#5and5 Turnbull's budget week letdown
There’s a rhythm to Budget week each year. The Caucus meeting on the Monday when it’s all still speculation; the Budget lock-up where a group of us have to hand in our phones and we get access to the Budget Papers but can’t leave the room until after 7pm; the business people and Liberal Party donors who fill the halls and the public galleries on Budget night, through to the fallout from the Budget; the Question Times where we try to get access to the numbers the Government chose to not include in the Budget Papers; and finally to the Budget Reply on Thursday night where Bill Shorten sets out Labor’s alternative plan.
But this time there was one change to the normal rhythm of Budget night. For both sides of politics this week was effectively the start of the election campaign.
Here's the #5and5:
1. You’ve probably received the detail of Bill’s Budget Reply in other messages. Importantly the decisions we had already taken on closing tax loopholes and opposing the big business tax cut meant we were in a stronger fiscal position than the Government. The strongest sign of the impact of the speech wasn’t the cheers of the Labor MPs and supporters. It was the faces of the Government MPs. When Bill said we would fight for health and education the Liberals looked pretty disinterested. When he said we would nearly double the tax cut for 10 million Australians they looked ashen. By the end they were angry. For the final few minutes Scott Morrison couldn’t stop interjecting. Their reaction said it all.
2. You might remember during the break, Liberal MP Julia Banks had boasted she could live on $40 a day as part of the Government’s argument that Newstart is adequate. On Tuesday she stood up to ask a question and the Labor backbench spontaneously erupted with calls of “$40!” The Speaker called everyone to order and asked her to start her question again. Instantly you could hear the voice of Labor’s Rob Mitchell calling “Yeah, give her a Newstart!”
3. There’s always a big focus on the House of Reps in Budget week but there were some critical events in the Senate. The Government’s new rules on Assurances of Support would have meant a more than doubling of the amount families of new migrants were required to earn to act as financial supporters in a range of visa categories, most notably parent visas. It unfairly moved the goal posts on thousands of new Australians who had applied to bring their family to Australia. A couple, for example needed to earn $115,475 a year, instead of $45,185 to act as financial backers for their parents. Labor and the crossbench threatened to move a disallowance in the Senate to stop the changes, with Jenny Macklin writing to the Social Services Minister Dan Tehan. The Government backed down, with the new rules set to be struck out.
4. This was also the week that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan could have collapsed. I’d made clear unless the Government agreed to our demands we would vote to disallow. Late last week the Government came back with an offer that met all our demands including getting the extra 450GL back on track, addressing water theft in the Northern Basin, getting transparency so the scientists can properly examine the authority’s work and, for the first time, creating entitlements to water for the Aboriginal communities in the basin. Caucus agreed to the offer on Monday and on Wednesday Labor Senator Alex Gallacher led the Senate debate for Labor, saying
“Labor will commit to strengthening the SDL reconciliation process, and we will work with stakeholders about the best way to do this, whether it is through a legislative change or guaranteeing the independence of the reconciliation. If upon reconciliation the projects did not deliver the full 605 gigalitres, Labor would make up the shortage through a buyback. This puts the Murray-Darling Basin Plan back on a solid footing to a brighter pathway for the river's return to health.”
We saw for 100 years what the rivers looked like without a plan. Our decision this week kept the plan together and gives the rivers and wetlands a pathway back to health.
5. Tanya Plibersek asked a really important question on behalf of the victims of banks on Tuesday and, unusually, unexpectedly, and perhaps revolutionary the Attorney-General Christian Porter gave an honest and helpful answer. Labor Members have been approached by victims of the banks who had reached settlements which included a confidentiality clause. They wanted to know if the clause prevented them from letting the Royal Commission know what had happened to them. Turns out there is a pathway if you are in this situation. You can read the question and answer here.
1. The worst parts of the Budget received little attention in some of the coverage because they weren’t new. But Chris Bowen in his interview on 7:30 straight after Tuesday’s Budget didn’t miss:
“If you look at this Budget, in the best global economic circumstances in a decade, we have a wafer-thin surplus which doesn't get to one per cent of GDP until almost the end of the decade. And we have gross debt over half a trillion dollars and remaining there for a decade. Now on the matter of what's in it for the Australian people, we have a Government which is now doubling down or their $80 billion worth of corporate tax cuts at the same time as they haven’t learned their lesson, still taking away the clean energy supplement from pensioners and Newstart recipients up to $14 a fortnight. Still making Australians work until they are 70 to get the aged pension. I mean all the elements of the Budget that have failed remain in this Budget as well.”
2. You might remember in the lead-up to the Budget, Australians were told the Government was no longer going to abolish the Energy Supplement. That’s the payment to around two million Australians to help people pay for their energy bills. Well despite all the hype, the Government is still abolishing the payment. That means about 400,000 age pensioners will lose $365 a year. This is all part of a hoax the Government is perpetrating on older Australians. Julie Collins exposed the false claims by asking:
“My question is to the Minister for Aged Care. Before the Budget, Australians were told the Government would axe the cut to the Energy Supplement, announce 20,000 new home care places and invest billions more in aged care. Given none of this happened, hasn't the Minister perpetuated a cruel hoax on older Australians?”
3. Two years ago, the Government spent ages avoiding letting anyone know how much the big business tax cut would cost the Budget. It turned out to be $50 billion. Last year, we asked for the updated 10-year projection. The Government ducked and weaved and eventually admitted it had blown out to $65 billion. This year after asking over 10 times the Government still won’t answer. Bill asked whether they were simply too embarrassed about a further blowout to more than $80 billion. They didn’t answer.
4. The Government is claiming it will only let people on low and middle incomes have a tax cut on 1 July if we also vote for a tax cut that doesn’t come in until seven years down the track for people on higher incomes. Jim Chalmers showed how unfair this was by asking:
“My question is to the Prime Minister. Why was the Prime Minister willing to separately legislate different stages of the Government's corporate tax cuts but unwilling to do the same for tax cuts for low and middle-income earners? Why is it always one rule for big business and another for low and middle-income earners? Isn't the Prime Minister the only person standing in the way of tax cuts for ordinary Australians from 1 July?”
5. Clearly I have to include on the worst list the fall-out for Labor following Wednesday’s High Court decision. The Court only ruled with respect to Katy Gallagher but the reasons made clear that the reasonable steps test now operates quite differently to what we had believed. Our understanding had been the same as the guide given by the Australian Electoral Commission. But when a new precedent is set you have to act immediately. A couple of hours later the Labor MPs affected stood up in the House and explained that they would be resigning and recontesting their seats in by-elections. Justine Keay spoke of her determination to deliver for the people of her part of Tasmania, Josh Wilson pointed out even as recently as the Batman by-election the Australian Electoral Commission was still giving the same advice we had believed to be accurate, and Susan Lamb with a look of confidence spoke of fighting for people who rely on us with the words “I’m not done yet.” We don’t have a date for the by-elections yet but they’ll be the first test of the stark policy lines that were drawn this week.
Everything points to an election coming fairly soon. No matter when it comes we have shown we are ready. And we’ll have by-elections first, probably next month.
Thanks for keeping in touch. If you know anyone who wants to hear some of the moments each week in Parliament that don’t otherwise get reported, please forward this link to them. They can sign up for the #5and5 here: https://www.tonyburke.com.au/5and5signup
PS. When we were in Government there was always a separate document released which detailed the impact on women of different measures. Abbott abolished this straight away and since then Labor has released its own summary each year of the impact of conservative Budgets on women. If you attend many music festivals you probably know of Camp Cope who have called out discrimination in their own industry. Have a listen to 'The Opener'.