What the fair go means

The Opposition Leader's speech in reply to the 2018 Budget
Bill Shorten

My fellow Australians, as I listened to the government's fifth budget on Tuesday night, I knew immediately we can do better than this, the people of Australia deserve better than this and a Labor government will deliver better than this—better than 10 years of cuts to schools and hospitals in exchange for $10 a week. Ten dollars a week! That's all that the Liberals think it will take for you to forgive and forget. They think that for $10 you'll forget they tried to put up your taxes last year, that for $10 you won't care about the cuts to your child's school, that for $10 you'll forgive waiting for elective surgery at Australia's hospitals and that for $10 you won't mind if your Internet's no good or your local TAFE is closing or your daughter can't find a place at uni. They think that, if you get $10 a week, you won't notice that you're losing $70 in penalty rates from your Sunday pay. This Prime Minister is so out of touch. He thinks that, if you get $10 a week, you'll be fine with the banks getting a $17 billion giveaway.

The Liberals desperately want you to believe that this budget is fair, but here's what the Prime Minister isn't telling you: his $715 million cut to hospitals is still in the budget; his $17 billion cut to schools is still in the budget; and his $80 billion handout to big business, banks and multinationals is most certainly still in the budget. This budget still cuts money from our universities, and it contains a sneaky new $270 million cut to TAFE. The Prime Minister's still cutting $14 from pensioners every fortnight. He's cutting dental care for veterans. He's cutting the ABC, yet again. He's keeping Medicare frozen for specialist visits. He's even keeping the GST on tampons. And he is still increasing the retirement age to 70. So tonight Australians should ask themselves: if your family relies on any of these services, what kind of future is this Prime Minister really offering you?

My fellow Australians, I'm here to outline Labor's plan to bring the fair go back into the heart of our nation, a plan to properly fund health and education, a plan to boost your wages and a plan for real tax cuts to help you with your family budget. It's a plan that we can afford, because we are not going to spend $80 billion of tax expenditure on big business and the big banks. It's a plan that will work, because Australia thrives when middle- and working-class Australians can get ahead. Tonight is about a fair go for everyone who wants the best for their kids and their future, a fair go for every part of our nation, from bush to coast, from growing cities and suburbs right throughout the country, a fair go for the real forgotten people: working families, pensioners, and Australians doing it tough.

Our plan begins with a better and fairer tax system. After years of flat wages, rising power bills and increasing health costs under the government, it is a time for a fair dinkum tax cut for middle-class and working-class Australians. I've already said that Labor will support the government's modest tax cuts, starting on 1 July this year. But tonight I'm pleased to announce that a Labor government will go further and do better on tax cuts for working-class and middle-class Australians. Tonight, I'm pleased to advise that in our first budget we will deliver a bigger, better and fairer tax cut for 10 million working Australians—almost double, in fact, what the government offered on Tuesday. This is our pledge to 10 million working Australians: under Labor you will pay less income tax because I think that you are more important than multinationals, big banks and big business.

In our first term of government, a teacher earning $65,000 will be $2,780 better off under Labor, an extra $928 each year. A married couple, one serving in our defence forces earning $90,000 and the other working in aged care on $50,000, will be $5,565 better off under Labor, a combined $1,855 extra each year under Labor. We can afford to do more to help these 10 million Australians because we are not giving $80 billion to big business and the big four banks and because we have already made hard choices for budget repair: creating a level playing field for first home buyers by reforming negative gearing and capital gains; cracking down on tax minimisation by eliminating income splitting in discretionary trusts, without affecting our farmers; and ending unsustainable tax refunds for people who currently pay no income tax, while protecting pensioners and charities.

At the next election there will be a very clear choice on tax: 10 million Australians will pay less income tax under Labor, and we can afford to cut the taxes of 10 million Australians without cutting services, because unlike the Liberals we are not wasting $80 billion on a discredited corporate tax giveaway to the top end of town.

Labor's plans mean that we can deliver a winning trifecta in government: a genuine tax cut for middle-class and working-class Australians; proper funding for hospitals, schools and the safety net; and paying back more of Australia's national debt faster. There was a time, I remember, when the Liberals ran around saying that a national debt of $227 billion was a budget emergency. There was a time, I remember, when they were first elected, that they said that every man, woman and child owed $9,000. But on Tuesday night I do not remember hearing the Treasurer admit that national debt has more than doubled under the Liberals. I do not remember him admitting that it's now $21,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. I do not remember him admitting that next year total interest payments on national debt will pass $18 billion—$18 billion every year, Treasurer; that's what you've achieved. It is more than the Commonwealth spends on the NDIS, or aged care, or child care. It's about twice as much as Australia spends on our public schools.

But the Liberals' only strategy is to cross their fingers and hope. This is not good enough in a time of trade conflict between America and China, in an age of soaring global debt and rising US bond markets. No Australian government can prevent global bad news, but good governments prepare for it. It may not be politically fashionable but it is time to be responsible. Labor's economic reforms put us in a much stronger position to cope with international uncertainty over the coming decade. We can pay down national debt faster because we're not giving $80 billion away to multinationals and because we have made the tough decisions to reform our taxation system.

On Tuesday night we discovered that the Liberals are planning to radically rewrite the tax rules of the nation, and the more that Australians learn about this latest scheme, the less they like it. How on earth can it be fair for a nurse on $40,000 to pay the same tax rate as a doctor on $200,000 or for a cleaner to pay the same tax rate as a CEO? How can it be fair that, under this tax experiment, the doctor earns five times as much as the nurse but his tax cut is 16 times bigger? Today, new research has revealed that, under this plan, $6 in every $10 will go to the wealthiest 20 per cent of Australians. Very quickly, this is looking like another mates rates tax plan from the Liberal Party. At a time of flat wages, growing inequality and a greater sense of unfairness in this community, when too many jobseekers are stuck in poverty, when children go to school hungry, when women fleeing family violence cannot find safe accommodation, people are worried that this plan is neither fair nor affordable. Frankly, Australians are entitled to be pretty sceptical of the whole thing and to wonder if this 'come and talk to me after two elections' plan, this promise on the never-never, will ever happen. My team and I are ready to vote for tax cuts for working families. We will not allow the Prime Minister to threaten to block tax cuts for 10 million Aussies unless the parliament writes a cheque for high-income earners seven years hence.

Every Australian understands that wages have grown by just two per cent in the past year, slower than the price of things you need to buy, way less than your bills. Yet this government in its budget is pretending that wages will increase by over 13 per cent in the next four years. We know that the Liberals haven't the slightest idea of how this will be achieved. And, when the current wages system is demonstrably not delivering for workers, they are dreaming if they think that same system will magically deliver much better outcomes. Tonight, Labor have shown that we are a party of lower taxes for working and middle-class families, and for more than 120 years we have been the party of higher wages for workers. We have a real wages policy. Our wages policy will restore Sunday penalty rates. We will crack down on wages theft, the abuse of labour hire where companies shift their permanent jobs onto labour hire jobs just to cut their pay. We will get enterprise bargaining off life support and employees and employers back to the negotiating table for more productive workplaces, more profitable enterprises and higher wages. We will lead a new push to deliver genuine pay equity for Australia's working women. Labor's wages policy is better for workers; our income tax policy is better for households; and both are better for the economy.

We've also got real plans for job creation. We are committed to a tax cut for every Australian small business, for 93 per cent of all Australian businesses. We will provide tax incentives for companies who invest here in their own productivity, in new plant and equipment—new utes for tradies, new software, new technology—and our advanced manufacturing future fund will ensure that auto firms abandoned by the current governments in South Australia and Victoria can adapt and modernise. Our commitments to defence, manufacturing and local procurement, to agriculture, science and research, to tourism and renewable energy and to a better NBN are all about creating the jobs and industries for Australia's future. We can afford to invest in small business, productivity and growth because we choose Australian small businesses and Australian jobs over tax giveaways for multinationals, big banks and big business.

In the past couple of days, we've heard the government boast about record funding for hospitals. Let us take a closer look at this record. The cost of seeing a doctor is the highest on record. The average wait time for elective surgery is the longest on record. The number of hospital beds available for elderly Australians is the lowest on record. The number of people presenting in emergency departments is the highest on record—and yet one in three patients considered urgent don't get seen on time. But, in this budget, the government locked in a further cut of $2.1 billion to hospitals across every part of the nation. The health of Australians should never take a back seat to a hand-out for big business. Tonight, I'm pleased to announce Labor will reverse the Prime Minister's cuts to hospitals and create a $2.8 billion better hospitals fund. We'll put more beds in emergency departments and on the wards so we can reduce the wait for people sitting in emergency rooms, worrying about a child or a loved one who's hurt or unwell. Our fund will launch a blitz on waiting lists for elective surgery so people can get that knee replacement to walk without pain, or have their cataracts removed so they can watch their grandchildren grow up. We'll start in Tasmania, which has the worst waiting times in the nation—a year waiting for cataracts and up to 435 days for a knee replacement. And our fund will upgrade emergency department facilities in the suburbs and the regions, including better security measures for staff and patients to handle the scourge of ice.

If someone you love has cancer, it consumes your whole world. It is a terrible disease. Chloe and I have been through it with dear friends. My own mum battled breast cancer for many years. As everyone who has been part of the fight knows, there are endless scans and tests involved. For too many people outside our big cities, either their hospital does not have an MRI machine or it's not covered by Medicare. If you live in Emerald, you have to drive three hours to Rockhampton, or you have to pay hundreds of dollars out of your own pocket each time. Cancer does not care where you live or who it strikes, and you should never have to worry about where to go to get the treatment that you can afford. Health care should just be there for you when you need it. That's what Medicare's all about. Tonight I'm pleased to announce that Labor will provide new MRIs to 20 hospitals and imaging centres in the regions and outer suburbs so Australians have a better level of care, and we will make sure that every one of these machines is covered by Medicare. And we can properly fund our hospitals, reverse the cuts of the government and invest new money in Medicare because we've made hard choices on tax reform and because we're not wasting billions on big business and big banks.

I also believe every government has a responsibility to leave the nation better than we find it. That is why we will create a national integrity commission, a federal ICAC, to improve accountability of politics and public life. And we will do the right thing by people who've been let down by social institutions—national redress for the courageous survivors of child sex abuse, and new healing initiatives for the stolen generations and to reduce the shocking number of Aboriginal kids growing up away from country and culture.

We will ensure justice for people who have been ripped off by the banks. The banking royal commission has lifted the lid, at long last, on a pathology of exploitation. After years of trying to stop the royal commission, in this budget the Prime Minister is giving the big four banks $17 billion of taxpayer money, but it's cutting money from ASIC, its tough cop on the beat. This is a disgrace, it is immoral and Labor will have no part of your actions. The government tried talking tough on this, but wagging your finger in the banks' faces means little when you're giving them a tax cut with your other hand, and upping penalties will do nothing if corporate criminals with deep pockets and big legal teams know they can outspend the government. That is why tonight I announce that Labor will create a special task force inside the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to see justice done. We will deliver $25 million in funding to make sure that public prosecutors have the resources to follow through on the work of the royal commission. In this fight, as always, we stand on the side of ordinary Australians.

Every budget should strive to deliver Australians a better deal today, but I understand that so many of the sacrifices people make are about tomorrow, about passing on a better set of opportunities for their children. But this budget does nothing for the next generation; it betrays them. Young Australians always get a dud deal from a conservative government. Young people volunteer, give back to our community, work to support their studies, pay their GST, are funding Medicare and contribute to super from their first day on the job. In return, the Liberals are cutting school funding, closing off university opportunities, taking us backwards on climate change, locking first home buyers out of the market and making it harder to get an apprenticeship or go to TAFE. Young Australians deserve better, so tonight I promise young Australians: Labor will create a level playing field for first home buyers, because I don't want us to live in a country where your only chance of owning a home is to inherit one. We're serious too about tackling climate change and helping the environment: 50 per cent renewables by 2030, a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 and zero net emissions by 2050. I promise young Australians: we will not leave you a ruined reef and rivers and oceans choked with waste, and we will always invest in your education—schools, TAFE and uni—because we know that when you get opportunities Australia gets opportunities. When you succeed, Australia succeeds.

My twin brother, Robert, is here tonight, so happy birthday for Saturday. He knows that our mother sacrificed everything for our education, and it changed our lives. If I'm elected Prime Minister, I'll make it my mission to ensure that every Australian child gets the life-changing opportunity of a properly funded, quality education: reading and writing, maths and coding, science and languages, individual attention in the classroom and protection from bullying, be it online or in the schoolyard. I want children to discover and fall in love with what they're good at, and I want every public school to be able to offer music, drama, sport and camps. This government can announce as many education reviews as it wants; everyone knows that cutting school funding does not deliver better results. That is why Labor will put back every dollar the Liberals have cut from schools. The government's cuts have hit public schools and their 2½ million students the hardest. It's public schools that will benefit the most when we invest and restore the extra $17 billion over the next 10 years. It's our public system teaching 82 per cent of Australia's poorest kids, 84 per cent of Indigenous kids and 74 per cent of children with disabilities. We want the same when it comes to schools, the very best. So, when it comes to schools at the next election, the choice is simple: Labor will put $17 billion back into the schools and the Prime Minister will put $17 billion back into banks.

Nine out of 10 new jobs created in the next four years will need either a university degree or a TAFE qualification. It's why Labor believes in quality universities and strong public TAFEs, working side by side, equal partners in our nation's future. Yet, in this budget, the Liberals are cutting more money from university and TAFE. In government, Labor uncapped degree places and opened the doors of university to a new generation. Tens of thousands of students became the first person in their family to go to university. That's the fair go in action. But the Liberal freeze on university funding means 10,000 fewer places are available next year. By 2032, over 200,000 people will miss out. Millions of families in our regions want their child to go to an Australian university. They understand what it means to hold a degree from our country. The government's freeze won't affect them. No, it will simply lock out working-class kids and students from regional Australia. So tonight I am pleased to announce that Labor will restore funding certainty to our universities and we will uncap places, providing our nation with more than 200,000 university graduates. Under Labor, a university education is not a privilege you inherit; it's an opportunity you earn. We will always choose better university opportunities over better tax breaks for the big end of town.

Labor's plan for training is crystal clear. We will stop the slide to dodgy private providers and back public TAFE all the way. We'll renovate the campuses and rebuild the workshops. We'll ensure that, as a minimum, two out of three of our training dollars go to public TAFE. We will invest in programs to help older workers retrain in later life. We already know the expertise our nation will need in the next decade: more workers for the NDIS and in aged care; more construction workers for national infrastructure and housing; and more programmers and technicians for the digital age. I don't want Australia to meet these needs with skills visas; I want to train our people for these jobs. There is no excuse for a skills vacancy to last one day longer than it takes to train an Australian to do that job. So tonight I am pleased to announce that a Labor government will cover all up-front fees of 100,000 TAFE places in our first term in high-priority sectors from ag and engineering to disability and plumbing. We would expect at least half of these opportunities to go to the women of Australia. We'll get jobs like carpenters, cooks and bricklayers off the national skills shortage list and we will keep them off it. Instead of looking overseas or relying on temporary visas, employers will have a skilled local workforce ready to go. And we can make this happen because we put 100,000 TAFE places ahead of $80 billion of corporate tax giveaway.

This budget falls hardest on the young and the old. The Prime Minister is still cutting $14 a fortnight from pensioners, still telling Australians to work until they're 70, with no idea what it means to people who've spent their lives doing jobs that are hard on their bodies and tough on their backs. But I actually think that one of the sneakiest tricks in this year's budget is the fraud perpetrated on Australians in need of aged care. Around 105,000 older Australians are waiting for homecare packages. Despite all the hype, the government is offering only 14,000 places over the next four years. That's 14,000 places in four years, when 20,000 people joined the waiting list in the last six months alone. Worse still, in question time today we learned that there is no new funding here. They're simply taking the money away from residential care places and putting it into homecare places—nothing new. The people who raised us, cared for us and loved us deserve so much better than this money-go-round in aged care, cuts to their energy supplement and the world's oldest retirement age. If I'm Prime Minister, tackling dementia and delivering better aged care will be a national priority backed by real resources, because we know that giving older Australians the security and dignity they deserve matters more than an $80 billion corporate tax cut.

The same Liberal accounting trickery is at work in infrastructure. Across the four years of this budget, Commonwealth investment in infrastructure projects actually falls from $8 billion to $4½ billion. For the Western Sydney rail link, there's only money for a study—a report. The same goes for the train to Tullamarine—not a single dollar for construction. Apparently, this government can do it for free! Only Labor believes in nation building and in good public transport projects, like Cross River Rail, in Brisbane, or the Western Sydney rail line. When we invest in tourism infrastructure in northern Australia and Tasmania, when we improve the Bass Highway in Tassie, when we expand the Mitchell Freeway to cut congestion in WA and when we deliver long-overdue upgrades to the Bruce Highway, in Queensland—when we fund and build these projects—we'll prioritise Australian-made steel, we'll prioritise local workers and we'll require that one in every 10 people employed is an Australian apprentice. Labor can put real dollars into Australian infrastructure because we are not going to give $80 billion to multinationals and big corporations.

So, in conclusion, my fellow Australians, here is what the fair go means under a Labor government: rescuing hospitals and reinvesting in Medicare; proper funding for schools, TAFE and university; and a bigger, better income tax cut for 10 million working Australians. This is our plan, and this is my challenge to the Prime Minister: if you think that your budget is fair, if you think that your sneaky cuts can survive scrutiny, put it to the test. Put it to the test in Caboolture. Put it to the test in Burnie. Put it to the test in Fremantle and in Perth. I will put my better, fairer, bigger income tax cut against yours. I'll put my plans to rescue hospitals and fund Medicare against your cuts. I'll put my plans to properly fund schools against your cuts. I'll put my plan to boost wages against your plan to cut penalty rates. I'll put my plans for 100,000 TAFE places against your cuts to apprenticeships and training. I'll fight for the ABC against your cuts. House by house, street by street and suburb by suburb, my team and I will make this a referendum on your $80 billion corporate tax giveaway to multinationals, big business and the big banks. This nation needs a leader that gets it; it needs a party with a plan for the future; and it needs a government that will deliver a fair go for all Australians. That is what we deliver. That is our promise.


Hon Bill Shorten MP is the Leader of the Opposition on behalf of the Australian Labor Party in the House of Representatives of the Parliament of Australia. This is the text of his reply to the Budget delivered on 10 May 2018.


See also:

Suggested citation
Shorten, Bill, 'What the fair go means', Evatt Journal, Vol.17, No. 2, June 2018.<https://evatt.org.au/papers/what-fair-go-means.html>