News Q&A insight: Anthony Albanese hints a Labor government might dump Stage 3 tax cuts

Q&A insight: Anthony Albanese hints a Labor government might dump Stage 3 tax cuts

Anthony Albanese is put under scrutiny on ABC TV’s Q&A on Monday night. Photo: ABC
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Anthony Albanese has given his strongest indication yet that he would consider dumping the legislated Stage 3 tax cuts if Labor wins the next election.

In a wide-ranging solo appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night, the Opposition Leader also explained why he keeps calling it “the Morrison recession”, and defended his record and contributions through the pandemic period.

“It has been a challenge,” he admitted, when asked if he was struggling to cut through and make an impression on the public in recent months.

Mr Albanese was invited to the ABC’s flagship political discussion program after his budget reply speech last week in Parliament.

He received several questions on Labor’s plans for heavily subsidised universal child care, but he also took aim at the Coalition government’s budget priorities.

Anthony Albanese’s budget reply laid out a plan for cheaper childcare. Photo: AAP

While the government fast-tracked Stage 2 of its multi-year tax plan from 2022 to this year, the controversial Stage 3 – overwhelmingly benefiting Australia’s richest – was kept as legislated until 2024.

Australia will have at least one election before then, and Mr Albanese has been asked whether Labor would keep the scheduled $130 billion tax cuts on the books if it won government.

Labor opposed the Stage 3 cuts in 2018, after backing the first two stages, but Mr Albanese hasn’t taken a position on the last tranche of changes since becoming leader last year.

Again refusing to formally stake out Labor’s view on Monday night, repeating previous answers that the party would gradually roll out policy over coming months, Mr Albanese hinted he would seriously consider changing the Stage 3 plan.

“That’s one of the things we will look at,” the Labor leader said when asked by host Hamish Macdonald.

“Our concern is that about $80 billion of that is really at the high end.”

Mr Albanese suggested the government itself may have to reconsider the tax cuts, on account of needing a “path” to repay ballooning national debt.

“I think it’s very hard to argue, in the current circumstance, for high-end tax cuts,” Mr Albanese said.

“We will look at the detail and make an announcement at an appropriate time.”

He claimed Labor would pay for its budget proposals with “a range of saves” from the Coalition’s budget, but did not detail which programs he would cut if he became Prime Minister.

But when asked by Macdonald whether Labor had “$130 billion to
play with ahead of the next election if you’re not going to go with the Stage 3 tax cuts”, Mr Albanese replied “that’s a way you could look at it, absolutely”.

“But we will make our announcements and it will all add up. We will say exactly what we’re doing on the fiscal front well before the next election.”

Elsewhere in the program, Mr Albanese fielded a question from a man who said he was a long-time Labor voter but was rankled by the opposition’s continual reference to Australia’s COVID-influenced economic downturn as “the Morrison recession”, in reference to PM Scott Morrison.

The Labor leader noted economic activity was already declining in Australia before the pandemic. He claimed it was fair to personally label the PM with the recession, partly because the Liberals had done the same thing to former Labor PM Paul Keating.

“The fact is that Scott Morrison last week referred in the Parliament on a number of occasions to the ‘Keating Recession’. That wasn’t Paul Keating’s fault that there was a recession during the 1990s, and the fact is also that last year the economy was tanking,” Mr Albanese claimed.

“Why is it legitimate to call it the Keating Recession? Why is it legitimate about calling Labor’s debt as global financial crisis?”

Mr Albanese claimed the term was a “shorthand” to remind people who was in charge.

On the other hand, he also defended Labor’s contributions through the pandemic as “constructive”, claiming it would not have been “appropriate” to act as a traditional combative opposition during a public health emergency.

Mr Albanese also offered an unlikely defence of under-fire NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, facing scandal over a relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire – the focus of an ICAC hearing.

The Labor leader said he had known the Liberal premier for some time, and while there were questions to answer about the episode, he claimed it was “inappropriate” that some evidence had been publicly aired through ICAC.

Mr Albanese is famously private with his personal life.

“She certainly shouldn’t be judged for the fact that she has a relationship with someone. That is her business, as far as I’m concerned. Consenting adults. That is no one’s business except for hers,” Mr Albanese said.

“Some of the detail that I’ve read, and I’ve only read it, I didn’t see the evidence, it isn’t appropriate that that detail be made public.”