room for hedging here, no half measures.
If the government wants to deliver a fair budget – they have to fundamentally change their priorities and their policies.
Health care, school cuts, the zombie measures hurting the least well off, and of course the multi-billion dollar corporate tax giveaway.
Now I have to say though, in fairness to the Government, this kind of backflip, this strategic retreat, this junking of dumb ideas in the face of a united and determined Labor Opposition – it would hardly be a dramatic change of pace.
They have well and truly got form.
Last week, the Treasurer finally admitted it was wrong to use people with disability as budget blackmail to try and raise taxes on over seven million Australians who earn less than $87,000 a year.
To be fair though, he wanted credit for this belated realisation.
I think he genuinely wanted a round of applause, he wanted a round of applause for introducing it and he wanted a round of applause for retreating from it.
For abandoning his own unfair plan.
Now the Treasurer didn't start this trend to be fair.
We saw the same thing when the Government folded on their bigger and broader GST.
Families were actually meant to be pleased that the Government had decided not to increase their cost of living.
Or when indeed Prime Minister caved on his remarkable 48 hour plan to allow the states to levy their own income tax, workers were meant to be grateful that they wouldn’t be paying two sets of tax on their income every year, even though some Australians pay no tax on any of their income in a year.
But we do see this similar display I have to say with the Banking Royal Commission.
I do marvel at watching the various Ministers try and claim credit for the Royal Commission - it was all a cunning plan we just hadn't worked it out.
I have to say a diligent staff member has observed to me that this Royal Commission was opposed by Liberal and National Party Ministers on the public record 263 times that we've found so far.
Why is it that this Government always wants a medal from the Australian people when they stop poking Australian people in the eye.
It is a gut-punching form of chutzpah.
But having said that it is within character I hope for the sake of the nation, they surrender their $80 billion taxpayer funded corporate giveaway.
I hope, for Australia’s sake, that they drop the centrepiece of the last election campaign and their last two budgets.
I'm sure when they do as usual, they’ll blame Labor, they’ll blame the unions, they'll blame me, they’ll blame a flaw in the sales pitch, they'll blame the weather, they'll blame an an error in tactics.
But the truth is, the real problem is it is their values that keep driving them to make bad decisions, it is the priorities which keep pointing them in the wrong direction.
Because a Budget isn’t a statement about the nation’s books alone, it is a statement of a Government’s values.
Line by line: what you care about, where you stand, whose side you’re on - and this commitment is measured in real and important taxpayer dollars.
So if the Government choose not to reverse their cuts to schools, to hospitals, to pensioners and families.
If they don’t pass these basic tests, unarguable tests of fairness, everyone understands why.
Everyone will know that this is a Government still cutting money from the services which fair dinkum Australians rely on.
Because they would rather spend the money on their one point economic plan – a multi-billion dollar hand-out to the top end of town.
Now we don’t know how the Government intends to pay for their corporate tax giveaway. We don’t know where the money is coming from – they still haven’t told us mere mortals.
We don’t know whether they’re going to try and put up taxes on working people, although the last five years would indicate that that's a distinct possibility.
We don't know if they’re going to let the debt blow-out further, although the last five years would make you think that's a distinct possibility.
Or whether they’re going to cut essential services, which in the last five years would maybe convince it's a distinct possibility.
Or they may do all three - which is a very distinct possibility.
But we do know about these corporate tax cuts is that up to 60 cents in every one of these dollars will go straight overseas: to foreign shareholders and multinational CEOs.
We do know that the biggest beneficiaries of this largesse have already admitted – openly, unapologetically - that they’re not going to use this to employ more staff, and certainly don't ask them to pass it on in the form of increased wages for their workers.
And we do know there's something like $17 billion will go directly to the big banks –the biggest reverse political donation in Australian political history.
Now the Government have been stamping their foot, shaking their finger and saying that they’re frightfully disappointed at the actions of these banking institutions.
But it is skin deep disappointment, isn't it.
Because what else can you interpret it to be other than just going through the motions, when next Tuesday night they’re going to write them a cheque for $17 billion.
The people have worked out that the Government's not fair dinkum.
It is bad politics, that goes without saying.
I mean you can picture the Malcolm Turnbull poster at the next election.
It will be a stern visage, but you can say: ‘vote for me and I’ll give the banks a $17 billion tax hand out”.
I look forward to the jingle.
But more than the politics, more than any of that necessary political tactical debate – it is immoral to give the big banks of Australia a $17 billion tax hand out, especially in light of the shocking and predatory revelations of the Royal Commission that the Turnbull Government never wanted to see exposed.
I put myself in the shoes of those victims of these financial institutions, the ones who have been ripped off, the ones who have been exploited, driven to the brink - farmers, small businesses, individuals, retirees.
I've had a chance to talk to these people in the last two years as Labor campaigned for this Royal Commission, the whistle-blowers, the people who have lost their careers, the families, the farmers forced off the land, the people forced to the brink of psychological and emotional distress.
People who have lost not just the money but their families, their dreams of a comfortable retirement.
But they have all had a limitless determination to see justice done.
It is bad enough that the Prime Minister can’t say sorry for standing in the way of this Royal Commission for the best part of two years - denying people’s hurt, delaying their justice, merely excusing his own conduct on the basis that he made a political mistake.
No, it was just a mistake.
But to tell these people now that the Government's one line economic plan is to compensate these perpetrators - it is scandalous.
To rewarding these, literally, banking grave robbers is a sick joke.
I challenge the Prime Minister and the Treasurer in this budget on Tuesday night, have the courage and the character to look the victims of these banking scandals in the eye and explain to them why they need $17 billion of tax reduction after all that has happened.
Now for weeks, the Government in its latest strategy of manoeuvre and cunning and tactical cleverness have been telling people that the next election will be fought on the most important question of ‘tax’.
You bet it will be.
But until and unless my opposite number takes his multi-billion dollar monstrosity of policy, his reverse donation to the top end of town out of next week’s budget - his next election will be a referendum on whether this nation, after three years of Parliamentary debate, wants to pass an $80 billion tax reduction to big business of which no less than $17 billion will go to the big banks.
This nation cannot afford to waste any more time after this term of Parliament, on this question of corporate tax cuts.
The people deserve the right to be consulted, to pass their verdict and we promise to submit this issue for the verdict of the Australian people at the next election.
It is a defining issue, and it is a clear-cut question which goes much than even just the policy to the values, it goes to what sort of country we want to be.
Are we a country who believes that when you reward the top end of town, the multinationals and the big banks, that somewhat miraculously this benefit will fall from the table and enrich the working and middle-class Australians lives.
There is another proposition, which if you offer support through growth, through proper measures, through looking after the middle class and working class, that this nation can indeed ensure that its benefits are more fairly shared amongst all of Australians.
It's a very simple choice. Every dollar that my opposite number allocates to big banks and to multinationals is a dollar less available for schools and hospitals.
It's a very simple choice, but it is a profound choice for our fellow Australians:
- Do you want better hospitals and schools - or richer banks?
- Do you want to give a hand-out to multinationals - or invest in Medicare?
- Do you want to boost the profits of big Private Health Insurers - or have better public transport in our cities and roads in our regions?
- Do you want to give a bigger cheque to power companies who have been gouging you – or do you want more renewables and more investment and more real action on climate change?
- Do you want big business as usual – or do we want to be a fairer for inclusive society?
When I became Leader of the Labor Party nearly five years ago, I said that Labor was at its best when Australians could say, with certainty, and understand, what Labor stood for.
After five years I’m confident Australians know not just what Labor is against – but more importantly, what we are for.
Our plans and policies are about building an economy that works for everyday Australians.
That starts with quality education - from the early years, to school, to TAFE and university.
It means putting public TAFE back in the centre of a vocational education system.
It means renovating TAFE campuses in the regions and revitalising apprenticeships.
Because our country shouldn’t be importing skills and outsourcing jobs with temporary work visas – pushing Australians to the back of the queue – we should be building the capacity of our future workforce.
We’ll create an Australian Manufacturing Future Fund, so our auto-industry and component makers can re-tool and adapt, so our clever, competitive advanced manufacturing sector can boost its productivity and innovation.
We’ll deliver an Australian Investment Guarantee, rewarding businesses that invest in new plant and machinery, in software and assets, in their own modernisation and productivity.
But it won’t just be about education and people. It will be about the women of Australia.
We will make equality for the women an important key national economic program. It is a national priority.
We'll do it in everything from working to closing the gender pay gap, law reform to tackle family violence and - just yesterday, we even announced we’ll be removing the GST from tampons and sanitary products.
Let’s face it, if blokes needed to use tampons, or there were more women perhaps in the Howard Cabinet, I don't think the GST would never have been applied in the first place.
When it comes to infrastructure - we will fund and build new public transport, extend our airports, build new roads and new ports to free-up our suburbs, connect-up our regions to lift productivity nation-wide.
And – of course – we will end the cuts and the freezes in our health system, so once again you can say in this country that it’s your Medicare card, not your credit card that guarantees you access to quality health care.
My team and I haven't gone for a small target approach.
We've worked to put forward a comprehensive and positive agenda out of respect for the Australian people and their democratic right to have an informed choice.
Our argument at the next election is not simply we are not them - as compelling as that argument is.
It will be about showing voters and the citizens respect.
We can make it clear how we pay for our promises and how we intend to pay the debt.
We are offering the most comprehensive tax reform agenda of any opposition in generations.
A fairer, sustainable tax system delivering a strong, sustainable budget with one clear set of rules for everybody:
- Reforming negative gearing and capital gains - levelling the playing field for first home buyers.
- Ending income splitting through discretionary trusts.
- Winding in unsustainable, unaffordable concessions in high-end superannuation
- Capping blow out deductions - like spending $1 million on managing the tax affairs so you can put all your taxable income to zero.
Most recently, we've announced our plan to eliminate cash refunds to people who pay no income tax in the first place.
My whole economic team, led by Chris Bowen, supported by Jim Chalmers and Andrew Leigh, have worked hard on the design of these changes.
Our negative gearing is grandfathered - which means if you currently have negative gearing, you're not affected - existing investors are not affected.
And it will still apply, if we are elected, to new properties to encourage construction jobs.
Farmers for example will be exempt from our changes to trusts because we understand that their income is both seasonal and unpredictable.
Pensioners and part-pensioners will be protected from our changes to dividend imputation.
Universities and charities will be exempt.
The guiding principle for all of our reforms has been eliminating an unsustainable two-class tax system.
Why is it the case in this country that the more money you have, the more optional paying tax in this country becomes?
That is not a benefit extended to all.
And of course, when you have a government which spends money on schools or hospitals, training or infrastructure, this is a dividend - there is a dividend on from this investment in our fellow Australians.
There is a return on every taxpayer dollar for the individual, for the families, for the community, for our country.
When a budget loses revenue through tax loopholes, through the exploitation of unsustainable concessions and deductions, through to very careful gaming which only the very, very well-off can afford to take full utilisation - it is working people who pay a price - higher taxes, high debt, or indeed, cuts to essential services.
But let's be clear: the tax concessions that we are targeting, the tax subsidies which we will no longer maintain, these measures, these subsidies, these concessions, they are not as some in the government would have you believe, equity measures.
Negative gearing is not a tool for the redistribution of income from the very well-off to the less well-off.
It is not the product of the latter-day Robin Hood.
These measures are not about redistributing the national income in the interest of the less well-off.
Quite the opposite.
We don't see low income people living lifting themselves out of poverty by negatively gearing a significant property portfolio.
It is interesting that in the past couple of years, the number of investors who own at least five properties grew at triple the rate of those who own just one.
Nurses and teachers and police officers are not paying their accountants hundreds of thousands of dollars or using your discretionary trusts to minimise their tax.
And please, in this informed audience, let us resolve not to accept the fiction of taxable income - that somehow after someone has deducted all of the deductions they can and their taxable income at the end of this marvellous process of tax all tax optimisation, that at the end of that process, that you judge the person's income.
Judge it at the start.
So in conclusion, at budget-time, there will be lots of speeches, there will be plenty of commentary, there will be no shortage of words.
But to me, it's the numbers that tells the story of the nation, and of our values.
It is these numbers that are the real test - here is the test next Tuesday night:
- Are the cuts to schools still there?
- Are the cuts to hospitals and the freezes to Medicare still on the books?
- Are they still pushing the retirement age of 70?
- Are they cutting the energy supplement from any pensioners after September 2016?
- And are those still subsidising multinationals and big banks through an unaffordable, unjustified massive $80 billion corporate tax giveaway.
If those numbers are there, then this 5th budget will just be like the previous four: the wrong decisions, informed by the wrong priorities, driven by the wrong values.
For our part, Labor will approach this budget in the same way we have approached the last four.
We'll support what we think is good for the nation and vote for measures that we think are right.
- But no amount of pressure from vested interests or their allies in the media, will make us wave through cuts that hurt those who can least afford it.
- We will not look the other way while Medicare remains frozen and the hospitals go without.
- We will not mortgage Australia's future but stripping money out of schools, TAFE, university and apprenticeships.
Imagine if we had listened to every budget-booster, columnist and editorial in those heady days after the 2017 Budget where the increase on the Medicare levy for people under $87,000 was a marvellous idea.
We will not be intimidated if they're doing over middle and working class people just in the sheer hoopla of the days after the budget.
I'm proud that my team and I are not just strong opposition but in this term, we are a genuine alternative.
We believe the government does have a job to do in Australian society - it has a clear and profound responsibility:
- To pay for our promises.
- To deliver quality education for all.
- To properly fund our hospitals, our Medicare and our aged-care.
- To train Australians for good jobs with good wages.
- To fairly reward the contribution of working and middle class Australians
- And to that generational contract for those who follow us - to leave the place better than we found.
This is our vision: a fair go for all Australians.
An economy that works in the interests of all Australians.
Not just next week, next poll, next election but for the next decade and the next generation.