Opposition Leader presents ‘real’ Labor budget

On Thursday, May 13 Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese delivered a budget reply outlining ALP’s priorities, targeting housing and renewables for alternative economic recovery. (Image source: Getty Images)

By Helen Karakulak | @helen_karakulak

On Thursday, May 13 Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese delivered the budget reply, explaining how the Australian Labor Party (ALP) would spend your money if they win the next election.

Before we get to ALP promises, let’s take a brief look at the attitudes prefacing the reply.

Ahead of budget week, it was understood the budget reply would be trickier to navigate than previous years due to the Coalition forking out funds in a “Labor budget” fashion.

Key spending on women’s safety, aged care, mental health, and tax refunds for low-and middle-income earners are not the typical focus of the Liberals, who have built a somewhat frugal reputation, with a history of criticising the ALP’s big spending.

Regarding this shift, ABC journalist Stephen Long went so far as to claim the 2021-22 Budget is “colonising” the ALP’s “traditional territory” through its spending in these areas.

The Australian Financial Review described Treasurer Josh Frydenberg as delivering a “big-spending Labor budget” in an opinion piece published prior to budget week and since, this rhetoric has been circulating.

However, on May 12, Mr Albanese assured viewers of the Project and its hosts that “it’s not a Labor budget because it doesn’t increase wages, and it doesn’t increase living standards.”

“It’s not a Labor budget because it doesn’t set Australia up for the future. There is nothing in there about climate change, about new industries that can emerge.”

From this, it seemed clear the ALP was gearing up to fill what they recognise as voids of investment in the environment, employment, and housing.

So, what would a 2021-22 Labor budget actually look like?

Within his reply speech, Mr Albanese recalled his own childhood experiences, instances of “Liberal neglect” from the past eight years and funding distribution in the following areas.

Child care

Mr Albanese referenced Labor’s cheaper childcare plan that he outlined in last year’s budget speech, which would see the Child Care Subsidy rate lifted, with an investigation into introducing universal 90 per cent subsidy for child care.

The ALP maintains this goal, criticising the Liberal’s decision to put $1.7 billion towards child care and lifting the annual cap from July 2022. Mr Albanese claims Labor’s policy will deliver support to four times the number of families as the Liberals.

“The Government dismissed our policy, declared they had already fixed affordability and ridiculed the economic gain from investing in child care,” Mr Albanese said.

“Now the Government have rushed out a half-baked policy announcement…what the Treasurer hasn’t worked out is that if you perform half a backflip, you fall flat on your face.”

Housing

At the core of the budget reply were promises of a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, used to build 20,000 new social housing properties over the course of five years.

Other promises within or relating to this funding include:

  • 4000 of these 20,000 homes will be allocated to women and children experiencing domestic and family violence and older women on low incomes.
  • $100 million allocated for crisis and transitional housing for women at risk.
  • 10,000 affordable housing properties for frontline workers.
  • $200 million for the repair, maintenance, and improvements of housing in remote Indigenous communities.
  • $30 million over five years to fund specialist services and build supportive housing for veterans at risk of homelessness.
  • These housing initiatives are said to create over 21,500 jobs annually, with one in 10 of the construction roles created for apprentices.

Climate change action, job creation & education

These are each fairly big topics in their own right, but in the Labor budget reply they intertwine.

This is because the ALP present action on climate change as “an opportunity for us to emerge as a renewable energy superpower and create jobs.”

“Positive action on climate change and moving to net zero emissions by 2050 will create jobs, lower energy prices and lower emissions,” Mr Albanese said.

The Labor plan to reach this target includes:

  • A New Energy apprenticeships program that trains 10,000 young people for energy jobs of the future such as:
    • Renewable energy generation
    • Storage and distribution of emerging technologies, such as green hydrogen
    • Energy efficiency upgrades
    • Renewable manufacturing, such as batteries
    • Relevant agricultural activities
  • These apprentices would receive a total of $10,000 over the course of their apprenticeship, with $2,000 cash when they start, followed by $2,000 a year for up to four years of training.

The Labor party will also:

  • Establish a National Reconstruction Fund, with the goal “to transform existing industries and the industries of tomorrow.”

Job security

Another key point of contention between the parties in the budget reply speech was Labor’s promise to make wage theft a crime, which Mr Albanese claimed, “should have been done. It could have been done.”

This refers to the Industrial Relations Legislation Bill that passed earlier this year. The Morrison government voted to remove criminal penalties for employers who engage in wage underpayment from the legislation.

Other Labor initiatives to increase job security include:

  • Writing job security into the Fair Work Act
  • Properly defining casual work
  • Providing 10 days paid domestic and family violence leave
  • Establishing a system of public reporting on the gender pay gap for larger companies

Countering workplace harassment

In regards to women’s safety in the workplace, Mr Albanese promised that a Labor government would recognise an employer’s responsibility to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation, as recommended by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in the 2020 Respect@Work report.

This is one of the 55 recommendations of the report that the Morrison government noted, but ultimately did not enact as they believed the existing laws specifying a ‘positive duty’ under safety legislation is enough, despite it opposing best practice trauma-informed research.


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