Labor replies to budget and proposes a modest reversal

Bill Shorten
Contributed by Joe Montero

Labour leader Bill Shorten’s answer to the Turnbull government budget contains some worthwhile statements that deserve support.

The restoration of $22 billion in school funding and cuts to a small group of elite private schools, opposition to the government’s 43.8 billion hit to universities and 7.5 percent increase in student fees, $100 million for TAFE, opposition to the 5 percent increase in the Medicare levy, except for those income is above $180,000 a year and new laws to take on the tax dodging industry.

Shorten has also railed against the generosity given to big business via taxation privileges, has promised a Royal Commission into the banks and warned against their passing the new levy imposed by the government’s budget onto customers and taken issue with the targeting of vulnerable Australians on Centrelink benefits.

Unhappy with the content of the response, detractors have branded Shorten’s budget reply as class warfare. But all it does is promise some restoration of prior cuts, a minor turn down the redistribution of income upwards and promise to show care for those at the bottom of the economic pile. If this is a declaration of class warfare, so be it.

If there is to be any criticism of what Bill Shorten has put forward, it is that is scant on the details and does not provide many hard and fast specifics on which there is solid commitment. There is a lot of inbuilt wiggle room, to move in either direction. Despite this, there is something in what he has said and it will raise expectations.

It  must also be said that Shorten’s answer does not go far enough. He has shown that his modest proposals can be paid for. By the same argument, more ambitious proposals could also raise the revenue to pay for them. There could be, for example, a far more specific policy to capture the billions of dollars of corporate taxes not being paid by eliminating loopholes in company tax law and ensuring that, for instance, companies with a turnover of more than $50 million a year paid at least a fixed minimum. Corporate tax evasion costs Australia $50 billion a year in taxes that could be sued for other purposes. There could be measures that seriously restrict the ability to siphon off money to overseas tax free havens.

The promise to stop the privatisation of vocational training in Australia is welcome, but could be expanded to other areas of privatisation, where it is clear outcomes are not improving and must still be maintained by tax dollars.

Action could be taken to impose minimum controls that would regulate finance and ensure that investment funds are directed to where they are needed to serve the interests of Australia’s future as a fairer society and stronger economy. Economic growth is not just about numbers. It also involves improving the quality of life for all and ensuring sustainability. These needs were not mentioned.

Nor was any commitment given to restoring Australia’s manufacturing base, without which, the future is seriously compromised.

Overall, there is the absence of a vision for the future and an economic plan to bring it about. These are serious shortcomings. The problem is that there is no clear break from the orthodoxy of consensus that has consolidated around looking after the top end and produced timidity in challenging the validity of trickle-down economics.

Nevertheless, it remains that Bill Shorten has drawn attention to the possibility of an alternative to what the Turnbull government and its backers are imposing. It is a start that helps to point in the right direction and those who feel that this is not enough, need to go for what is.








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