A moment designed to get Australian voters to sit up and take notice


Shorten was only warming up. Small target Shorten has now been replaced by a very big target who wants to spend $34 billion over 10 years on childcare worker wages, dental care and family childcare subsidies.

Voters worried about negative gearing, dividend imputation or capital gains tax can now see what Shorten wants to do with the increase in tax revenue from his program.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a rally at Sydney Olympic Park on Sunday.Credit:AAP

All voters should also see that this election is not a personality contest but a struggle for supremacy on policy.

Labor taps into a powerful anxiety about the quality of essential public services – the pressure on the local hospital, the state of the public school, the quality of the childcare centre.

Morrison plays on the fear of the unknown in a switch to Shorten but relies most heavily on the enticement of $302 billion in personal tax cuts over a decade. These are completely different visions.

Shorten has succeeded on this ground in the past. He opposed cuts in the May 2014 budget in favour of higher spending on health, education, pensions and family tax benefits. He set up a fight that left the Liberals divided.

Bill Shorten and his wife Chloe at a rally marking the start of the real campaign on Sunday.

Bill Shorten and his wife Chloe at a rally marking the start of the real campaign on Sunday.Credit:AAP

Shorten’s call for continued spending resonated with voters at the time and helped destroy Tony Abbott’s prime ministership. The obvious calculation is that Australians want better public services and will choose them over Morrison’s fistful of dollars.

This is an easy equation for people on incomes below $48,000 a year, because Labor offers them a bigger tax cut as well as bigger spending, but it is not so straightforward for those on higher incomes.

Workers on more than $90,000 a year get a bigger tax cut from the Coalition if they wait until 2022, but some of these workers may have partners on lower incomes. And they may have big childcare costs. Some will want more money for their local school.

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Shorten just made the calculations about the “winners” and “losers” from the competing platforms much more complicated.

The Coalition has learnt from the lessons of the past and has reconfigured what it stands for at this election. Morrison, who had to undo some of Abbott’s cuts to pensions and social services, dare not cut spending. Yet he cannot match the Labor promises.

The Coalition has replaced the three-word slogans of its past campaigns with one word on repeat: “Tax, tax, tax.”

Morrison relies so heavily on the personal tax cuts that he cannot stop being outspent by Labor on every front – not only health and education, but the domestic violence policy on Friday and the childcare policy on Sunday.

What makes this campaign so different to the past is that Morrison will be outspent without being able to show Australians a better bottom line in the budget over the next few years. The party that went to the 2013 election with a warning about a budget emergency has put income tax cuts first.

What if Labor can offer better services and bigger surpluses? The vital question at this election is whether voters will choose tax cuts instead.

David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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