Labor’s Jim Chalmers has accused Treasurer Josh Frydenberg of lying as the pair clashed in a debate on Wednesday.
“The Treasurer has just lied to you,” a fired-up Dr Chalmers said after Mr Frydenberg said Labor would “always tax more” than a Liberal government.
“In every way that you measure tax in the budget, this government has taxed more than the last Labor government – that’s just a fact,” he said.
“They have taxed more in total, they have taxed more as a share of GDP, they have taxed more per person and they have taxed more adjusted for inflation. So that’s a lie and we need to call it out when we see it.”
The pair went head to head at the National Press Club in Canberra as Labor and the Coalition traded blows about responsibility for Australia’s cost-of-living crisis – especially following the Reserve Bank’s decision on Tuesday to lift interest rates from their pandemic-induced record low.
Mr Frydenberg was keen to defend the government’s policy settings.
“The main driver of inflation has been international factors,” he said.
“You had Moody’s come out yesterday and criticise the Labor Party for trying to politicise the cash rate increase.
“The point here is it’s been the COVID pandemic and it’s been the war in Ukraine which have been the main drivers of the inflation.”
He accused Labor of planning more taxes, prompting Dr Chalmers’ fiery rebuttal.
“It is a very different approach between us and the Labor Party and the Australian people need to know it,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“We are prepared for the discipline of a tax-to-GDP cap at 23.9 per cent. They are not. They took to the last election $387 billion of higher taxes, something that Jim said at the time he was proud and pleased of… that’s not good enough.”
Dr Chalmers said tax as a proportion of the economy averaged 20.9 per cent under the last ALP government.
“The only four times [it] has been breached in the history of this country was under the Liberal government,” he said.
Meanwhile, campaigning in South Australia on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said retirees must be given “a fair go” by the banks for staying loyal during the pandemic.
Announcing a freeze to the deeming rate for almost 900,000 social security recipients, Mr Morrison said self-funded retirees had been “doing it tough” in the past two years.
“My message to the banks is to give [deposit holders] a fair go,” he said.
“I’d be encouraging the banks – it’s obviously their call and there is no way to force them to do that – in fairness to those deposit-holders who have stood by their savings.
“They deserve the recognition of that, ensuring that those (interest) benefits are passed on directly to them.”
The deeming rate freeze will apply to 885,000 people, with the lower deeming rate set to remain at 0.25 per cent, while the upper deeming rate will stay at 2.25 per cent.
Labor said Mr Morrison should be judged for taking not responsibility on interest rate hikes, cost of living pressure and stagnant wages.
Dr Chalmers said the interest rate rise was the first of many challenges to come as the Reserve Bank also forecast increases to inflation.
“There are things that governments can do to try to manage the economy in the context of high inflation and the context of rising interest rates, and that’s what our economic plan is all about,” he said.
Labor also flagged a plan to increase wages, starting with a public sector pay rise, if it wins the May 21 election.
Campaigning in Melbourne on Wednesday, leader Anthony Albanese reiterated his pledge to legislate a same job, same pay policy and indicated it could extend to outsourced labour hire.
Labor has previously announced if elected it would scrap the Coalition’s approach to public sector bargaining, including its wages policy.
Mr Albanese said Labor would also address domestic supply constraints, flagged by the RBA in its explanation for why interest rates were raised on Tuesday following a two-decade-high inflation spike.
“Skills … is a real constraint on our economy. We have around about one and a half million Australians who are either unemployed or want more work. The issue of insecure work is a big one,” he said.
“The casualisation of the workforce – so the use of labour hire, contracting out – means insecure work, people want more hours. Those capacity constraints are things that we will deal with.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions head Sally McManus said removing limits on wage growth and providing real pay rises in the public service would generate real wage growth.
“Last week Ken Wyatt, who makes more than $426,000 per year, claimed that politicians need a pay rise, but the Prime Minister and his government continue to deny real pay rises for their own employees,” she said.
“This is a government which looks after itself, not Australian workers.”
A shift in public sector wage policies was flagged by RBA governor Phillip Lowe in a speech following the interest rates decision.
“I expect over time governments will need to shift their [public sector] wages policies,” Dr Lowe said.
But on unemployment benefits, Labor has again refused to commit to raising the JobSeeker rate beyond the current $46 a day.
Mr Albanese said a Labor government would assess the adequacy of the payment at every budget.