Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken the opportunity to drive a wedge into the Labor Party, after rumours of ALP dissension over the universal Medicare levy increase to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
The PM has said that Labor should follow its “correct instincts” and pass the measure.
In his Budget reply speech on 11 May, Bill Shorten said that Labor would only support the 0.5% increase in the Medicare levy for people in the top two income brackets.
And it’s not just Labor that has expressed concerns over the proposed levy hike. The Greens and Nick Xenophon are also worried about how a Medicare levy hike will affect lower income earners.
The Coalition wants the Medicare levy increase to be universal, meaning that low-income earners would also have to foot the bill.
The Prime Minister used a sizable chunk of question time in Parliament yesterday to attack Labor for its “shameful abdication of responsibility”, saying that the party wants to accept credit for the establishment of such a bill, but was unwilling to pay for it.
“The Opposition Leader was prepared to win the plaudits from advocates for people with disability, to get the thanks from parents of disabled children but then not pay for it,” said Mr Turnbull.
It has been reported that Labor’s decision to only back the higher levy for people with incomes over $87,000, instead of including singles earning over $21,000 and families with an income just under $40,000, was not unanimous.
The decision was largely agreed upon by Labor leadership during budget week, but not by the shadow cabinet. There are reports that the majority of the shadow cabinet think the party should back the universal rise in the levy.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter reminded Bill Shorten that Mr Shorten himself was a staunch proponent of the plan only a few years ago, saying that if the Coalition didn’t back the 0.5 per cent increase, it would regard “getting into power as more important than your life”.
“So we now say to you, leader of the opposition, all of us say to you, if you do not support this 0.5% increase, you need to look into the face of people … and you need to say: “I regard me as getting into power as more important than your life”,” said Mr Porter.
Bill Shorten hit back, and called on the Government to maintain the temporary deficit levy on high incomes and remove the company tax cuts, which cost $65 billion over 11 years.
“I’ve got a really good idea for Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull – don’t give millionaires a tax cut from 1 July,” said Mr Shorten.
“Don’t give large banks and large corporations a reduction in what they pay. This is a government who is taking people with disabilities hostage in saying there is only one way to fund it.”
Bill Shorten may have a good point, after all, why should low-income earners – those who can least afford it – foot the bill rather than those who can better afford it?
Yes, the Coalition should be looking at extending the Temporary Budget Repair Levy to help fund the NDIS, and it shouldn’t be giving tax breaks to millionaires. However, Mr Shorten should pick his battles wisely.
This is somewhat of a political crossroads for the Opposition Leader. Certainly, the Coalition could be accused of political plagiarism – taking a Labor Party initiative and calling it their own. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Mr Shorten could capitalise on the fact that the Coalition has taken a Labor Party policy and run with it.
This is no time to dig in and start a political squabble. Fighting a trench war while people with disabilities sit in ‘no-man’s land’ is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a very savvy political move.
One of the reasons that Labor has a six-point lead in Newspoll is that it is a party undivided that does the hard yards and creates intelligent policies. Labor has been a party of solidarity and has, in the past, definitely capitalised on the Coalition’s constant party splits and leadership squabbles. This alleged ALP division gives ammunition to the Coalition to finally fire back and drive a wedge into Labor.
We all know what Mr Shorten is trying to do. He’s looking out for the battler. He’s playing minder to those who are doing it tough. But the Coalition has him on the back foot here. Mr Shorten needs to take credit for the conception of the plan and support the proposal. Keep pushing the Coalition’s predilection for millionaire tax breaks and backing big business at the expense of the average Australian, but don’t use people with disabilities as leverage for scoring political points. He should support the proposal and move on to the next skirmish.
Do you think a universal Medicare levy hike is fair? Should the Government extend the Temporary Budget Repair Levy to help fund the NDIS and other budget measures? Do you think any Australian has a problem supporting people with disabilities? Is this a battle Bill Shorten can win?