Bill Shorten visits a childcare centre in Ivanhoe to launch Labor's childcare policy
Bill Shorten visits a childcare centre in Ivanhoe to launch Labor's childcare policy

While Labor’s childcare policy announcement yesterday is cannily targeted at working families with young kids — and with the policy overlay of encouraging women back into the workforce — it might  have been the first serious misstep of the opposition’s campaign.

The Coalition has been trying to combat Labor’s health and education spending commitments by asking where the money is coming from — despite its own claims of a black hole blowing up in Scott Morrison’s face. Labor’s policy — a re-working of the Coalition’s policy to lift funding for lower-income earners and start earlier — comes with a $3 billion-plus price tag. Labor insists that the policy — which is within the same funding parameters as the government’s, is fully funded, except that Labor opposes the Family Tax Benefit cuts that the government is using to fund its package.

The fine detail of which chunks of money need to be moved around to fund which policy probably won’t cut through with voters. But the fact that Labor keeps making large promises — Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme — plays into the Coalition’s claim that Labor is happy to spend up big without explaining where the money is coming from.

The Coalition, of course, has exactly the same problem with its $50 billion company tax cut, which won’t be offset with any other tax rises or identified spending cuts — indeed, the government plans to put tens of billions on the national credit card with its ramping-up of defence spending, topped with a premium of billions more to build Royal Australian Navy vessels here. None of that is funded — but then no one ever bothers to ask how defence spending is funded.

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Labor has promised to offer a full accounting of its policies well ahead of the election — something the Coalition refused to do either in the 2010 or 2013 elections (as it turned out, the Coalition could never have kept its 2013 promises without blowing a huge hole in the budget anyway, so it simply ditched many of them after the election). But if you look at the television coverage of the childcare announcement last night, the issue of their funding is given equal billing; Seven in particular contrasted the general nature of the Coalition’s campaign promises, which tended to be in the millions, with Labor’s multiple billion-dollar announcements.

Voters with small kids facing a daily struggle finding the right childcare options and having some money left over from their wages after paying for it might not be overly interested in how Labor’s policy will be funded. But the issue of costings is becoming a weakness for Labor, and the government will keep hammering it. That full accounting of policies can’t come soon enough.

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