Cormann's claim Labor plans $150b in taxes hinges on one big decision

The federal government has "lost the plot" for suggesting Labor is pursuing socialist policies that rely on the politics of envy, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says.

But the accuracy of Finance Minister Mathias Cormann's claim that Labor would impose more than $150 billion in extra taxes over a decade largely hinges on one big decision - whether a Labor government would reverse the Turnbull government's cuts to company taxes for small and medium businesses.

Bill Shorten says the government has lost the plot, but there could be truth to its $150 billion tax rise claim. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Bill Shorten says the government has lost the plot, but there could be truth to its $150 billion tax rise claim. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Labor has not stated whether it would reverse the Coalition's company tax cut, a policy that would cost the budget an estimated $60 billion over 10 years in foregone revenue.

That $150 billion claim was contained in an extraordinary speech from Senator Cormann criticising Mr Shorten on Wednesday night, in which he also accused him of wanting to tax the life out of the economy, take Labor back to its "failed socialist roots" and pursue policies that would drive successful people out of the country.

Mr Shorten fired back on Thursday, mocking the government as having suggested he was "working with New Zealand to overthrow Australia. They've said I'm some sort of British citizen, British agent. Even today they are talking about the Soviets."

"This is a government who has lost the plot. This government needs to know that if they want to lift their game, they won't lift their game by saying stupid things about me...the Turnbull government is focused on me. My message to Australians is that I'm focused on you."

Shadow finance spokesman Jim Chalmers said Labor's tax policies were aligned with its values and that "you need to pay for those things. You need to fix the mess that's been made of the budget by Mathias Cormann and Scott Morrison and others. That means tax reform".

Senator Cormann's speech on Wednesday night was an attempt to reframe debate about Labor's tax policies and can also be read as a sign that at least some in the ranks of the Turnbull government are growing nervous that Labor's policies are resonating with voters.

Labor insiders are also at pains to point out the government imposed $21 billion in new taxes over just four years in the last budget .

The opposition's estimate of the revenue raised from its capital gains and negative gearing policies was $37 billion through to 2025-26, whereas the government's $45 billion estimate is for 10 years through to 2026-27.

Labor's estimate of the revenue raised from the hike in the top tax rate is $19.4 billion, not $22 billion, while it estimates the trusts policy will raise $17.2 billion in total - the government's estimate is $15 billion. Once again the difference is likely to be a different 10-year period for the estimate.

The so-called "secret super tax" has been publicly announced on several occasions by the Opposition Leader and his economic spokespeople; the changes, which Labor characterises as a crackdown on superannuation tax concessions at the high end, will raise an estimated $18.9 billion over 10 years, rather than $20 billion.

All up, it is accurate to say that Labor has announced policies that will raise $92.5 billion over 10 years through new taxes and closing tax loopholes.

If Labor promises to reverse the company tax if it wins government, the $150 billion claim will be accurate - otherwise, there is a potential $60 billion hole in the government claim.

Deloitte Access economist Chris Richardson said that while the Finance Minister was likely exaggerating the $150 billion claim in his speech as he only mentioned Labor's tax increases but not decreases elsewhere, "as a broad debating point, Mathias Cormann has a point".

"On announced policies, Labor has said they will tax more than the Coalition. But it will probably not be $150 billion more over the next decade, partly because their are some offsets. If you tax companies more, you end up collecting less personal income tax. And Labor's plan to tax high income earners more has a partial offset via a lower Medicare levy for low and middle income earners," he said.

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This story Cormann's claim Labor plans $150b in taxes hinges on one big decision first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.