Labor is “not for turning” on its contentious negative gearing and franking credit policies, says Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, as Labor prepares to deliver its opening economic salvo of the election campaign.
Faced with a sustained campaign by the Federal Government which is keen to brand the franking credit changes as a “retiree tax”, backed by self-funded retirees claiming they will lose from the shift, Mr Shorten yesterday invoked Margaret Thatcher’s famous rejection of pleas to back away from her contentious economic agenda.
“There is no principle that says it is fair that a non-taxpayer gets a tax refund, a cash tax refund. But it is also not fair that we’re spending $100 million a week paying non-taxpayers cash tax refunds,” Mr Shorten said.
“So we’re not for turning.”
Mrs Thatcher, still an icon of conservative economic reform, used the phrase after her first year as prime minister, when refusing to back down on her agenda of liberalising the British economy amid rising unemployment.
Labor believes the issue will cost few votes in key battleground seats, dismissing the need to placate self-funded retirees because they are likely to be Liberal voters anyway.
Government figures show two of the four WA electorates that collect the highest average cash returns from the policy are Fremantle and Perth, both held by Labor. The figures show a key marginal seat, Cowan — won by Labor’s Anne Aly by 1100 votes in 2016 — has 3173 retirees who collected an average cheque of $2056 under the regime.
But Mr Shorten again made it clear he intends to go to the May election with the policies intact, and fight the economic battle on the issue of wages growth and living standards.
“We’ve had six years of the plasticine government and we are putting our views out because we want Australia to be fairer and we want it to operate in the interests of the millions of people who go to work every day,” he said.
Labor is also ramping up its own attacks on Scott Morrison’s record as Prime Minister, with shadow treasurer Chris Bowen to deliver his opening salvo in the campaign tonight at a function run by Labor think tank, the Chifley Institute.
Mr Bowen is expected to focus on the Government’s record on economic growth, and stagnating wages for much of the workforce, and provide critique of its claims on jobs growth.
“The economy isn’t delivering for ordinary people. Growth is under-performing — 1.1 million people are underemployed, and far too many working Australians are underpaid,” Mr Bowen will say.
“Under-employment, skill shortages and faltering productivity growth are the direct and dire consequence of five Liberal Budgets which have cut human capital: schools, skills, training, TAFE, apprenticeships and universities.”
Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said Mr Shorten’s comments demonstrated that he held retirees in contempt.
“He has doubled down on his arrogant proclamation that he will slug them and rip $5 billion each and every year out of their pockets,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
“This is not someone that cares for hardworking ordinary Australians.”
Mr Shorten said the proposed changes would make the tax system fairer for all.
“It is not fair in this country that we’re spending more money giving non-taxpayers a tax refund than we are on public schools,” he said. “This Government has run out of governing. They just want to scare people about our sensible reforms which are about making Australia fairer.”