However, the franking credit fight could be a wildcard in Melbourne Ports – which has been renamed Macnamara for the next election – where shareholders receive an average of $4244.
With Labor already losing the benefit of incumbency through the retirement of long-serving MP Michael Danby, it cannot afford to lose any primary votes given the prospect of a three-way tussle with the Liberals and the Greens.
The government accused shadow treasurer Chris Bowen of arrogance this week after he told retirees unhappy with the opposition’s policy they could vote against Labor, as a parliamentary inquiry held hearings in Queensland taking evidence from elderly shareholders angry and fearful over the proposed changes, which will not be grandfathered.
Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said the organisation had successfully negotiated with Labor to exempt pensioners from the policy but wants the opposition to consider introducing a cap so that retirees of modest means would still receive refunds.
“We’ve made clear our concern about other people without significant income or assets and had planned in good faith who would be negatively affected,” Mr Yates said.
Accountancy body CPA Australia suggested an annual cap on refunds of $10,000 or $20,000 in its submission to the inquiry, saying this may deliver a “less inequitable” outcome although would still lack unanimous community support.
But Mr Bowen and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Friday ruled out any changes, including a cap.
“We announced this policy last March and it’s the policy that we will take to the election, we’re seeking a mandate from the people to implement,” Mr Bowen said.
Opposition finance spokesman Jim Chalmers defended axing franking credit refunds, saying they were adding to ballooning debt levels.
“Every single week, $100 million in debt is added to record debt in this country so the government can send tax return cheques to people who haven’t paid tax in the first place,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg said Labor was treating retirees with contempt.
“Chris Bowen’s dismissive response to any suggestions for change to Labor’s retiree tax highlights that this policy has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with a blatant cash grab,” he said.
“Labor’s retiree tax is fundamentally flawed, no amount of tweaking can fix it – it will hurt more than a million Australians who have done nothing but work hard to save for their retirement.”
The ongoing battle over franking credits came as the December monthly financial statements recorded a $1.6 billion improvement in the underlying cash balance compared to the mid-year budget update handed down earlier that month, with the 2018-19 deficit now forecast to be $13.378 billion.
With Tim Boyd