11 May 2018




ANGELA SMALLCOMBE: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten last night delivered his Budget in reply speech

Mr Speaker, 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 you are more important than multinationals, big banks and big business.

And that’s just a little of what Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had to say in his Budget in reply speech last night and joining me now is Labor Senator Penny Wong.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning Angela, good that you came in and made sure that the show went on.

SMALLCOMBE: The show must go on! So, “bigger and better”, “almost double” these are the words that we are hearing from Bill Shorten. Is that what Australia wants?

WONG: Last night you saw a very sharp difference between the parties. Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition; their priority is big business and high income earners. Labor’s priority; middle income earners. 10 million Australians better off under our tax package and of course more investment in schools, reversing the cuts that Malcolm has put in place in our schools. More investment in hospitals because we want better hospitals, reversing the cuts that the Coalition has imposed on our hospitals and more places in TAFE that people can access and more places in universities. So, I think it is a pretty clear choice, very different visions for the nation and very different priorities.

SMALLCOMBE: We’ll break them down on by one in a moment, but is this the start of an election campaign?

WONG: That’s up to Malcolm Turnbull. We are ready to go when he wants to and we’ve been doing a lot of work over this period in opposition. That’s always a hard job, doing work on savings measures so we have the room to put in place, not just the investments in schools and hospitals because we do want our kids to have a better education, we do want Australians to have the health care they deserve, but also to ensure that our tax system is fairer.

The tax cuts that Malcolm Turnbull is proposing we saw today some independent analysis which confirmed that the people of Malcolm Turnbull’s electorate in Paddington are amongst the people that get the most tax cuts, and people in regional New South Wales among the least. These aren’t the priorities Australians share.

SMALLCOMBE: Back to the speech from Bill Shorten last night, is what he proposed for his Budget, is Australia going to be able to afford it? There were some big announcements last night.

WONG: This all about priorities, and our priorities have been clear and we have made hard decisions, some of which have been unpopular. They have been criticised by people. We’ve clamped down on negative gearing going forward because we think that is a tax concession that isn’t something that taxpayers should effectively keep funding. Why should the person buying their seventh house get more tax breaks than those buying their first? We’ve made changes to dividend imputation so people who don’t pay income tax don’t get a cash refund. We’ve made these sorts of changes and some of them have been criticised but that’s given us the room to make these decisions that were announced last night.

And of course the fundamental and big difference is we don’t want to spend $80 billion on giving a tax cut to big business. We just don’t think the banks deserve the $17 billion tax cut. So, we’ve made a decision we are not going down that path which gives us more room, not only to help the Budget, but to give the sorts of tax cuts Bill announced last night and to make the investments in health and education.

SMALLCOMBE: Back to health, what investments have you made?

WONG: There are two aspects that Bill announced last night. First we said we’d invest in an extra $2.8 billion in funding over the period 2019 to 2025 for our hospitals. We know at the moment we have got the longest on record waiting times for elective surgery but the lowest number of hospital beds available for older Australians and the number of people presenting at our emergency department is the highest on record. So we have got to do more in our public hospital system.

And we also – and this is relevant to your listeners, particularly in regional Australia, regional areas of South Australia – we are investing $80 million to increase the number of MRI machines. What we know is that for a lot of people in regional Australia they have to travel long distances and pay higher costs if they need an MRI scan, so this is an investment making sure more Australians get the medical care they deserve.

SMALLCOMBE: Hospitals – we’ve spoken about those. You also mentioned education which is always a big focus for your party. Locally there has been a big push to get extra tertiary services in regional areas like Port Pirie and Port Augusta. Can you see the extra funding for 200 tertiary places being moved out into some of these regional areas across Australia?

WONG: 200,000 actually is what we’ve said. Malcolm Turnbull, I think, cut a couple of billion dollars from universities last December. We are going to abolish the cap on student places which means there is more funding flowing to universities and I think that’s a good thing.

In terms of TAFE – and I know that’s also been an issue that South Australians have raised with me – where we recognise that you’ve got to get more people into vocational education. We’ve got skill shortages in a whole range of areas. We’ve got high unemployment in certain areas and yet we’ve got insufficient skilled workers to take the jobs available. So, what we’ve said is we will waive the fees for 100,000 students. We will invest in TAFE by making sure more people go to TAFE and this is on top of the announcements already made Angela. We’ve said we will put extra money into modernising TAFE facilities around the country, get more apprentices onto Commonwealth Projects. We’re going to guarantee two out of three Commonwealth training dollars goes to TAFE.

So these are real investments and they are there because we understand you have got to invest in vocational education just as you have got to invest in universities.

SMALLCOMBE: Penny Wong, as we wrap up this discussion, where are you going to be making savings?

WONG: Well we’ve already announced a range of those and really, the biggest saving we are making is the company tax cut. We just don’t think giving $80 billion to companies, including $17 billion to the banks – one of the things Angela that I think is really telling about the different visions for the nation is Malcolm Turnbull wants to give the $17 billion tax cut to the banks, we want to give $17 billion to Australia’s schools.

So it is a set of different priorities, but we think what we have put out is a plan that recognises what Australians want. They do want a fairer tax system. They do want a good health system and they do want their kids to have the best opportunities.

SMALLCOMBE: Labor Senator Penny Wong, thanks for your time today.

WONG: Great to be with you Angela. Have a good morning.