Perhaps these assertions have some credibility, but both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten are relying on bracket creep – the automatic entry into higher tax rates of salaries linked to inflation – to help fund their generous promises. Although the Coalition’s long-term tax plan would in time flatten out the tax brackets considerably.
The overarching and unusually substantial battle between change and status quo is perhaps nowhere more starkly evident than in Labor’s multibillion-dollar pledges on childcare and dental care, which align with the opposition’s focus on education and health. Mr Shorten says that if elected he will budget for $2.4 billion to cover $1000 worth of dental care for 3million seniors and $4billion to improve childcare subsidies.
He also promised to increase the wages of privately employed early childhood educators by 20 per cent, which has understandably prompted workers in aged care and elsewhere to seek similar treatment.
The Age has long argued for higher wages for some of the most underpaid employees, predominantly in professions staffed mostly by women – early childhood educators, teachers, nurses and aged-care staff. They tend to spend all their extra income and help the economy generally.
But, as Mr Morrison pointed out to Mr Shorten in their first head-to-head debate in this campaign, there is much risk in undermining Australia’s long-established independent industrial relations arbiter, currently know as the Fair Work Commission.
So, the details of Mr Shorten’s policies needed to be fully revealed. How can he prevent a repeat of the gouging committed by childcare providers last time subsidies were injected? How can he make sure the taxpayer-funded wage increases are paid in full to those intended?
Such issues should be manageable. But business is understandably concerned about the implications of such an intervention in the labour market and is right to flag the potential costs to taxpayers should such catch-up payments be extended.
Mr Shorten and his team have done the hard work over several years on policy development, and their presentation, thus far, of costed ideas merits serious debate. This election cannot be distilled to slogans. That is a good thing.