Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has launched Labor’s election campaign with the promise of giving Australians the government they deserve and policies for cheaper medicines, more affordable housing and gender pay equity.
“We can do better than this,” Mr Albanese told a crowd of party diehards at Perth Stadium.
“We will look after the young, we will look after the sick, we will look after our older Australians.
“No one held back. No one left behind.”
Labor’s election platform confirms the party is fighting the election on the centre ground and with an appeal to voters based on integrity, competence and the gradual reform of services.
Mr Albanese said the word ‘better’ 27 times during his speech.
Under Labor’s medicine plan, the cost of co-payments on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will drop from $42 to no more than $30, with a $12.50 reduction for general patients.
The Coalition announced its own, slightly lesser $10 discount the day before Labor’s launch. It marked the return of a policy the government had been caught yanking out of the budget shortly before it was handed down.
Closing the gender pay gap
Former Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Paul Keating were in the audience and joined by the party’s star local premier Mark McGowan and his South Australian counterpart Peter Malinauskas.
Mr Albanese outlined Labor’s strongest policy measure yet on closing the gender pay gap, saying that equal pay would become an objective enshrined in national industrial law or the Fair Work Act.
“Women workers have had a tough two years,” Mr Albanese said.
“And I want to tell you that we see you.
“We see the work you have done, both paid and unpaid. We appreciate it, and we value it.
“But we need to do more than simply thank you.”
Labor says its approach would succeed where mandates had failed and that the principle of equal pay would guide the Fair Work Commission (FWC), the national industrial relations tribunal, when adjudicating cases.
Mr Albanese said he would also establish a new expert panel within the FWC to hear cases about the pay and conditions of care workers. Women represent a significant majority of the workforce in sectors such as aged care, disability services and daycare, where job security, conditions and pay are low.
Mr Albanese twice said the party stood for “better pay”. Labor’s employment policies include backing wage cases before the FWC and stopping employers from undercutting staff pay with labour hire.
Fighting ‘the devil you know’
At the midway point of the official election timetable, Labor’s launch was also an opportunity for Mr Albanese to challenge what is proving to be one of the government’s more successful messages: Scott Morrison is not likeable but voters take a risk dumping him and ought to stick with the “devil you know”.
“This government has had a decade in office,” the Labor leader said after a recap of Mr Morrison’s handling of bushfires, aged care and vaccines.
“In another three years, the problems we need to fix will be even bigger.”
Mr Albanese officially unveiled a housing affordability policy based on the government taking on up to 40 per cent of the cost and equity in a new home to a value of no more than $380,000.
Under the ‘Help to Buy’ plan, home owners could buy back the government’s stake in stages, or pay it back after the eventual sale of their homes.
“For too long, Australians who have worked hard have been locked out of the housing market by flat wages and rising prices,” Mr Albanese said.
The scheme is tightly targeted and would enrol only 10,000 people per year on incomes no greater than $90,000 for individuals and $120,000 for couples.
Low-income earners, across all demographics not only first-home buyers, who otherwise would never be able to enter the market are the focus The policy is in addition to a Labor fund to build affordable and social housing.
The Coalition has its own less targeted scheme to help first-time buyers, on incomes of up to $125,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples, secure houses with smaller deposits.
Labor’s announcement comes as rising mortgage payments threaten to become a major election issue.
The Reserve Bank is meeting on Tuesday and could raise interest rates after new data showed inflation reaching its highest point in two decades.
Labor would also establish a National Housing Supply and Affordability Council.
Mr Albanese said there were five main reasons to vote Labor: Investment in clean energy; a plan for securing Australian jobs; improved infrastructure; support for local jobs; and better aged care standards plus more accessible Medicare and child care.
Mr Albanese made the first commitment under a Labor fund designed to make investments that will create opportunities for local manufacturing, $1 billion to develop new products from the resources we currently export for refining and development.
“Instead of shipping them to another country to make batteries, we’ll have what we need to make them right here,” he said.
Labor has also undertaken to fill the gaps in Australia’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure and will seek to make it feasible to drive an electric car across the nation.
Before the election Mr Albanese released proposals including to increase the coverage of child care subsidies and a $2.5-billion plan to address neglect in aged care.
In closing, Mr Albanese cast the election as a contest between two different philosophies of government.
“If we stand still, we will be left behind,” he said.
“It is a choice between shaping the future – or being shaped by it.”
Labor must make gains in Western Australia to win the election; the party hopes that the unusual popularity of Mr McGowan’s government might help them win up to three seats: Swan, Pearce and Hasluck.
Earlier on Sunday, Mr Morrison appeared at a Liberal Party rally at Sydney Olympic Park, west of the Sydney, a region where the government faces a tough task in holding the seat of Reid.
But Mr Morrison’s “captain’s pick” for the seat of Warringah, Katherine Deves – an activist on transgender participation and until only recently critical of the Liberal government – stole the spotlight with a wordless appearance.
The Prime Minister took aim at Labor’s housing affordability announcement shortly before the Perth launch started.
“Our plan is for Australians to own their own home, not for the government and Anthony Albanese to own your home,” he said.
“They’re looking to make money out of this.”