Bill Shorten tried to blunt one of the government’s most potent attacks on him at a rally for Labor volunteers in Sydney today.
Mr Shorten and his wife Chloe received a standing ovation, accompanied by chants of “Bill! Bill! Bill!”, when they appeared at the rally in Burwood shortly before midday.
This was not an official campaign launch, but it certainly had that vibe. The room was buzzing, and most of Labor’s biggest stars were in attendance, including Tanya Plibersek, Chris Bowen, Penny Wong and Kristina Keneally.
Mr Shorten focused much of his speech on health, but also directly addressed the Coalition’s attacks on his franking credits policy, which it refers to as the “retiree tax”.
“I have to say this. If you are getting a tax credit when you haven’t paid any income tax, this is a gift. It is a gift. It is not immoral, nor is it illegal, but it is a gift,” Mr Shorten said.
“It is a gift lifted from the taxes paid by working class and middle class people in Australia today.
“It is a gift that is eating our Budget. It is now costing our nation over $6 billion a year, and pretty soon it will cost $8 billion.”
Of course, not everyone cares about the Budget bottom line. Mr Shorten tried to make the stakes more personal.
“If all this talk of billions is too much, perhaps think of it in the following way. Two minutes’ worth of the gift, the money that flows out of this one loophole. Two minutes out of 365 days could pay for someone’s knee replacement surgery,” he said.
“Ten minutes worth of the gift is enough to employ a nurse full time for a year.
“In one hour this loophole alone could pay for a hospital bed for a whole year.”
It all tied in to the broader theme of Mr Shorten’s speech — that voters were facing a “fundamental choice” between better hospitals and “bigger tax loopholes for the top end of town”.
He announced a new policy clearly targeted at winning votes in Reid, the electorate in which Burwood sits.
“Our plan starts right down the road from here,” he told the friendly crowd.
“I’m proud to announce that if we win the election, a Labor government will put in $50 million to kickstart phase two of the redevelopment of Concord hospital.
“The main building at Concord was completed back in 1941. It’s in desperate need of renovation.
“Improving Concord hospital will help patients all through the inner west.”
Both major parties are throwing money at Reid. Mr Shorten has visited the seat twice in the last three days, a clear indication that he feels it is winnable.
The electorate is currently held by retiring Liberal Craig Laundy, a staunch supporter of Malcolm Turnbull. Scott Morrison tried and failed to recruit a high profile replacement for Mr Laundy, as former NSW Police deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas and broadcaster Stan Grant both rebuffed him.
Mr Shorten also used his speech to promise $40 million in funding for new training programs and scholarships for carers, and spruik Labor’s cancer policies.
“Your tests and scans and ultrasounds and MRIs will be covered by Medicare. Your appointments with specialists, your chemo, your radiation therapy, will be covered by Medicare.
“If you are in the fight of your life, if someone you love is in the fight of their life, it should not matter whether you live in the city or the bush. Your postcode should not matter.
“Under Labor there is only one thing that matters, only one thing you will need — your Medicare card.”
The event also included a few brutal attacks on Mr Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, whose assertion that his opponent in Dickson Ali France was using her disability as an “excuse” not to move to the electorate blew up in his face this week.
Mr Shorten labelled it “low rent personal vilification”.
“We don’t want to dwell on his pathetic attempt to bully our great candidate in Dickson, Ali France, but a negative slur often tells you more about the speaker than the recipient,” he said.
“Rather than apologise straight away, his first instinct was to double down on his attack. And the Prime Minister’s first instinct was to rush in and back him up.”
Mr Dutton has since offered a somewhat lukewarm apology to Ms France.
Ms Plibersek said he was “pea-hearted”, and claimed “the dial on the scare campaign” being run by Mr Morrison had been “turned up to 11”.
“What we are getting from the Liberals is lie after lie after lie. Labor doesn’t need a campaign of lies because the truth is scary enough,” Ms Plibersek said.
She said she would “take a union leader of a failed ad man every time”, in an unkind reference to Mr Morrison’s marketing background.
Labor’s candidate for Reid, Sam Crosby, drew laughs from the Labor volunteers with a cheeky dig at Mr Morrison’s awkward moment on the campaign trail yesterday, where he greeted an Australian-Korean woman with “ni hao”, which means “hello” in Mandarin.
“Friends, welcome to Burwood. Welcome to Reid. Or as the Prime Minister likes to say, ni hao!” Mr Crosby joked.
He opened up about his childhood, revealing he had been “functionally illiterate” at the age of eight. Teachers told Mr Crosby’s parents he was “nice, but slow”.
His mother did not accept that, and it eventually emerged that he was dyslexic.
“I was lucky. I had a great mum — I have a great mum! Hi mum. But I was also fortunate enough to have a family who could provide that early care,” Mr Crosby said.
“There are tens of thousands of students out there every day who are not getting that.”