Labor targets health, tax cuts in Budget reply

Bill Shorten’s pitch to be prime minister starts with billions of extra dollars for health and education, and bigger personal income tax cuts for workers.

Apr 05, 2019, updated Apr 05, 2019
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor frontbenchers after last night's Budget reply speech. Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor frontbenchers after last night's Budget reply speech. Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

He’s promising $1.2 billion to make almost all cancer scans free and another $1 billion to create 150,000 apprenticeships.

The Labor leader’s budget-reply speech included a promise for six million free X-rays, mammograms, ultrasounds, and PET and CT scans.

“For so many people, cancer makes you sick and then paying for the treatment makes you poor,” Shorten told parliament last night.

“If we win the election, not only will we provide new MRI machines to communities where they are needed most.

“We will guarantee that every single MRI machine in Australia that meets national standards is covered by Medicare for cancer scans, full stop.”

The speech has taken on even greater relevance this year, as it comes just weeks out from an election which Labor is widely tipped to win.

Shorten also promised to match the coalition’s $1080 tax cut for 4.5 million middle income earners.

But he’s gone further for people earning below $45,000 a year, with the lowest income workers getting $350 a year compared to the coalition’s $255.

“To give these workers the tax cut they deserve, Labor will increase the offset for low-income and part-time workers,” Shorten said.

However, Labor would not go ahead with the coalition’s planned July 2022 tax cuts or the July 2024 changes – which make 94 per cent of workers pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar, with the biggest benefits going to the wealthy.

Not progressing the two coalition tax changes is expected to give Labor about $150 billion to pay down debt and balance the books.

The coalition promised to create 80,000 apprenticeships to fill the skills shortage, but Shorten will almost double that with a $1 billion pledge.

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“This investment will provide 150,000 additional apprentice incentives in areas of skill shortages.”

Labor will also provide $433 million to immediately cover specialist consultations for cancer patients.

“Over the next four years, this will mean an additional three million appointments are bulk-billed – with no out-of-pocket costs,”  Shorten said.

The coalition has regularly attacked Labor after it stopped putting new medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme when the budget went strongly into deficit.

So Shorten has promised to guarantee that every drug recommended by the independent experts will be listed on the PBS.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann criticised Labor’s record of delivering deficits when in power and Shorten’s plans to raise taxes.

“Last time in government, Labor delayed the listing of important new medicines on the PBS because they ran out of money,” Cormann tweeted.

The coalition has targeted income tax cuts as a key plank in its campaign win a third election.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised a $7.1 billion surplus in 2019/20 and a plan to wipe out net debt by 2030. Shorten promised bigger surpluses but didn’t detail what they would be.



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