• John McDonnell

Labor needs to define its vision


There's fog between Labor's current position and the pinnacle of government

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers gave his reply to the budget on Monday morning in a speech to the House of Representatives. It was largely a repeat of the speech he gave to the Press Club last week.


Dr Chalmers attacked the government for spending one trillion dollars on not much and argued that the spending on social measures was to make up for cuts the government had introduced over the last seven years. There is an element of truth to this argument, particularly in relation to aged care, where Scott Morrison made savage cuts when he was the treasurer.


Dr Chalmers then outlined his main argument that the budget was a failure because it spent $1 trillion but real wages are predicted to fall over the next four years. He argued that workers were being ripped off. He said that a key objective of the government was to suppress workers real wages.


Labor went to this point in question time where question after question quantified the loss of real wages for various groups of wage earners.


Josh Frydenberg responded to these criticisms by saying that the real wage predictions in the budget involved a statistical anomaly.


The Treasurer said that in 2020 there had effectively been deflation because of policy decisions such as free childcare rent relief and petrol excise concessions. Once these concessions ceased there was inflation that exceeded wage increases so real wages declined for two years. However, in 2023-24 wages would grow at around 2.75%. At the same time, disposable real income would grow over the budget period when the stage three tax cuts were introduced.


There was a discrepancy: between the losses specified by the opposition members in their questions, which were in the thousands; and the gains delineated by the treasurer which were in the hundreds, that this correspondent finds it impossible to explain.


The other recent line of attack pursued by the opposition involves vaccination and quarantine. Labor asked a number of questions of the Prime Minister and the health minister Greg Hunt, about when the vaccinations would be completed.


The secretary of the health department and the head of the vaccination task force told the media on Monday that the schedule was on track and vaccinations would be given to everyone who wanted them by the end of the year.


Labor persisted with the line that the roll-out was a ‘shambles’.


During the day, the government took a line from the infectious diseases experts and emphasised the need for people to be vaccinated, preferably before winter, if they were eligible. There is a concern among medical experts about vaccine complacency, with polls showing 30% of the public are not keen to have a vaccine.


The Nine media Resolve poll shows that Labor’s strategy of criticising the government without offering any alternative policy is not working. One reason may be that it is not being open with the public about its approach to government. Labor has said that wants childcare workers and aged care workers to be paid more but that it doesn’t want fees to increase. It should say that it will pay any wage increase granted by the Fair Work Commission out of consolidated revenue.


It should also say if it will change the stage three tax cuts or rescind them altogether if it is elected to government. Further, it should say whether it will agree to build any more gas-fired power stations.


At the moment Labor seems to be arguing that it will do everything the government is doing but it will do it better.


But there are clear points of policy difference with the government and it would probably be more successful if it spelled out what they are.