The shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has declared it is “unnerving” that Scott Morrison is barnstorming Queensland upbraiding Labor for policy positions the party took to the election in 2019 in the middle of Australia’s first recession in 30 years.
With the prime minister limbering up for a fresh partisan fight over income tax cuts, blasting Labor in Queensland electorates that swung to the Coalition in the 2019 campaign, Chalmers said Morrison was the “most political prime minister that I have seen and the circumstances demand something better”.
“They demand something more ambitious … and he spends his time traipsing around banging on about the Labor party from 18 months ago,” he said. “I think that’s unnerving. I think it’s inappropriate. I think it’s disappointing and I think it goes to his character.”
Morrison is on the road in Queensland this week selling the budget and the prime minister has also campaigned periodically with the LNP leader, Deb Frecklington, ahead of the state election at the end of the month.
Labor has already lent support to the income tax cuts and the generous business concessions outlined in last week’s budget but Anthony Albanese has signalled he will consider dumping the government’s third round of income tax cuts – which are scheduled to occur after the next federal election – because the measures favour higher-income earners.
Chalmers told the National Press Club on Wednesday that Labor had not yet concluded a view on stage three but had outlined concerns that the change, which reduces the tax rate for those earning between $45,000 and $200,000 to 30 cents in the dollar in 2024, would predominantly benefit higher-income earners.
He said the tax cuts Labor had supported last week provided “more bang for the buck” – and Chalmers noted the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, had made that same point in an interview on Sunday.
Chalmers said he felt no urgency in determining a final position on stage three. “I don’t personally feel we need to be in a rush to conclude a view on tax cuts which don’t come in for another four years.”
Early polling indicates the budget is being viewed favourably by voters and Westpac’s measure of consumer confidence jumped by 11.9% in October.
The positive shift was attributed by the bank’s chief economist, Bill Evans, to the budget measures, the containment of Covid-19 outbreaks and the expectation that the Reserve Bank may cut interest rates again. Evans said the October consumer confidence survey was the first time any budget had triggered a positive response.
While the government is pursuing tax cuts and business concessions as the central measures to boost demand in the economy, Labor used the budget reply last week to outline an alternative that involved making childcare more affordable and setting up a government-owned corporation to build new transmission infrastructure, a measure it said would boost regional jobs.
Asked whether Albanese’s services heavy message would play well in the areas of regional Queensland that swung heavily against the ALP in 2019, Chalmers said there had been a shift during the pandemic.
“There’s a real recognition in communities that the government has to borrow, that we’re in all sorts of strife when it comes to this recession and the jobs crisis that flows from it, and so the government needs to do what it can to protect jobs and save communities,” he said.
Chalmers said Cairns in Queensland’s far north was the city most battered by the pandemic outside of Melbourne.
He said in places like Cairns “there is certainly an appetite for the government to step in … and not just in the ways that we’ve talked about, but local jobs programs and in other ways as well”.
“So I don’t fear a conversation in those places, in my home state, or indeed anywhere in Australia, about the best balance between public investment and private investment,” the shadow treasurer said.
Chalmers said Labor had to remain focused on the needs of voters and develop a strategy to boost its primary vote. “I mean there are millions of Australians who are counting on us and the temptation to kind of mope around after May last year, to drag our arses around and to whinge about the outcome and to wish things were different – all of that is irrelevant to the millions of people who count on us.”