Labor leader Bill Shorten used his last major speech of the election campaign to argue the Coalition’s policies would fuel the very discontent that had led to the rise of Donald Trump in the US and Britain’s exit from the European Union.
After days of the Coalition using Brexit to its advantage by arguing it showed a need for economic and political stability, Mr Shorten turned the tables on Tuesday in a pre-election speech to the National Press Club.
He said the Coalition’s cuts to health, education and welfare, while spending almost $50 billion on corporate tax cuts, would fuel the sense of inequality and alienation that was driving voters abroad to abandon the political class.
“The Liberals are asking Australians to reject the co-operative economic model and the social wage which has held our nation together for more than 30 years and delivered a quarter century of growth,” he said. “And instead, they want Australians to embark upon a radical, expensive experiment and trickle down economics.
“We know how this story goes. [Ronald] Reagan tried it, [Margaret] Thatcher tried it. A generation later, we got [Donald] Trump and we got Brexit.
“The gathering push of extreme right-wing populism around the globe is a warning to all of us not to leave people behind. Governments must include and must empower people. We must give every citizen a sense of being an active participant in transition, in control of what is happening to them, not a passive observer of change left behind on the scrapheap.”
As voters prepare to go to the polls on Saturday, there is a growing sense that Labor cannot win, due in part to it stumbling over the budget in the critical final week. And inVictoria, where Labor it hoped to win seats from the Coalition, it is now battling to hold its own electorates following the politically-damaging industrial dispute between the state Labor government and the Country Fire Association.
One source said that when the election was called, the seat of Dunkley, vacated by retiring popular Liberal Bruce Billson, was set to fall to Labor by 48 per cent to 52 per cent. Now the Coalition was ahead in the seat by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.
Mr Shorten said the economic fallout from Brexit had been overstated and there was no cause for alarm.
“But its political and economic lesson cannot and should not be ignored,” he said. “The Liberals invoke it for a call for stability, but they fundamentally misunderstand the source of the instability. It comes from a sense of inequality. From people feeling marginalised, forgotten, alienated, left behind by global change.
“It’s a deep-seeded sense the political promises are wasted words. It comes from exactly the same sort of cynicism in policies that Mr Turnbull’s offering Australians at this election. Tax cuts for the rich, nothing for the working and middle-class Australians, telling a generation of young Australians shut out of the housing market to get rich parents, pricing kids out of university, cutting funding from Medicare. It comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of both our world economy and our Australian economy.”
In an appeal to voters, Mr Shorten said Labor had a comprehensive policy agenda that would enable it to “hit the ground running”, whereas Mr Turnbull’s agenda was painfully thin.
“You cannot dress timid stagnation up as stability and plead for people to stick with your mob for another time or for a while,” he said.
He promised that, if elected, the first piece of legislation would be on same-sex marriage.
Mr Shorten continued his assault on the government over Medicare, insisting that, if re-elected, Mr Turnbull would dismantle the universal health care system “brick by brick”.
He said Mr Turnbull was “lying to your face” by saying he would leave Medicare alone.
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