Anthony Albanese has promised to overhaul the childcare subsidy system and create a $20bn corporation to build electricity transmission infrastructure to prepare Australia’s power grid for renewables if Labor wins the next federal election.
The federal Labor leader used the traditional budget reply speech on Thursday night to launch the ALP’s first major policy sortie since the election loss in 2019. He unveiled three substantial commitments in childcare, energy and manufacturing while declaring the coronavirus pandemic had created a “once in a generation chance to rebuild our economy and our country for the better”.
The $6bn childcare pledge involves scrapping the $10,560 childcare subsidy cap and lifting the maximum childcare subsidy rate from 85% to 90% for families on combined incomes of up to $80,000. Subsidy rates will be increased from current levels for families earning a combined income of up to $530,000.
Labor says 97% of families using childcare will save between $600 and $2,900 a year under the initiative and, if it wins the next election, it will “investigate” moving to a 90% subsidy for every Australian family. Albanese said childcare reform was a workforce participation and productivity measure.
On energy, Labor will establish a $20bn Rewiring the Nation Corporation to partner with industry to deliver the transmission requirements set out in the Integrated System Plan (ISP) produced by the agency that runs the power grid – the Australian Energy Market Operator.
The latest ISP describes a diverse power system built on large and small-scale renewable energy supported by a range of “dispatchable” power sources that can be turned on and off when needed. Aemo’s plan says renewables will provide close to 90% of electricity in Australia by 2035, there is no requirement for new coal generation, and the amount of gas-fired power will fall as pumped hydro and batteries come online.
The objective of creating the corporation is to integrate renewables into the power grid at least cost by leveraging the commonwealth’s capacity to borrow at low interest rates, Labor said. The corporation will not be obliged to deliver a commercial return to the government, it will just have to cover its costs.
The energy policy includes mandating the use of Australian products, such as steel, in the rollout, and Albanese also promised on Thursday night to boost local manufacturing by developing a national rail manufacturing plan and imposing a skills guarantee ensuring that one in 10 jobs on commonwealth-funded infrastructure projects were given to apprentices, trainees or cadets.
Albanese also paid tribute to the resilience of the Australian people enduring the pandemic and the accompanying recession. He said the crisis had shown that Australians “look after each other” and that spirit should define how the country recovered.
He said the pandemic had demonstrated that “Labor’s values of fairness, security and the power of government to change lives for the better” were the right values to navigate a crisis.
Albanese said Labor wanted to pursue a recovery that “delivers a stronger, fairer and more secure future for all Australians” and it was important Australia emerged after the coronavirus “with a stronger economy and a fairer society”.
He said Labor’s plan to get Australia out of recession involved rehiring workers, rewiring the economy, recharging workforce participation of women and rebuilding the nation.
Albanese declared the Morrison government’s budget, handed down on Tuesday night, had failed to map out a recovery that strengthened the country, rebuilt the economy and made society fairer.
The opposition leader said the budget left people behind – women, workers aged over 35 and unemployed people who would be left with lower income support once the jobseeker payment returned to a lower rate.
He said he wanted a country that made things, created wealth and shared it, and a country where “when the going gets tough, government is on your side”.
Anticipating Albanese’s direction in the budget reply, the government spent much of question time on Thursday defending its record on childcare funding and arguing its budget measures were beneficial to women.
Scott Morrison also framed Albanese’s political strategy as divisive. “There will be voices that will try and set young people against older people, women against men, jobs in one sector versus jobs in another sector,” the prime minister told reporters. “They are the voices of division that will undermine the future economic prosperity of all Australians.”
Parliament will sit on Friday to debate the budget bills. Labor has decided to support the government’s plan to accelerate income tax cuts and more than $30bn in business tax concessions. But it has not reached a final position on the government’s proposed hiring credit program, which is contained in a separate bill.