Labor leader Anthony Albanese has defended the party’s decision not to release the party’s costings until Thursday, saying he has been “transparent” throughout the election campaign.
But delaying until after the advertising blackout begins at midnight on Wednesday has opened Albanese up to criticism from the Coalition, and triggered a hostile press conference in Perth on Tuesday that saw reporters chase Albanese from an event asking questions.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, was also pursued after a press conference in Darwin, with a reporter challenging him on why no one from the Coalition had agreed to appear on the National Indigenous Television network while he was campaigning in the seat of Lingiari, which has the highest proportion of First Nations voters in the country.
Morrison also flagged for the first time that a new port development at Middle Arm in Darwin could be accessed by the US military as an alternative to the Port of Darwin which is leased to the Chinese.
In the clash over costings, Albanese refused to be drawn on whether Labor would post higher deficits than forecast by the government, which the shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has flagged may be a “couple of million” dollars different to the Coalition’s balance.
“Our costings will be out on Thursday. They’ll be released at the same time that the last time that there was a change of government occurred,” Albanese said.
“What we have done during this campaign is be responsible. We’ve been fiscally responsible in all of the statements that we’ve made, including today’s announcements.
“We said where dollars would go, and we have done that throughout this campaign. We have a couple more announcements to go. We have until Saturday, but we will be releasing our costings announcement on Thursday,” Albanese said.
Labor’s decision to release costings on the Thursday before the election is in line with when the Coalition released its costings in 2019 and in opposition in 2010 and 2013.
Albanese was pursued out of the press conference by journalists after they objected to the Labor leader not answering questions.
“We are following you for answers, Mr Albanese, and you are just not giving them,” one reporter said.
“You have to answer eventually.”
Albanese said he would answer more questions when he appeared at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday, pointing to the fact that Morrison has refused to take part in the traditional pre-election event.
The final week of the campaign is expected to be dominated by questions over the economy and cost of living, with updated data on the wage price index to be released on Wednesday, and labour force statistics to be released on Thursday.
Ahead of the release of the latest wage figures which will show whether the Reserve Bank’s prediction of an increase in pay has materialised, Morrison said he would welcome a pay increase, despite saying a union wage claim for a real wage rise for those on the minimum wage would add to inflationary pressures.
The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said Labor’s decision not to submit any of its policies to the parliamentary budget office or to Treasury for costing showed the opposition was shielding itself from scrutiny.
In Darwin, Morrison faced questions about the government’s proposed new Middle Arm port development, a $1.5bn wharf expansion to allow the export of gas, including hydrogen, and critical minerals.
When asked if the Americans needed access to a port in Darwin that was not Chinese owned and whether the budget commitment supported that, Morrison said that “it does”.
“That was in the budget. In terms of the development of significant port facilities here in the Territory, it’s all part of the Middle Arm program. It’s a very significant program,” he said.
“This is one of the biggest investments in the Northern Territory that we’ve ever seen. This is going to revolutionise the Northern Territory with the infrastructure that is going to be built here, opening up the wealth of the Northern Territory, and it’s going to see the Northern Territory go through a golden period.”
The Coalition is hoping it can flip the seat of Lingiari with the retirement of long-serving MP Warren Snowden, despite Labor’s 5.5% margin. It has made at least $187m in local announcements for the seat since the beginning of the year.