Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers believes last week’s federal budget is unworthy of all the challenges the country and its people have faced during the coronavirus pandemic.
In his first public speech since the budget was handed down just over a week ago, Dr Chalmers will tell the National Press Club on Wednesday the nation needed a plan to kick-start the economy out of recession while redefining the future.
Instead it will be a budget remembered only as Australia’s most expensive missed opportunity.
“What the Liberals served up last week wasn’t just uninspired and unimaginative, it was unworthy,” he says in his prepared speech notes obtained by AAP.
“Unworthy of the moment and the challenge before us and unworthy of all those Australians who’ve carried us through this crisis.”
He says, if Labor was in government now, its fiscal strategy would be anchored around a more ambitious approach that charts a path back to full employment, while tackling insecure work and chronic underemployment.
“This approach doesn’t have to mean more debt, it means debt that’s better deployed to kick-start the recovery and create more jobs,” he says.
For all the talk that these are unprecedented times, he argues, the problems gripping the economy existed long before COVID-19 arrived and the solutions will need to endure long after it’s gone.
“The big risk here for our country is that Australia might miss this once-in-a-generation chance to dig deep, to do something meaningful and lasting,” Dr Chalmers says.
He says at times like this there is no choice between borrowing or not, but there is a choice whether there is anything to show for it or not.
“Borrowing is unavoidable right now, but we should not be borrowing to build nothing, change nothing, fix nothing,” he says.
He says while the government has made much of its new fiscal strategy, its last one promised a surplus in the first year and every year but delivered only deficits.
It also promised to pay down debt but instead it has multiplied it.
“All those crates of ‘back in black’ mugs at Liberal Party headquarters tell the story of a government that put souvenir sales ahead of substance,” Dr Chalmers says.
Still, despite the opposition’s gripes, Australians appear to have backed the budget and its personal income tax cuts.
The latest weekly consumer confidence reading on Tuesday rose for a sixth consecutive week to stand at its highest level since May, in what Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described as the “budget bounce”.
The monthly Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer sentiment survey will be released on Wednesday.