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Friday 15 May 2015

Public servants won't be the only ones impacted by the government's paid parental leave changes, the prime minister's office says.

In the federal budget on Tuesday, the government outlined a plan to stop new mothers from accessing both the government leave scheme and that offered by their employer.

The $1 billion in budget savings - affecting both private sector and government workers - would be put into new child care arrangements.

Asked on Friday at a noisy preschool whether the government was considering limiting the change to only federal public servants, Mr Abbott said: "Yes, we are."

However his office later told AAP the prime minister had misheard the question and confirmed no policy changes were being considered.



Tony Abbott has accused Labor of peddling false hope by dangling the prospect of a larger cut to the small business tax rate, without saying how it will be funded.

The prime minister dismissed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's budget reply centrepiece to cut the rate to 25 per cent as an old policy dredged up from five years ago, when Labor was proposing reductions off the back of its mining tax plan.

"Last night, it wasn't a plan, it was just a wish list," Mr Abbott told 2GB on Friday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks during House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, May 14, 2015. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Mr Shorten agreed the proposal to cut small business tax by a total of five percentage points, from 30 per cent, went much further than the 1.5 percentage point reduction announced in the government's Tuesday budget.

It was "a statement" that would build business confidence.

"We will give you the room to work on tax reform but I put a caveat on it - it's got to be fair," he told the government on ABC radio on Friday.

A bipartisan approach to future tax reform would encourage people to invest for the longer term, he added.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the previous Labor government had asked parliament to legislate the tax cut, but the coalition had combined with the Greens to vote it down.

"When we put through the corporate tax cut, for your political convenience you put aside all your supposed ideology and beliefs and you voted against it," he told Mr Abbott via ABC radio.

"We're going to back the corporate tax cut on the table, and we're prepared to go further."

Thursday 14 May 2015

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten waves as he prepares to deliver his 2015 Budget address in reply in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, May 14, 2015. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called for greater tax cuts for small business as part of his official budget reply.

In delivering his second budget reply in Canberra, Mr Shorten offered some support to the Abbott Government in the wake of the federal budget.

“When it comes to small business, I will offer you another thing you never extended to your opponents - co-operation,” he said.

Shorten says Abbott's budget is a 'hoax', Catherine McGrath reports: 

“There are measures in this Budget that Labor will support in the national interest. We will co-operate on national security. We will co-operate on overdue drought relief for our farmers and we will co-operate on small business.”

But Mr Shorten called on further measures for small business, urging a five per cent cut rather than the 1.5 per cent measure proposed by the government.

The call for change followed Mr Shorten’s description of Treasurer Joe Hockey’s budget as a “hoax”.

'It is nothing but a cosmetic job by a very desperate make-up artist'

Labelling it “an election budget”, he said it did not address challenges posed by an aging population, climate change, gender inequality or an increasingly digital world.

“It is nothing but a cosmetic job by a very desperate make-up artist,” he said.

“…The truth is there are a trifecta of in decencies underpinning this Budget. One, the repack ageing of last year's unfairness, cuts to schools, hospitals, universities and family support. Two, relying on bracket creep to increase taxation by stealth. Three, their unconscionable attack on the States.

“Yes, Madam Speaker, it is a bad Budget. In every respect, this Budget is a hoax.”

Mr Shorten outlined Labor’s plans for revenue raising, including $7 billion to be made from cracking down on multinational tax avoidance.

Labor’s superannuation reforms were also pitched as saving the government $14 billion.

Mr Shorten called for the establishment of a $500 million smart investment fund “to help more Australians convert their great ideas into good businesses”, as well as prioritise digital knowledge. 

“Coding is the literacy of the 21st Century and under Labor every young Australian will have a chance to read, write and work with the global language of the digital age,” he said.

Watch Bill Shorten's full speech here: 

“All of us who have had our children teach us how to download an app know how quickly children adapt to new technology. But I just don't want our Australian children playing with technology - I want them to have a chance to understand it, to create it and work with.”

Other measures included an $18.5 million boost to Infrastructure Australia, as well as providing 25,000 teaching scholarships over 5 years to new and recent graduates of science, technology, engineering and maths degrees.

Mr Shorten also pledged to provide 20,000 science, technology, engineering and maths graduates the chance to write off their HECS-HELP debts to boost the workforce.

'It didn't even have a go at apologising for the last Budget'

Mr Shorten also took aim at the budget buzz of “have a go”, saying “it does have a go at some things”.

“It does have a go at pensioners and the States,” he said.

“It does have a go at working women and working families. It does have a go at the students, the veterans, the carers, the job seekers. It does have a go at the sick and the vulnerable.”

Mr Shorten also criticized the government over bracket creep, which he described as “the invisible hand in the pocket of every Australian worker”.

“Nowhere on Tuesday night did the Treasurer utter the words ‘bracket creep’,” he said.

“He should have because bracket creep is the biggest driver of revenue in his Budget. The Treasurer should have told Australians that for every dollar that the Government keeps in spending cuts, $2 will be collected through higher taxes in a lazy Budget.

“Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are getting inflation to do their dirty work. 80 cents in every dollar in the rise in revenue comes from bracket creep.”

'From praising women of calibre, to demonising rorters and frauds'

Mr Shorten also repeated Labor’s opposition to the planned deregulation of universities, sledging the government over cuts in the “fine print” and changes to paid parental leave.

“It confirms what we’ve always known – no employee, no employer, no family can ever trust this PM with their rights at work,” he said.

He had previously flagged Labor’s opposition to changes to paid parental leave, as well as cuts to family tax benefits first proposed in 2014. 

Last year, he pledged to oppose around $13 billion of the savings measures outlined in the first Abbott Government budget, including cuts impacting on pensioners and families. 

He accused Prime Minister Tony Abbott of breaking promises.

“The Australian people have now witnessed this Prime Minister repeatedly promising one thing before an election while doing something completely different after,” he said.

Read the budget reply in full below.

It’s one of the buzzwords from the budget, but senior Liberals have been studiously avoiding the term "double-dipping".

Now the phrase - used by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to describe new parents who accessed both employer and government paid parental leave schemes – has been used in accusations put to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

Senate question time on Thursday heard that one of the recipients of so-called "double-dipping" was Senator Cormann's wife Hayley in 2013.

"Our family of course worked within a system that was available at the time, like any other family," he said.

Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has also told Sky News that his wife had accessed employee and government parental leave schemes.

The federal government says the Labor leader needs to show in his budget reply how he would find the necessary savings to balance the books.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has challenged Bill Shorten to present an alternative plan for the budget and economy.

"He will have to show us the money ... because right now Labor has a $52 billion budget black hole," Senator Cormann told reporters in Canberra.

Budget 'lacks vision'

The Abbott government's second budget lacks vision and repackages the worst aspects of the first, Bill Shorten has said ahead of his formal response to parliament.

The Labor leader will deliver the opposition's budget reply speech on Thursday evening, in which he is expected to outline steps to kickstart the economy and restore fairness.

His criticism comes as the government challenged him to provide an "alternative budget", spelling out where Labor would cut spending and increase taxes to balance the books, and bring ballooning debt under control.

Tuesday's budget set out billions of dollars in savings to return the bottom line to surplus in 2019/20, as well as almost $10 billion of new spending on small business tax breaks and support for families.

'Repackaged budget of last year's meanness'

Labor says one of the most unfair aspects is no longer allowing new mothers to access the taxpayer-funded paid parental leave scheme as well as their employer-provided scheme if there is one.

"This is a repackaged budget of last year's meanness and no vision for the future, no confidence for the next number of years and decades ahead," Mr Shorten told reporters in Canberra.

Labor has given in-principle support for the small business package.

But it will resist pegging new childcare spending to family payments cuts of up to $6000 and the parental leave changes that were "an attack on working women".

"A couple of years ago Tony Abbott was defending the signature paid parental leave scheme ... now he's dropped that," Mr Shorten said.

"They've got 30,000 to 80,000 women being cut from the conditions they've negotiated."

Ministers soften language on parental leave

Senior Liberals studiously avoided the term "double-dipping" - used this week by Mr Abbott to describe new parents who access both employer and government schemes.

Frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull also declined to repeat the "rort" label applied by Social Services Minister Scott Morrison.

"People are entitled to apply for (and) receive whatever benefits they're lawfully entitled to,"he said.

Treasurer Joe Hockey dismissed as "extraordinary" the arguments that unions have used the government scheme - which pays new parents the minimum wage for 18 weeks - as a basis for negotiating wage agreements.

"This is quite surprising ... that they were trying to use a government payment as some sort of bargaining tool," Mr Hockey told reporters.

The change is set to save $1 billion over four years.

A Labor spokesman said the opposition, since the 2013 election, had announced $20 billion worth of savings measures over a decade, independently costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

Cabinet ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce have studiously avoided the term 'double-dipping' to describe new parents who access both employer and government paid parental leave schemes.

Fraud and rorts were also missing as they tried to quell criticism of a plan to stop parents taking advantage of a taxpayer-funded scheme on top of one provided by an employer.

Mr Joyce preferred to say the government was being "properly prudent" with the money of Australians, when quizzed by reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

Mr Turnbull would not be drawn on the "rort" label Social Services Minister Scott Morrison applied to the practice.

"People are entitled to apply for (and) receive whatever benefits they're lawfully entitled to," he said.

Treasurer Joe Hockey dismissed as "extraordinary" arguments that unions used the government scheme - which pays new parents the minimum wage for 18 weeks - as a basis for negotiating wage agreements.

Labor says workers have foregone wage increases to get more parental leave.

"This is quite surprising ... that they were trying to use a government payment as some sort of bargaining tool," Mr Hockey told reporters.

Opposition finance spokesman Tony Burke predicts the government will not get its $1 billion budget saving because some employers will withdraw their schemes.

'Unnecessarily emotive' language

But key crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm is backing the government.

"That's a saving and, yes, I'll be prepared to support that one," the Liberal Democrat told ABC radio.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon is concerned there has been a lot of "unnecessarily emotive" language about the measure.

He believes any changes to paid parental leave need to be brought in over time.

"At the very least there must be a grandfathering-type clause to transition out of this because some women have made plans on the basis of an agreement that still might have a couple of years to run," Senator Xenophon said.

Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos has said some agreements would have to be renegotiated.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton called for common sense, saying the welfare system was supposed to be a safety net to provide support to people down on their luck.

"The safety net in my mind is not being used appropriately," Mr Dutton told 2GB Radio when asked whether the government scheme was being rorted.