CANBERRA, AAP – The Morrison government has accused Labor of playing “cheap politics” by criticising grants awarded in marginal seats as the opposition unveils its spending commitments ahead of the next federal election.
It comes as Nine newspapers report that Labor’s spending strongly favours marginal and target electorates.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has gone on the offensive against Labor’s announcements in marginal seats, saying Labor has done “exactly the same” after audits of grant programs finding they overwhelmingly favoured coalition and marginal seats.
“(Labor leader) Anthony Albanese has been on a spending binge across marginal electorates,” Mr Birmingham told the ABC on Tuesday.
“This is the opposite of what he has been saying. He says that grants shouldn’t be determined on a marginal electorate
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But when pulled up on his apparent slip of the tongue and asked whether “exactly the same” constituted an admission to pork-barrelling, Senator Birmingham said the government made commitments at the last election and delivered on them throughout the term.
“It is the rank hypocrisy that I am calling out here,” he said.
“What it means is Anthony Albanese has been lying to you when he said he would take a different approach. He’s been lying when he said Labor would not carve up grants in relation to any different ways.”
Opposition housing spokesman Jason Clare said he wouldn’t take lectures from the finance minister, who had $2.4 billion “that has found to be rorted by the audit office that he still hasn’t announced what he’s going to spend it on”.
“I’ll tell you what we won’t do, we won’t set up colour-coded spreadsheets like the Liberal Party does,” he told Sky News.
“We will make commitments based on the advice of local and state governments and all the commitments that we make, we will make sure the Department of Infrastructure reviews them on their merits.”
But Senator Birmingham also targeted the caveat when announcing new spending commitments.
“It will be earth-shattering news, I suspect, to communities who have had Anthony Albanese stand in their electorate in the last couple of months and say a Labor government will deliver this new piece of infrastructure,” he said.
“He hasn’t put an asterisk to it and said, ‘Subject to a review’, so I think that the Labor Party needs to clarify – are the local promises real local promise (or) are they trying to lead local communities and voters in marginal votes up the garden path?”
The tit-for-tat comes as a new Newspoll found Scott Morrison is the least trusted prime minister since the question was first put to voters in 2008.
Forty per cent claimed the prime minister was trustworthy compared with 44 per cent of Australians who said the same about Mr Albanese.
The prime minister was able to claw back some sentiment with voters when it came to being a more experienced leader but was also thought to be less empathetic, and more arrogant and out of touch, according to the News Corp poll.
But Mr Morrison said he expected voter sentiment to shift to “real choices” at the federal election, with the economy a top issue.
He is in Western Australia on Tuesday for his first visit to the state since it imposed a hard border, as electorates in Perth shape up as a key battleground.
Speaking on Sky News on Monday night, he said the next three to 10 years would be tough as Australia recovered from the damage inflicted by the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Mr Albanese has been campaigning on cost-of-living issues, off the back of record-high petrol prices.