News National Bill Shorten limbers up for more tax bravery
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Bill Shorten limbers up for more tax bravery

bill shorten
Bill Shorten criticised the postal vote during Question Time. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP
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Bill Shorten will be brave again on tax policy this weekend at the New South Wales Labor State Conference.

“Crazy brave” or “very courageous” are usually euphemisms in the trade for political folly.

But the Opposition Leader believes the time is right for a repeat of his performance at last year’s gathering where he announced he would tackle excesses in negative gearing and capital gains tax.

It set the tone for Labor’s approach in an election year. At face value it looked like a present to the government. A huge target for it to attack.

And pummel Labor they did. Relentlessly. But the Liberals missed the mark on housing affordability. Instead, they validated Labor’s argument that taxpayers should not have to pay for huge concessions to investors buying their fourth, fifth or sixth property at the expense of others bidding for their first.

Voters didn’t buy it as fair and they still don’t.

The government was then and is still now blindsided by its utter belief in trickle-down economics. As Fairfax economics writer Ross Gittins points out the public no longer buys what is good for the rich and big business is good for them.

Mainly because their experience of insecure work and flatlining wages at a time of record company profits tells them otherwise.

Labor’s Andrew Leigh, a former economics professor, says Treasurer Scott Morrison has misunderstood the Gini co-efficient measure of inequality and has ignored ABS data that shows income for the highest earners has grown three times faster than those on the lowest incomes.

Mr Shorten is keeping his latest policy boldness very close to his chest. So the Treasurer and the Deputy Prime Minister have already begun to take out pre-emptive insurance.

Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his predecessor Tony Abbott at a Liberal conference last week, but it did nothing to convince anyone that peace has been restored. Photo: AAP

They shrewdly think Mr Shorten will curb the way trusts can deny the tax revenue billions of dollars. And are hollering very loudly that the world as we know it would end as a result.

Their guess is bolstered by the fact that their former colleague Joe Hockey in 2011 had similar concerns. He proposed taxing trusts like companies only to be howled down by the Coalition Nationals.

Even though the Nationals represent the poorest electorates, in this matter they are the staunch defenders of farmers on incomes of more than half a million dollars.

Somewhat disingenuously, the Treasurer accuses Mr Shorten of being all about more tax. He forgets he is proposing an across-the-board income tax rise via the Medicare levy.

And hoping to neuter Labor’s pitch on inequality, Mr Morrison says Mr Shorten is not about growing the pie but is all about divvying up the existing one and by promising more by taking it off others.

But in a gift that keeps on giving, the government insists its recipe for growing the pie is by giving companies tax cuts at a cost of $65 billion.

The Parliamentary Budget Office in its report on the government’s medium-term projections says the Treasurer will use bracket creep or rising income taxes on wage and salary earners to pay for this largesse.

Who is doing the taking? Voters seem to have already reached a fairly negative conclusion.

It may go some way to explain why the 16th Newspoll in a row has the Coalition trailing and the fifth consecutive result with a six-point gap.

Mr Shorten says he doesn’t need an opinion poll to tell him that Australians are disillusioned with politics.

He says Australians are looking at Labor with greater interest “because we are the only party with a plan to tackle inequality”. That will be his framing for whatever he does on trusts at Sunday’s conference.

Also feeding voters’ disenchantment is the continued spectacle of a government at war with itself.

Something Liberal insiders concede is sapping support. Even last weekend’s Liberal convention in Sydney was seen in conflict terms between Tony Abbott and his successor Malcolm Turnbull.

A picture opportunity of the two men chatting did nothing to convince anyone that peace has been restored.

It will take more than a frantic tax scare campaign against Labor to fix that.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

For more columns from Paul Bongiorno, click here

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