Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has hit back at Opposition leader Anthony Albanese, saying his budget in reply speech was “barely worth commenting on” and “disappointing”. It comes as Mr. Albanese declared a massive splurge on social housing to fix domestic violence and veterans homelessness will be the centerpiece of a Labor government’s economic recovery from COVID-19.
Mr. Albanese framed Tuesday’s free-spending budget as a “patch-up job for the next election” after eight years of stagnating wages and declining working conditions. “When I look at our country today, I know we can do so much better … than merely coming back, rather than building back stronger,” he said.
“I want Australia to emerge from this crisis stronger, smarter, and more self-reliant, with an economic recovery that works for all Australians.” In a scathing assessment, Senator Birmingham said Mr. Albanese had resorted to “stolen slogans” and “personal attacks and name-calling” and said there was “nothing really of substance to tonight’s address”.
He called Mr. Albanese’s approach “vacuous and empty”. “The emptiness of tonight’s speech stands in stark contrast to the detailed plan the Liberal and National parties outlined for Australia’s future on Tuesday night,” he said.
“Our government has been focused on fighting COVID-19, while Anthony Albanese is focused on his old hobby of fighting Tories”. He said Mr. Albanese’s housing proposition was “poorly considered”. Central to Labor’s pitch was a $10b splurge on social and affordable housing to operate under the auspices of the Housing Australia Future Fund, which Mr. Albanese declared would create 20,000 new homes.
“The security of a roof over one’s head should be available to all Australians,” he said. “The home I grew up in gave me and my mum so much more than somewhere to sleep. It gave us pride, dignity, and security, and it gave me a future.” Ten thousand of the new properties would be allocated to COVID-19 frontline workers and another 4000 to women fleeing domestic violence, Mr. Albanese said.
“Tonight, women’s crisis services across Australia will have to tell women fleeing violence they literally have nowhere to house them,” Mr. Albanese said. “This happens each and every day. We can, and we must do better.” The outlay will also include $200m on housing in remote Indigenous communities – which Mr. Albanese said endured “some of the worst housing standards in the world” – and $30m to ease veteran homelessness.
“Australia must do more to care for the brave men and women who have worn our uniform,” he said. “Two weeks after our country stood together on ANZAC DAY to declare ‘Lest we Forget’, one in 10 of the people who sleep rough on the streets in Sydney tonight is a veteran.” Labor estimates its housing centerpiece measures will support 21,500 jobs annually for the next five years, a tenth of which will go to apprentices.
It will be complemented by $100m to create 10,000 green energy apprenticeships, giving trainees in clean energy $2000 on commencement and for every completed year over four years. “The rest of the world has figured this out: cutting pollution means creating jobs,” Mr. Albanese said. In March, the government abandoned its efforts to criminalize wage theft when it failed to secure crossbench support for its industrial relations omnibus bill.
Mr. Albanese accused the government of sinking wage theft reform in anger but declared it would be pushed through by a Labor government. “The Morrison Government voted to remove it from their own legislation. An eight-year-old government behaved like an eight-year-old child and threw a tantrum,” he said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday announced $1.6b towards universal preschool access and a $1.7b five-year spend on childcare, abolishing the annual childcare subsidy cap for families earning more than $189,390. But Mr. Albanese said the government’s “half-baked” policy did not go far enough.
“What the Treasurer hasn’t worked out is that if you perform half a backflip, you fall flat on your face,” he said. Parliament has been rocked by a series of allegations, ranging from sexual misconduct to sexual assault since former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins in February alleged she was raped in a ministerial office in 2019.
The government in April unveiled its own plans, adopting all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report either wholly, in part, or in principle. Mr. Albanese pledged Labor would strengthen the so-called ‘positive duty’, placing the onus on employers to proactively stamp out sexual harassment.
He also confirmed plans to establish a ‘Startup Year’ scheme, giving 2000 final-year students a year of mentoring by universities and the private sector. The Labor leader claimed the move would kickstart Australia’s burgeoning start-up scene. Responding on Thursday night, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said Mr. Albanese’s speech was “empty” and “barely worth commenting on”.
“Anthony Albanese has resorted simply to slogans stolen from Jeremy Corbyn, to rehashed policy thought bubbles borrowed from Bill Shorten, and to personal attacks and name-calling. There’s nothing really of substance in tonight’s address,” he said. Senator Birmingham described the housing centerpiece as a “poorly considered thought bubble”, warning Mr. Albanese had not unveiled Labor’s tax plan. “That should sound alarm bells for many Australians,” he said.