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Shorten Throws Budget Yardstick Through Window
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Shorten Throws Budget Yardstick Through Window

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Shorten Throws Budget Yardstick Through Window

Yesterday, Deloitte Access Economics described the 2015/16 budget deficit as a cross between a horror story written by Stephen King and The Scream, painted by Edvard Munch.

Opposition leader, Bill Shorten was however, very optimistic about the ability of Commonwealth finances to withstand significant increases to expenditure in the key portfolios of health and education as well as in the renewable energy sector. All of this was part of Shorten’s pre-budget address, hosted by Labor’s think tank, The McKell Institute at the University of Sydney also on Monday.

Shorten cited a shopping list of Australia’s positive attributes, and institutions to which he referred to as “a good barrier draw.” Following this, he then proclaimed that, “Australia needs to be selective and strategic” in where we invest. Shorten quite bluntly stated the duality that Australia must “get smarter, or get poorer.” He also shared his vision for Australia to be an “innovation nation,” which builds, designs, and refines solar technology.’

It would have been of no surprise for any member of the audience to hear Shorten speak at great length about what he perceives as the unfairness of the 2014/15 budget. A few eyebrows were raised, however, when he called for the Government to “stop blaming Labor” and “harping on” about a “budget emergency.”

On a number of occasions, Shorten emphasised how “dull” the Coalition’s policies and proposals are, which has been the word of choice for the Prime Minister to describe his next budget. This might usually suggest that Labor seek to capitalise with a number of new ideas that will capture the imagination of the electorate. In terms of concrete policy, Shorten could only allude to Labor’s proposed ‘crackdown’ on taxation avoidance by multinational corporations operating in Australia and successful retirees using their superannuation pool as a ‘legal tax haven.’

The language used by Shorten on the issue of environmental sustainability and the renewable energy sector would suggest that if victorious at the next election, we might see government play a greater role in these industries, particularly in terms of financing. Shorten made no inference however that a government under his leadership would install a price placed on carbon emissions once again. This time, Shorten alleges that his party will “seek an honest mandate,” in any case.

After a week where the cracks in the policy unity of the Australian Labor Party have started to appear, with Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek calling for the caucus to bind on the issue of same-sex marriage. Seemingly in response to this, Shorten emphatically noted in his address that his party is “united in its resistance to unfairness.”

At the conclusion of his speech, Shorten then took questions from the floor, which included what appeared to be a dixer on the issue on funding per tertiary student, and whether or not places would be uncapped, to which he answered comfortably, reading from notes that did not feature in his address. Unfortunately for the students in the room, Shorten could really only provide opposition to what he has labelled “Chris Pyne’s $100, 000 degrees”. This was questioned by another audience member who claimed that there are some degrees that already cost this much, and been so for the last decade.

On the issue of asylum seekers and border protection, Shorten was questioned by lively attendees, who heckled and shouted their arguments against the off-shore processing of asylum seekers. In his answer, Shorten condescended them, saying that he would take the hecklers “as seriously as you think you deserve to be taken.” It should be noted that many members of his own very party and indeed some of his parliamentary colleagues are of a similar view as the hecklers.

For the federal budget to be handed-down next Tuesday by Treasurer, Joe Hockey, Shorten offered to his older audience the metrics by which they should judge it. Firstly, is the budget “right for the future?” Is it “honest & responsible?” And, finally: “is it fair?” Outwardly confident, Shorten believes that voters will warm to Labor due to the “quality of [their] ideas, and their moral authority” to implement them. The Opposition Leader will give his Budget Reply to the House of Representatives next Thursday, 14th May.

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