GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up: Economic policy in the spotlight
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten addressed the AFR Business Summit, contrasting Government and Opposition economic policies ahead of next month’s Budget.
- Preselections are underway following the resignations of Liberal frontbenchers Steve Ciobo and Chris Pyne.
- The Indonesian-Australian Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement has been signed – ratification pending.
- Both major parties have pledged funding to fight domestic violence.
As we inch closer to the 2 April Budget and the federal election, economic policy remains front and centre of the political debate. Before opening the Australian Financial Review Business Summit on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the upcoming election will represent “a choice between enterprise and envy”, reflecting the contrasting policy positions of the Government and Opposition in areas such as tax, trade and industrial relations. According to the PM, Labor’s policy would be “an economic leap in the dark”. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten hit back at the accusation, flagging increases to the minimum wage under a Labor Government and declaring the next election to be a “referendum on wages”.
Delivering a separate speech in Melbourne, Opposition finance spokesperson Jim Chalmers called for more support for average Australians, highlighting low wages growth, job insecurity and cost of living pressures as key issues. The Coalition and Labor have also butted heads over National Accounts figures released mid-week, with the Government highlighting 0.2 per cent growth in real GDP over the December quarter 2018, and the Opposition calling attention to a lack of growth in real wages.
Liberal frontbenchers Christopher Pyne and Steve Ciobo confirmed over the weekend they will retire from Parliament before the next election, bringing the number of departing ministers to five. In South Australia, James Stevens has resigned as Chief of Staff to Premier Steven Marshall and announced his decision to seek preselection for Minister Pyne’s seat of Sturt. Senator Linda Reynolds has been elevated from the assistant ministry into Cabinet – a significant jump – and was sworn in as the new Defence Industry Minister on Saturday, after Mr Ciobo immediately stepped down from the ministry. Meanwhile, high-profile human rights barrister Julian Burnside will contest the seat of Kooyong, currently held by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, as a Greens candidate at the upcoming election.
Free trade on the table
Visiting Jakata earlier in the week, PM Scott Morrison signed the Indonesian-Australian Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) that is said to launch “a new chapter of cooperation and deeper economic management in one of our most important relationships”. Hailing the education sector as a strong winner in the deal, Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Simon Birmingham has called on the Opposition to support ratification of the agreement in the face of growing union pressure to renegotiate terms. Labor Leader Bill Shorten has indicated his support for the agreement, but said on Monday that unions are “entitled to have their view” and that Labor will “study the detail” of the agreement to determine “total national interest”. Labor’s trade policy, introduced last year, prevents the party from supporting agreements that facilitate entry of foreign workers or include investment dispute clauses – two points attracting union criticism over the IA-CEPA.
Combating domestic violence
The Government has announced an investment of $328 million for the prevention of domestic violence and support services via the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022. The sizeable investment will be drawn from this year’s Budget. The Opposition has also pledged $60 million over four years for victim support – to instead be funded via a ‘fairness fund’ levy on Australia’s banks. Opposition financial services spokesperson Clare O’Neil declared that the levy will ensure “banks give back to us”.