OPPOSITION Leader Bill Shorten got his chance to make his pitch for Prime Minister on Monday night, but took his time getting there.
Instead in his first appearance on ABC’s 7.30 for 2018 – and his first grilling by Leigh Sales – Mr Shorten stuck to the script, and attacked the Government.
He steered clear of spending time relishing Prime Minister’s 30th successive loss in the polls, but not of attacking the Federal Government when asked to outline Labor’s plans.
Newspoll also found Mr Turnbull remains preferred prime minister at 38 per cent, compared to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s 36 per cent.
“If the polls keep going the way they are for the Coalition, Bill Shorten will be moving into the Lodge”, Sales said as she opened the interview.
“You have been Labor leader for nearly five years. They still don’t see you as preferred prime minister although they would currently vote out the Coalition. How worried are you that you are acting as a drag on your party?”
Shorten refused to be rattled, replying he wasn’t at all worried, and in a veiled sledge at the Turnbull government, said he is pleased his “united” team has “put forward three of the biggest economic reforms to our tax system in living memory.”
On changes specifically to superannuation and pensioners, Mr Shorten was asked, “Could you promise no pensioner would be worse off under what you call the ‘pensioner guarantee’ on that plan?”
But he avoided giving a guarantee and said he could “promise that we will protect pensioners”.
That’s a VERY long list of benchmarks that Bill Shorten just told @leighsales he’d be held to if he became PM… wonder if he’ll regret it like Malcolm Turnbull regrets his 30 Newspolls comment…! #auspol #abc730
— Julia Holman (@JulesHolman) April 9, 2018
“By your own numbers, 92 per cent of Australians are unaffected by this policy, but when you have got a bit of backlash to your original plan you went to water quickly and scaled it down.
“Is that how you will be as Prime Minister — announcing a policy and backing down when the heat gets a bit much?”
Shorten replied he would not use her language like “going to water”.
“Let’s be fair here. This is a big change. I think most of the political class were surprised that Labor was willing to tackle one of these Howard government tax-funded largesses.
Hounded again by Sales that he “backed down when you got a bit of heat”, Mr Shorten stuck to his guns.
“I think you will find we are still going with it. There is nothing wrong with big policy-making calibrations and what we have done is make a good policy even better,” he said.
“What we have here is a system, the only place in the world where you can pay no income tax and you can, because of particular circumstances, get an income tax refund. How is that possible that you get a tax refund, an income tax refund when you pay no income tax? It is not sustainable.”
Asked to paint a picture of himself as Prime Minister, and by what benchmarks people should judge him, Mr Shorten finally warmed to his theme, all the while pointing out the Turnbull government’s failings.
“Keeping our promises,” he said.
“I want to be a government that looks after middle-class working families.
“I want to make sure our schools are properly funded. Are we reducing the waiting lists in hospitals? Are they getting the support they need?
“I am interested in lifting the number of apprenticeships in this country.
“I want to keep the price of health insurance down.
“What I want to do is not increase the taxes on low-paid people. I want to see wages move.
“I want to stop wages theft in this country and I want to protect our environment. I want to make sure our First Australians are mentioned not only in our Constitution, but we genuinely close the gap.
“I would like to be judged on whether or not women get an equal go in this country.”
And in his final parting shot: “I have a vision for this country, but it doesn’t involve giving $65 billion to the top end of town and looking after the wealthy and not the less powerful.”