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Liberals and Nationals are the only ones going to polls with unfunded commitments: Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It's week three of the election campaign and the Government is today hoping to steer the focus back to its perceived strength: managing the economy.

The Prime Minister is ramping up his attack on Bill Shorten's ability to control the budget.

The Government says Labor is racking up billions of dollars on the "spendometer" and trying to buy its way into power.

Labor says its policies are fully costed.

For more, I'm joined live on the line by the shadow treasurer Chris Bowen.

Chris Bowen, good morning.

CHRIS BOWEN: Good morning to you, Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Now the Government accuses you of having a $66 billion black hole. Now let's put aside the feverish rhetoric for the moment, but you are spending more than the Government in this campaign so far. Is that a responsible approach.

CHRIS BOWEN: No, and the fantasy that the Government has... where 'no' is the answer to the premise of your question.

The fantasy that the Government is putting about today just underlines the fact they have no policy vision of their own.

The Government ministers - the Treasurer, the Finance Minister - are spending a whole lot more time talking about Labor policy than their own.

Now the biggest hit to the budget, the biggest single hit to the budget, during this election period has been this Government's reluctantly costed and completely unfunded $50 billion corporate tax cut.

Now we will not take any pious lectures from a Government which has at the centrepiece of its budget a tax cut which they wouldn't tell the Australian people how much it would cost - so much for transparency - and is completely and totally unfunded and a piece of fiscal recklessness.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But you've banked that tax cut as a credit, haven't you? $50 billion credit that you're busily going around spending.

CHRIS BOWEN: No, it's a measure we won't proceed with, obviously. And when our fiscal bottom lines get compared during the election campaign, they will have that black hole and we will have our spending and saving commitments.

Now we've taken a responsible approach. Now, in that same week in which Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull announced their $50 billion corporate tax cut, Bill Shorten replied on behalf of the Opposition.

Remember Scott Morrison saying that morning, "When Bill Shorten speaks tonight, every time he moves his lips he'll be spending"? Not one single spending commitment in the budget reply. In fact, a further $70 billion worth of savings.

So we've taken a responsible approach. We've dealt with issues which have been in the 'too-hard' basket for 30 years, like negative gearing.

The Government's not had the courage to do that. We're showing that we are a viable alternative government by setting the policy agenda, by having a very responsible approach, and when the two sides' fiscal bottom lines are compared during this election campaign, I think you'll see that Labor has taken a particularly responsible approach.

We don't see a return to budget balance and a proper investment in our schools, for example, as being a choice.

We see them as both being complementary and essential for a modern economy, where a proper plan for budget repair which is far, but an investment in the social capital of our nation.

Now, this election is about choices. Yes, we're investing in schools, absolutely.

We don't hide from that, we're very proud of it. The Government, their big commitment is a corporate tax cut, which is completely unfunded. Now they say they can't afford $37 billion for schools. They say that's completely reckless. They say it can't be afforded. But they magically can afford a $50 billion tax cut for big business, and we are more than happy to have that debate.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Let's look at the spending since the budget, though. You've... here's a couple of items: in the first couple of weeks of the campaign, $1 billion to scrap the cuts to the PBS, $1 billion to the Perth Metronet project, $500 million for light rail in Adelaide.

CHRIS BOWEN: That's paid for, that's paid for by not proceeding with the Freight Link in Perth.

Of course if we're going to have this conversation, a proper conversation, as well as the measures that we have announced we're spending.

We're also announcing other measures on the other side. And yes, we have made some commitments to schools and to hospitals.

Our election campaign is based around jobs, health and education, so it is unsurprising that we are making commitments.

We are also paying for those commitments. We actually agree that these commitments should be paid for.

The only people in this election campaign who are going to the polls on July 2 with unfunded commitments are the Liberal and National parties with their $50 billion corporate tax cut.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Do you agree that...

CHRIS BOWEN: ...[Inaudible] budget bottom line is fully released that we have paid for our commitments. Our fiscal rule is more savings and spending over the decade for a gradual return to budget balance.

Budget repaid which is fair, while making room for those important investments in the future. Yes, there's a choice. Yes, we have a different approach to the Government. It's a clear choice.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Do you agree that spending is a problem, because I think most analysts looked at the pre-election economic forecast in the PEFO as a fairly sobering assessment of the problem.

Reducing spending, they say, is difficult because governments fail to rein it in. And the only other lever left is to lift taxes above the average of the past 30 years.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well Michael, I think the difference of approach between us and the Government is that we have said very consistently, and I have said as alternative Treasurer, both revenue and spending are part of the answer for budget repair: ie. revenue increases, and spending reduction.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So tax increases?

CHRIS BOWEN: So the Treasurer is the one who says that Australia doesn't have a revenue problem.

He's the one who says he can get back to balance just by cutting spending. Well that would be a very dramatic spending cut. It is fantasy, it is unrealisable.

Now yes, we have taken sometimes the controversial view that revenue measures are part of the equation, hence dealing with things like negative gearing, capital gains tax, tobacco et cetera.

Now the Government railed against some of them and then adopted them, and then in other instances is continuing with a shrill and ridiculous scare campaign, as has been evidenced in Fairfax today.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So this is the...

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: ...But we've also announced spending cuts, we've also announced, for example, in our budget reply dealing with the tough decision of reining in VET FEE-HELP.

Not entirely uncontroversial, but it has to be done. The Government has dithered, Bill Shorten led the way. We won't proceed with the Government's Emissions Reduction Fund, which subsidises pollution - that's a spending cut.

We won't proceed with the baby bonus that Scott Morrison wants to re-introduce, which is completely unsustainable in Australia.

So we say both spending and revenue are part of the equation. They are reflected in our budget bottom line. The Government are the ones who perpetuate this fantasy - a couple of fantasies - but one of their fantasies is that it can all be fixed just by spending restraint.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay there's still a long way to go on the campaign, but the polls certainly show at the moment that Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition Government are still more trusted to run the economy.

Now, clearly your approach isn't swinging voters in terms of their confidence in your ability.

CHRIS BOWEN: Michael, the polls show this election is very competitive. Now, we're not going to comment on every individual poll, because you know, we'll get poll fatigue if we talk about all the...

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay let's talk about the economy and what it shows and who people trust to run the economy.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well I think the polls also show that people are taking a very serious look at the Labor Party as a viable alternative. They're weighing up a complete approach. They are responding to Labor setting the agenda.

I mean I think it's remarkable, Michael, that we're now three weeks into the election campaign.

We continue to announce policy, we continue to announce detailed policy which the... are part of our alternative vision for the nation.

The Government three weeks in has got nothing. I mean, just continual scare campaigns. One minute, it's a Greens government, the next minute, it's fantasy about spending, lying about Labor's spending plans, making a policy announcement about foreign aid on our behalf today. They're announcing Labor's foreign aid policy. Well, newsflash, the deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, announced our foreign aid policy on the weekend.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Can I just ask you...

CHRIS BOWEN: ...Labor policy, but they... I just make this point Michael. They have nothing apart from these ridiculous scare campaigns, the [inaudible] of the scare campaign changes from day to day, but at the end of the day it's all they're talking about.

They have no concrete, big policy agenda for the nation. Bill Shorten has...

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: If I can just ask you a couple of quick questions on some other topics, we've had a lot of focus on political donations.

Last night on Four Corners we saw some of that detailed. Are the rules on political donations too loose and should there be some reform of this?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes. Yes is the short answer to that, Michael. And we've got a clear track record.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: This is for both parties, though, isn't it?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes, absolutely. Now there were a lot of revelations last night about the Liberal Party, including their former treasurer Michael Yabsley saying he knew, he knew that this was going on and yet other senior Liberals like Arthur Sinodinos continue to argue that they didn't know, they saw nothing.

Whereas Michael Yabsley I think belled the cat last night. But on your question about policy responses, our position has been clear and consistent.

We do think the threshold for disclosure is too high. The Liberals changed it to $13,000 indexed, we would change it back to $1,000 non-indexed.

That's been our long-standing commitment. We've tried several times to do that in the Parliament. For years, the Liberal and National parties have blocked us from doing that, that is very clear. We'd also send a reference to the joint standing committee on electoral matters for real-time disclosure.

The technology has emerged fairly rapidly there, and there have been developments around the world.

That is worth a good look. But we are the party which proposes improved transparency when it comes to donations.

The Liberal Party, for reasons which are pretty self-evident frankly after last night's Four Corners, continues to resist transparency, to resist better disclosure and they just don't want it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay Chris Bowen, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us.

CHRIS BOWEN: Always a pleasure, Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen.