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Australia's opposition Labour party woos low-income voters ahead of election

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By Colin Packham

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s opposition Labour party on Thursday promised sweeping tax cuts for low-income workers and more spending on healthcare as it sought to outflank the government on key battleground issues ahead of an election to be held within weeks.

The centre-left party is well ahead in the polls after six years of a conservative government that has been riddled with internal ructions that have toppled two prime ministers. An election must be held by mid-May and could be called as soon as this week.

Replying to the government’s pre-election budget unveiled earlier this week, Labour promised to match tax cuts for middle-income Australians, people earning between A$48,000-A$126,000 ($34,123-$89,573).

But Labour said higher earners would receive less benefits than what the government proposed to fund bigger concessions for people on less than A$45,000.

“The Liberals talk so much about being back in the black but the budget papers reveal a much paler shade of grey,” Labour leader Bill Shorten told Australia’s parliament.

“We believe that Australia does best when working class and middle-class Australia gets a fair go.”

The government’s budget promised A$158 billion in tax cuts though the bulk was set to come after 2023 by reducing higher tax brackets. The government also said 94 percent of Australians would pay a flat tax rate of 30 percent by July 1, 2024.

Shorten said Labour will not implement those changes.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also promised record funding on healthcare and education, but Labour said it will outspend the conservative government in both.

Labour did not reveal specific funding but Shorten promised an extra A$2.3 billion for cancer treatment.

To fund the spending, Shorten committed to scrapping a favourable tax scheme for multiple property owners.

The policy is widely seen as contributing to higher house prices, leaving many younger voters unable to get into the market.

Tapping into concerns about inequality, Shorten rejected calls to defer a Labour plan to restrict the concessions to properties purchased only after Jan 1, 2020.

“A government must be brave enough and decent enough to stop the bias against first home buyers and young Australians and we will be that government,” said Shorten.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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