Integrity, costs on Labor radar for year ahead

Labor has vowed to set up a new Federal corruption watchdog if it forms government, as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten outlines a battle plan for the year ahead focused on cost of living and boosting the role of unions.

In a major speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Mr Shorten said a national integrity commission modelled on State anti-corruption bodies was needed to restore trust in the political system, given the widespread view that “politicians are only in it for themselves”.

“So long as the political news is dominated by the minority who do the wrong thing, then we’re going to have a hard time convincing the Australian people that we’re serving their interests, and not ours,” Mr Shorten said.

Under the plan for a Federal independent commission against corruption, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the coalition was still considering, a commissioner and two deputies would be elected by Parliament for fixed, five-year terms to investigate “systemic” corruption at a Commonwealth level.

Mr Shorten also used the speech to open a new battlefront with the Government on the rising cost of private health insurance premiums, arguing that the sector was “on notice” given the stress that price rises were placing on families.

“Business as usual does not work,” Mr Shorten said.

“I’m fed up with the private health insurance industry treating Australians like mugs, gouging people on the basis of a con.”

He did not rule out winding back government-funded rebates for privately insured Australians, saying the party was examining a “number of options”.

Health Minister Greg Hunt seized on the revelation to suggest that Labor was preparing to cut the means-tested rebate, which gives $6.4 billion “to families and pensioners, (and) to lower income earners”.

Amid a fierce political debate about tax cuts and stalling wage growth, Mr Shorten flagged changes to bolster the role of unions in the workplace, which he argued would lead to wage growth. While not revealing details, he said Labor would put the “bargaining” back into enterprise bargaining, along with measures such as restoring penalty rates.

“Without representation, corporations don’t just hand out pay rises,” he said.

“You have to argue for it, you have to organise for it, you have to push for it — even if that means taking on vested and powerful interests.”