SUBJECTS: Budget 2019; NDIS.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, PRESENTER: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten unveils his Budget Reply speech tonight. Labor's Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek joins us now from our Parliament House studio. Good morning Tanya Plibersek. Welcome back to News Breakfast.
TRIOLI: Interesting to see as we understand that Bill Shorten will be talking about more relief, tax relief, for workers earning up to $40,000 a year and limiting the benefits for those on more than $125,000 a year. So this election like many others will be fought on tax?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think tax will be a very important part of what we're talking about over coming weeks, and Labor, of course, committed to bigger, fairer tax cuts after the last budget. We were happy that the government increased some of the tax benefits to low and middle income earners in their budget this time. They've basically matched Labor. But the people they forgot are the people under $40,000 a year, almost 3 million workers. So, tonight we will be making sure that those workers, well, they get their fair share too. I mean, it is quite an unusual government that wants to give an $11,000 tax cut to someone on $200,000 a year, but can only find 5 bucks a week if you're earning $35,000 a year.
TRIOLI: So then how do you go on and counter what is inevitable, what's going to be inevitably from the government, and maybe from other quarters as well, an argument that you're engaging in the so-called 'class war'?
PLIBERSEK: Why is it 'class war' to expect people on low incomes to be treated fairly? Honestly, every time we want to stand up for people on low incomes, or middle incomes, that's suddenly 'class war'. I just don't get that criticism at all. I mean, people on low incomes are really struggling. They're struggling with cuts to penalty rates. The fact that wages have flat lined. We've got the lowest wages growth in history. We've got huge under employment, 1.8 million people unemployed or under employed, wanting more hours. People are really struggling to make ends meet because the cost of everything has gone up and their wages haven't kept up. So we certainly think giving a smaller tax cut as the government has done to the almost 3 million workers that are earning less than $40,000 a year, a smaller tax cut than Labor proposed after last year's budget, is really unfair. Now, we also know that the economic benefit across the economy of making sure that low income people are getting more money in their pockets, that drives consumer confidence. It drives activity in our economy because people on lower incomes are more likely to spend that extra money and when they spend that extra money they are creating jobs for other Australians.
TRIOLI: So then should the Labor Party or will the Labor Party be clear if this matters to you, that this election needs to be a discussion around the issue of inequality?
PLIBERSEK: Oh, we're always up for a discussion about inequality. That is at our core.
TRIOLI: Let me just jump in and just clarify what I mean by that question. It was interesting to hear for example from John Howard just recently speaking about, in his view, Bill Shorten over-egging the argument around inequality because according to OECD figures, Australia has the largest and really the wealthiest middle class of any western society around and that middle class is the creator and the driver of that wealth. So when you do have a large middle class, how do you make the inequality argument?
PLIBERSEK: Well, a lot of Australians own their own home and they have a superannuation account and that, of course, when you put that into the OECD statistics, gives you a good wealth figure. When you look at what's happening in people's day-to-day family budgets, what you will see is childcare cost have risen. Private health insurance costs have risen. Inflation generally is continuing to creep up. What hasn't kept up are people's wages. Now, traditionally in Australia, what we used to see, as company profits grew, so too would the wages of the workforce of that company. We broke that nexus some years ago now. We continue to see company profits growing strongly and wages simply not keeping up. Now, that's a feature of our labour market changing quite dramatically. Less full-time permanent jobs. More casuals, more labour hire,  more episodic employment. That's really undermined this link between higher productivity and higher wages. So what we want to see is penalty rates restored. A decent Living Wage for people on low incomes. Bigger tax cuts for the 3 million people less than $40,000 a year and the same tax cut for anybody earning up to $126,000 a year. Making sure that our industrial relations system contributes towards decent wages, fair pay, good conditions and also, of course, what we call the social wage. Strong investment in our hospitals, in our schools, in the services that people rely on.
TRIOLI: I wanted to ask you, just finally before I let you go, what Labor's plan is to sort the funding of the NDIS and probably more importantly even than that, fix the problems of speedy and uncomplicated access to the system itself, the waiting lines and the queues to get into the system even if you are accepted into the system, then to actually get your plan and get your funding, unacceptably long. In specific terms, what's your plan and how do you fund that when we've got a projected, a bit of a surplus turning up potentially in one year's time, but we're already digging into it by the discussion that we're having so far?
PLIBERSEK: Well, the NDIS is fully funded, it's always been fully funded, event Scott Morrison admits that, but the delays have related to the staffing cap-
TRIOLI: That's right.
PLIBERSEK: - at the National Disability Insurance Agency. We said we'd remove the staffing cap and that allows us to make sure that people are being assessed more quickly. We also need to make sure that the services are actually being paid for. The amount of funding that services attract for particular pieces of work that they do, actually reflects the proper cost of providing that service. I think a lot of disability service providers have decided that they can't participate in the NDIS on the terms that the government has negotiated up until now. There has been a lot of pressure to increase some of those payments and indeed the government made some changes in this area just a few days ago. So we need to remove the staffing cap. We need to make sure that the people who are actually providing the services are paid properly for the work that they're doing and we need to make sure that we, where we see systemic problems like the very slow access to planning, we fix those. Now, the NDIS is actually at the heart of Labor's mission. We began this program because we don't want to see a rationed system for people with disability, a system of rationing of services. We want people with disability and their carers to be able to participate in life, in our community, in our society and in the workforce in the way that they wish to. I think this is a wonderful program that has been, in recent times, quite poorly implemented and so the final thing I'd say-
TRIOLI: Just quickly if you can.
PLIBERSEK: - is having people with lived experience of disability involved with the planning and running of the organisation is absolutely vital. There needs to be more of that to make sure the program is as good as it can be. 
TRIOLI: And Minister Paul Fletcher will be joining us later in the program to discuss that as well. Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much. 
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.