The Labor Campaign Launch
The Labor campaign launch was a slick production. The Workers Party knows how to put on a good show. The optics were good: Bill Shorten was supported by strong front line women – Anastacia Palaszczuk, Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek and his wife Chloe; welcomed and endorsed by Senator Pat Dodson, who will be Indigenous Affairs Minister in a Labor Government; and surrounded on stage by his whole front bench to underline the unity of the Party. This unity was reinforced when Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard entered the room together to tumultuous applause and with not a trace of animosity. All appeared to be forgiven. Unfortunately the show lacked the good music of previous launches, however the welcome to country was an extended but professional act by representatives of the local Yaggara people, who are clearly well practised in the public performance of indigenous song and dance. After the opening razzamatazz Mr Shorten began his speech with a tribute to Gough Whitlam using the words from the 1972 campaign launch: “My fellow Australians’. The theme of the speech was “a fair go for working Australians” but he couldn’t resist sneering at ‘the conservatives’ who he accused of cowardice and chaos. He also repeated his claim that the Coalition would be hostage to Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson and that a secret deal had been done with the former in exchange for preferences. The Labor leader had three big announcements in his speech, only one of which will make a meaningful difference. The significant announcement was a commitment of an additional $500 million over four years to upgrade hospital accident and emergency departments to cut waiting times. Half the money will be spent on facilities and half will go to employing more doctors and nurses. Not all of this is new money: $250 million will come from the Better Hospitals Fund that has already been announced. There is no doubt that this will make a substantial difference to many people, particularly those in the regions. The second announcement was a sop to small business which sees itself as a victim of other Labor policies such as the taxation of family trusts, increases in penalty rates and changes to capital gains tax. What they are being offered is an additional thirty percent write off for the wages for five employees up to a total amount of $50,000. The catch is that the employees have to be under 25 or over 55 and to have been unemployed for three months. It is a once only concession that won’t carry over into subsequent years. This will no doubt be seen as a nit picking response to small business, which really wants less red tape and more tax cuts. The third initiative was a grandiose proposal to get multinationals to pay more tax. The mechanism will try and tax the royalties of big companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, if those royalties are sent to ‘tax havens’. Bill Shorten says this will raise $2.8 billion over four years. However there are a few glitches with the policy. The OECD is doing work on multinational tax avoidance under what is called the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project. What this has uncovered is that the tax havens used by the big high tech companies are not the Cayman Islands, Luxemburg or Vanuatu but the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Singapore and Switzerland, jurisdictions that offer big concessions on royalties that pass through their financial systems. It also found that the profits from these companies end up in the United States where they are fully taxed. This has produced a revenue bonanza for Donald Trump’s America. President Trump is unlikely to take kindly to Australia helping itself to his money. Nor are the other OECD members likely to take it kindly if a Shorten Government chooses to designate them as tax havens. We could lose quite a few trading partners in a hurry. Like a few Labor policies, the last two initiatives seem a bit slap dash. It goes to show that announcing policy can be a razzle dazzle process but implementing it is slow, painstaking and difficult and there will always be people who suffer from unintended consequences. The more policies you have, the bigger those consequences are. Newspoll this reveals that what Labor believes has been a turning point in the campaign has had no impact on the polls. Newspoll still has Labor on 51% to the Coalition’s 49%. The truth is voters are still not paying much attention.