October 16, 2019

Workers under-employed, under-paid: Bowen fires back in economy debate

Workers under-employed, under-paid: Bowen fires back in economy debate
Chris Bowen will deliver his first economic speech of the year.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen will pitch to workers’ discontents when he declares in his first economic speech of the year that they are being denied “a fair go”.

“Under the Liberals, the economy is not working for working people,”
Bowen will say, delivering the Chifley Oration in Melbourne on Monday.

He will argue that growth is too low, more than a million people are
under-employed, and “far too many” workers are underpaid.

“Too many Australians are being pushed to the margins, ignored by the
Liberals in the suburbs, let down by the Nationals in the regions.
Squeezed out of the middle class, cut-off from the fair go, denied the
chance to fulfil their potential.

“Not because they’ve been forgotten – but because they’ve been
deliberately excluded. Not just left behind, locked-out.”

Labor’s pitch to frame the economic debate is in contrast to the
government case, which is to emphasise the positives, especially jobs
growth, while claiming the economy would weaken under a Shorten

The escalating debate over the economy comes as Bill Shorten on Sunday said Labor was “not for turning” on its proposed crackdown on cash refunds for franking credits, which threatens to cost the opposition a good number of votes among retirees.

“There is no principle that says it is fair that a non-taxpayer gets a
tax refund, a cash tax refund,” Shorten told the ABC.

“It is also not fair that we’re spending $100 million a week paying
non-taxpayers cash tax refunds. It is not fair in this country that
we’re spending more money giving non-taxpayers a tax refund than we
are on public schools.”

Pressed on whether he was saying there would be no tweaking of the
policy, Shorten said: “If I can put it really directly, do
people want a government or do they want a piece of plasticine?

“Do people want a government with tax principles and fairness at their
core or do they just want a lump of political putty? We’ve had six
years of the plasticine government and we are putting our views out
because we want Australia to be fairer.”

In his address, an extract of which was released ahead of delivery,
Bowen says the economy is not growing as broadly or strongly or fairly as it should and this is contributing to the “stagnating of living

“The last Labor government saw a 7.6% increase in living standards –
despite the Global Financial Crisis.

“Over the same period, living standards have lifted by just 2.5% under
the Liberals in much better international circumstances. Last quarter,
they actually declined,” Bowen says.

“Australians are reminded of this every time they get paid, with wages
growth at record lows.”

In the April 2 budget, last year’s budget wages forecast will be
downgraded again, as happened in previous budgets, Bowen says. “In
every single Hockey and Morrison budget, the wages growth forecasts
have had to be downgraded”.

“As Bill has said so many times, everything is going up except
people’s wages. Since the Liberals were elected electricity prices are
up 15%; the cost of long day child care is up 24%; private health insurance premiums are up 30%.

“Prices racing ahead of wages means more and more families are dipping
into their savings just to keep the show on the road,” Bowen says.

The household savings ratio has fallen to its lowest level in more
than a decade, and household debt is the second highest in the OECD,
he says.

Bowen also seeks to discredit the government’s argument on its
employment record.

On unemployment, he says Australia is an underperformer compared to
similar countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and New

“But more concerning than the headline unemployment rate is the fact
that it masks deep and persistent underemployment. There are 1.1
million under-employed people in Australia and another 666,700 who are
unemployed, meaning there are 1.8 million Australians who want more

Bowen says his first budget would, as well as investing more in
schools, hospitals and essential services, “also contain bigger,
fairer tax cuts for 10 million working Australians who earn up to

“These bigger and fairer tax cuts will give a much needed shot in the
arm to consumption while our better tax offering to all businesses,
particularly our Australian Investment Guarantee will encourage much
needed investment and get productivity going again”.

The opposition is releasing a booklet titled “The true state of the
economy under the Liberals”.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


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