Bill Shorten has played down suggestions of tension with Anthony Albanese over a speech in which he laid out his Labor manifesto with a greater emphasis on aspiration, growth and cooperation with business.
On Sunday Shorten said there was “nothing in that speech which caused me any offence at all” when asked about Albanese’s Gough Whitlam address delivered on Friday.
The speech from Shorten’s rival in the 2013 leadership ballot has been widely interpreted as a sign Albanese will put pressure on Shorten in the event Labor stumbles in five byelections to be held on 28 July, and the Coalition has been eager to play up suggestions of division in the opposition.
Shorten told reporters in Longman that he encourages “my members of the united Labor team to put forward their views on the fair go”.
Shorten said he had an “amicable chat” with Albanese since Friday’s speech. “He said he thought [reaction to the speech] was overblown and I agreed with him,” Shorten said.
When asked if Albanese should have given Shorten more credit, he replied that in the version of the speech he saw there “was some reference to me, which is nice”.
Albanese said it was not good enough for Labor to argue it should be elected because “the other mob are useless”, adding that “from Bill Shorten right through Labor’s team, that is not our approach”.
He also credited Shorten and the shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, for “acting in the reform tradition” for proposing changes to negative gearing and other taxation.
Albanese said Labor “doesn’t have to agree with business on issues such as company tax rates, but we do have to engage constructively with business large and small”.
Shorten said Labor is “not concerned about ourselves”.
“We’re concerned about the people; I think most Australians are sick of politicians talking about ourselves, they want us to talk about the people,” he said.
On Saturday the Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne said Albanese’s speech should be seen in the context of the upcoming byelections and the next federal election.
“He has very clearly repudiated Bill Shorten’s political strategy,” he said. “Bill Shorten’s political strategy has been to divide the nation, to have a class war election, to be opposed to increased tax cuts across the board.
“Anthony Albanese has made it quite clear that he thinks that strategy is false.”
On Sunday the finance minister, Mathias Cormann, said that Labor’s opposition to cutting company tax to 25% for companies earning more than $50m “puts Australian workers at a competitive disadvantage”.
“[Shorten] should be condemned for that and, I mean, I agree with Anthony Albanese,” he said.
Shorten responded that the government was “desperate to leap on any distraction” and was trying to “bully Labor and bully me into voting for these tax cuts this week with some simplistic name calling about being anti-big business”.
“Let me make clear my views on big business: I will work with big business, I just won’t work for big business.
“I’m not anti-big business. I’m just pro-worker. I’m pro-small business. I’m pro-farmer, pro-pensioner.”
On Sunday the shadow finance minister, Jim Chalmers, said he believed Labor had engaged constructively with business under Shorten.
“I had a look at that speech that Anthony Albanese gave after I saw that there was a bit of a fuss about it in the papers, and I don’t necessarily think that Anthony’s interpretation is different from the broader interpretation from Bill and from others,” he said.