Labor likely to ditch Shorten housing policies but says election platform is not yet set

Shadow treasurer refuses to back negative gearing and capital gains changes following reports they’ll be dropped

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers says Labor will not be rushed into making election decisions when asked about rumours the party will drop the idea of changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax. Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty Images
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers says Labor will not be rushed into making election decisions when asked about rumours the party will drop the idea of changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax. Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty Images

Last modified on Sat 13 Feb 2021 22.32 EST

Expectations are growing that Labor will ditch the Shorten-era negative gearing and capital gains tax policies before the next federal election, although the shadow cabinet is pushing back against pressure to finalise its economic platform early.

The shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, failed to endorse the previous housing affordability policy on Sunday, instead stating the party was still working through its agenda and would not be rushed into making decisions.

“No political party takes an identical agenda, an identical set of policies, to one election that they took to the last one,” Chalmers told Sky News.

“We’ve made it clear what our priorities are here. A responsible budget, that is fit for the times, which suits the economic and fiscal conditions that we would inherit. And we’ve also said when it comes to the agenda we took to the last election, we’ll be more focused this time around, but we won’t be any less ambitious.”

The former Labor leader Bill Shorten had vowed to abolish negative gearing for investors wanting to buy established properties in 2016 and the party maintained the policy for the 2019 election.

The Coalition weaponised confusion over the policy into a campaign claiming it would stop “everyday families” from aspiring to buy investment properties to boost their finances.

It was one of the first policies on the chopping block after the 2019 loss. Under Anthony Albanese’s leadership, Labor has refused to detail many of its plans for the next election, which can be held any time between August 2021 and May 2022, preferring to keep attention focused on the government.

Chalmers, when questioned about a Nine newspapers story on Sunday that the policies were due to be officially cut from the ALP policy platform, pointed to what Labor had released.

“Already we’re talking about making childcare cheaper and more accessible for working families,” he said.

“We’re talking about cheaper and cleaner energy transmission. We’re talking about more apprenticeships on government projects. We’re talking – this week – about making work more secure, with better pay and fair conditions, recognising that the economy and the workplace are changing. So we’ve got a big agenda.

“Where some of those tax policies fit in – that will be made very clear to people between now and the election.”

While Labor is staying mum on its tax plans, it has been very vocal about its opposition to the government’s proposed industrial relations changes, which the opposition says will cut workers’ pay and entitlements.

The government has roundly rejected Labor’s claims. However, it has proposed changes to the better-off-overall-test, which would allow businesses to strike deals which pay below award minimum conditions, if the Fair Work Commission agrees the changes are “appropriate”.

In one submission to the Senate inquiry looking at the bill, fast-food giant McDonald’s argued the commission should consider non-monetary benefits, including free meals during shifts, as part of future pay deals.

Albanese outlined Labor’s IR plans in a speech last week, with a focus on insecure work and gig economy workers being eligible for the same minimum pay and conditions as established workers in the Australian system.

The attorney general, Christian Porter, who is heading the government’s reform push in the parliament, immediately accused Labor of placing a “$20bn tax on business”, which Chalmers said was an attempt to distract from the Coalition’s plans.

“The government, in their rush to distract from their own plans to cut pay and make work less secure in our economy, came out with this fictional figure,” Chalmers said.

“I don’t accept the figure. I don’t accept it is based on anything like what we announced. I don’t accept that they can conclude the consultation, which we want to begin now. And I think what they’re trying to do is distract from their own problems in industrial relations, because people are on to them, and they know that the government wants to cut their pay and make their work less secure.”

Labor and the unions plan to make industrial relations the centre of any future election platform, with an advertising campaign due to begin in earnest on Sunday night, ahead of the coming parliamentary sitting week.