politics

Budget 2016: Bill Shorten outlines $71 billion savings plan in budget reply speech.

By political reporters Anna Henderson and Dan Conifer

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has pledged a Labor government would claw back $71 billion in additional budget savings over the next decade.

Mr Shorten used his budget reply speech to deliver a pitch to voters ahead of the looming election campaign and label the Coalition’s budget a boon for “Malcolm’s millionaires”.

“From Tony’s Tradies to Malcolm’s Millionaires, this is a budget for big business over battlers,” he said.

“I have outlined $71 billion of additional budget improvements over the decade. These are the decisions our nation needs. This is what a responsible budget looks like.”

With many policies already released, Mr Shorten kept new announcements to a minimum.

The new savings would come from three key areas.

The temporary deficit levy on high income earners that is due to expire next June would be made permanent, providing an estimated $16 billion.

Labor would not proceed with the Government’s budget plan to reduce company tax to a flat 25 per cent in 10 years, which Mr Shorten maintains would save $49 billion.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s James Pearson was pleased with the Opposition’s commitment to reduce the tax, but he said he had his doubts.

“His budget in reply speech is a missed opportunity to boost growth and create jobs by giving all businesses bipartisan backing,” he said.

“This is a disappointing attempt to pit big business against small business and the loser is Australia’s international competitiveness.”

The third element of the savings plan is a restriction on the size of Government-backed vocational education loans, saving $6 billion.

Mr Shorten also hit back at the Government’s accusations that Labor was trying to pit low and high-income earners against each other.

“This Prime Minister has the audacity to accuse us of waging ‘class war’,” he said.

“It is not ‘class war’ to disagree with cutting money from families on $50,000 and $60,000 [a year] in order to give millionaires a tax break.”

Arguing against the Government’s corporate tax cut plan, he referred to a merchant bank Mr Turnbull previously worked for, saying: “Goldman Sachs is not a small business”.

And in committing to infrastructure funding, Mr Shorten fired a barb at the Prime Minister over his social media posts.

“Instead of taking selfies on the train, we’ll get new projects underway. Nation-building, not ego-boosting,” he said.

Mr Shorten did not address the $20 billion hole in his party’s overall costings, after it emerged that updated Treasury forecasts downgraded the earnings from an increase in the tobacco excise by a massive $20 billion.

Labor’s VET crackdown

Under the new vocational education savings measure, revealed by Mr Shorten in the speech, Labor wants to impose an $8,000-a-year cap on government loans for private vocational education.

The proposed VET FEE-HELP measures follow a growing list of scandals involving vocational education providers, with claims of unscrupulous operators and students overburdened with debt.

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The proposal would not apply to public TAFE courses.

“I declare the pendulum has swung too far to private providers — Labor will be backing public TAFE all the way,” Mr Shorten said.

Labor said the cap on loans would save $6 billion over 10 years and another $16 billion in revenue would be generated over the same period by making the 2 per cent deficit levy on high-income earners permanent.

The tough measures follow a growing list of scandals involving vocational education providers, with claims of unscrupulous operators and students overburdened with debt.

“We will restore integrity to the training system, by cleaning out the dodgy private colleges who have been ripping Australians off for too long,” Mr Shorten said.

Labor said in Government it would also give the Education Department powers to suspend payments to dodgy providers, link funding for vocational providers to student progress and prioritise access to VET FEE-HELP for courses that meet skills shortages.

Furthermore, it would make private providers re-apply to keep providing VET FEE-HELP loans and force brokers and third-party recruiters to be licensed.

A discussion paper released by the Federal Government last month suggested a similar plan to cap student loans.

‘$49b in savings’ by junking Government tax cut

Labor says preliminary costings from the Parliament Budget Office (PBO) show $49 billion can be saved by ditching the company tax cut the Government unveiled in the budget.

Mr Morrison used his budget speech to announce a 10-year plan to gradually expand the number of businesses subject to lower tax rates until there is a flat 25 per cent tax on all companies.

Questioned about the policy on Thursday, the Prime Minister repeatedly refused to say how much the policy would cost over 10 years.

Treasury Officials will be before Senate estimates on Friday and are expected to face questions about their forecasts for the proposal.

Mr Shorten confirmed Labor would only back the cuts for operators with annual turnover below $2 million, but would not follow the Government beyond that point.

The Government wants to extend the tax cuts to businesses with a turnover of under $10 million, before seeing the rate drop to 25 per cent over a decade for all firms.

“That [$2 million turnover] is what a small business is,” Mr Shorten said.

“We will deliver tax relief for the small businesses representing 83 per cent of Australian companies — but billion-dollar businesses are not small businesses.”

In a brief response, Senator Cormann said Labor’s plan did not address the needs of the economy.

“Australia needs a plan for jobs and growth, Australia needs an economic plan to ensure that we continue to successfully transition from resource investment driven growth, to broader drivers of growth in a strong and diversified economy but that is not what they got from Bill Shorten tonight,” he said.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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