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GRACosway Political Week in Review
17 June 2016
 
Federal Election Campaign Diary

Voting for the July 2 election started this week, with the leaders making their final pitches to early voters as pre-polling centres opened on Tuesday. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull labelled it a day of “momentous choice” between a Coalition Government with a “clear economic plan”, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten urged Australians to back Labor’s health and education policies at the ballot box. Up to one-third of voters are expected to cast their vote before polling day.
 
National security issues dominated the campaign early in the week, with the Prime Minister extending the nation’s condolences to the Orlando shooting victims and their families while also reflecting on domestic security matters and warning against complacency in light of the global terror threat. The Prime Minister announced a re-elected Coalition Government will pursue new laws designed to keep convicted terrorists in jail beyond their sentences if they remain a threat to the community.
 
Both major parties faced questions about the global economy after $30 billion was wiped from the Australian stock market in response to uncertainty around next week’s referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Treasurer Scott Morrison argued the Government’s strategy to reduce spending and lower taxes will protect against a global downturn, while Prime Minister Turnbull told the Perth business community that Australia needs a “strong, stable government, committed to business” to confront the “many risks and uncertainties” facing the global economy. Bill Shorten told reporters Labor’s economic plan will remain the same, irrespective of overseas events. 
 
In a debate about the domestic economy on the ABC’s 7:30 program, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen pitched their respective economic plans to voters. Mr Morrison said the Government is pushing ahead with its promise to reduce spending and bring the Budget back to surplus, while the Shadow Treasurer argued Labor has made “tough decisions” to improve the Budget’s bottom line. Using the recent National Accounts data to bolster his argument, Treasurer Morrison contended the Coalition’s plan for jobs and growth will provide “stability” for the transitioning economy but Mr Bowen rejected his opponent’s policy as “a slogan with a one-point plan” and argued for Labor’s “fair” approach to budget repair.  
 
Labor called for an investigation into the Liberal Party-owned company Parakeelia, following concerns about the nature of its payments to the Party. Reports suggest Liberal MPs use their publicly-funded electorate allowances to pay Parakeelia for a software system used to track information about constituents, with the firm making payments of around $1 million to the Liberal Party over the past three years. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor has written to the Auditor-General requesting an immediate investigation into the issue, while Liberal Party National Campaign Director Tony Nutt said the Party will “fully assist” any regulatory body seeking information about the company.
 
Workplace relations remained on the agenda this week, with the Coalition renewing its criticism of the Victorian Labor Government’s approach to resolving the industrial dispute between volunteer firefighters and the United Firefighters Union over a new workplace agreement. Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash announced she will use a range of ministerial powers to intervene in the case in a bid to prevent the agreement from coming into effect, saying Opposition Leader Bill Shorten cannot “escape his responsibility” on the matter. The Victorian Government removed the Country Fire Authority Board after it refused to sign the new agreement by the Government’s deadline late last week.
 
With just two weeks until polling day, the punters are still favouring the Coalition, with CrownBet offering $1.18 for a re-elected Turnbull Government and $4.75 for Labor
 
Highlights of the Week
  • The third and final Leaders’ Debate of the campaign will be held tonight at 6pm and streamed live on Facebook and news.com.au, making it Australia’s first online Leaders’ Debate.
  • Prime Minister Turnbull announced the Coalition will preference Labor ahead of the Greens in every Lower House seat, while Labor revealed it will direct preferences to the Liberal Party over the Nationals in key regional seats in Western Australia and Victoria.
  • Labor pledged $80 million to help more than 6,000 people with Type 1 diabetes access continuous glucose monitoring.
  • The Greens announced a $6.6 billion dental policy to retain and expand the Child Dental Benefits Scheme, which the Government has previously announced it will scrap.
  • Bill Shorten told triple j’s Hack program that Labor’s proposal to lower the voting age to 16 was no longer a priority for the Party after it failed to spark “overwhelming excitement” when flagged late last year.
  • Labor pledged $100 million for the Arrium steelworks in Whyalla, South Australia if elected, with the funding to be used for projects to support the long-term sustainability of the facility.
  • Member for Kennedy Bob Katter told channel 7 he does not read the news and was not aware of the recent shooting in Orlando after being criticised for releasing a campaign advertisement in which he is featured shooting dead his political rivals.
  • Labor announced a National Broadband Network policy, which it says will deliver fibre-to-the home for an additional two million residences and businesses and will be capped at $57 billion in line with the Coalition’s $56 billion policy.
  • The Coalition committed $1 billion for a Great Barrier Reef fund to be managed by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which will deliver projects designed to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve water quality.
  • Bill Shorten has announced that if elected, Labor will commit $43 million in funding to upgrade the Roe Highway in Western Australia.
  • Residents will have a say on the NSW Government’s council amalgamation plan under a Federal Labor Government after the Party committed $20 million to facilitate plebiscites on the matter if requested by local councils.
  • Immigration policy made headlines, with the Coalition accusing Labor of giving a “green light” to people smugglers after reports suggested the Opposition plans to scrap temporary protection visas and grant permanent residency to 30,000 asylum seekers who arrived by boat under the previous Labor Government.
  • The Minerals Council has criticised the Opposition for not including the previous Labor Government’s commitment to streamline Australia’s federal and state environmental approval processes in their campaign manifesto. 
Policy Focus – The Economy 

Economic policy and management remains the key yardstick by which government – and opposition – is measured. In the lead up to the July 2 election, there have been a number of clear differences between the Coalition and Labor: the Government has focussed on jobs growth and creation largely through its company tax reform agenda and National Innovation and Science Agenda to address an economy in transition, while Labor has sought to shift the debate by publicly positioning the Party as “putting people first” through its commitment to maintaining health and education spending but also making difficult savings decisions. Both parties have proposed long-term strategies to return the Budget to surplus by 2020-21, but the Coalition has criticised Labor’s admission that it will run deeper deficits over the interim period. Labor has responded by arguing its changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax will improve the Budget’s bottom line in the long-term and protect Australia’s AAA credit rating.
 
Last week, Labor sought to blunt the Government’s criticisms surrounding the Party’s spending commitments by announcing $16.2 billion in savings measures as part of its six point budget repair strategy. The most controversial element of this plan has been Labor’s acceptance of a number of Coalition-proposed savings measures, such as cuts to the Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement, with the Coalition criticising Labor for not accepting its measures when they were first proposed in 2014, and further questioning the extent of its savings claims. Other major measures previously announced by the Opposition in support of its savings plan include limiting tax exemptions for high income superannuation earnings and changes to negative gearing.
 
Negative gearing policy in particular, has been a main point of contention between the parties during the election campaign. The Coalition states that investment in residential dwellings is a key component of maintaining economic growth and points to a seven per cent increase in property investment in the last financial year. By contrast, the Opposition has sought to frame negative gearing in terms of fairness, arguing that its plan to limit negative gearing to new properties from 1 July 2017 will significantly benefit the Budget and address housing affordability.
 
Meanwhile, the centrepiece of the Coalition’s economic strategy to assist Australia’s economy through the post-mining boom transition is a staged reduction in company tax over 10 years. The plan also features tax incentives for innovative start-up businesses; funding for defence industry manufacturing; tax cuts for small businesses; and restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Labor has opposed the Coalition’s proposed tax cuts and restoration of the ABCC, while also claiming it has re-directed existing funds from defence industry programs for new defence manufacturing funding


Political Wrap Up

Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt handed down the 2016-17 Queensland Budget this week, which focused on jobs creating innovation, investment, and infrastructure. The Budget predicts an operating surplus of $867 million for 2016-17, and an increase in the growth rate to 4 per cent in the next financial year. The Palaszczuk Government introduced a 3 per cent special stamp duty rate for foreign buyers of residential property as part of the Budget, which also featured an extra $225 million for the Advance Queensland Innovation Fund to encourage businesses to relocate to the State. See GRACosway’s briefing note on the Queensland Budget here.
 
The NSW State Budget will be handed down on Tuesday, with Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian moving in the same direction as Queensland and Victoria by announcing foreign buyers of residential property will be charged a 4 per cent stamp duty surcharge and an extra 0.75 per cent land tax from 1 January 2017. The Budget is also set to reveal a continued annual 1.5 per cent efficiency dividend for NSW Government agencies, and a $3.8 billion plan to deliver almost 3,000 new beds in the State’s prison system.
 
Still in NSW, the Baird Government has announced it will abandon part of a $531 million TAFE enrolment system following major technical problems and complaints from students since the system’s rollout began in 2013. The Learning Management and Business Reform (LMBR) network cost $100 million more than expected to implement and will continue to be rolled out across the State school system. Skills Minister John Barilaro said he has requested that TAFE NSW investigate a new IT system. See coverage from the SMH here.
 
NSW, WA, SA and Victorian parliaments sit next week. 
 


RESOURCES AND ENERGY

Federal Developments

The Western Downs Alliance environmental group has initiated legal action against the Federal Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt over his decision to approve a coal seam gas project north of Roma in Queensland. The Alliance alleges the approval may have been unlawful as the Environment Minister did not take into consideration the impact of waste water being released into the Dawson River. See here for the Greens’ statement on the matter and here for the Queensland Resource Council’s comments.

State Developments
 
While the Queensland Resource Council (QRC) has welcomed certain aspects of the Queensland Budget, it criticised a lack of funding for pre-competitive geo-science programs through the Geological Survey of Queensland (GSQ). QRC Chief Executive Michael Roche said the decision is “hard to fathom” given Queensland’s current exploration rates. See media release: Some budget positives but reforms remain on the slow track
 
Two Queensland Government-owned electricity companies will merge to become the nation’s largest electricity provider after legislation was passed in the State Parliament this week. Ergon Energy and Energex will become Energy Queensland in a bid to reduce duplication and cut costs, with the Queensland Government estimating the merger will save $562 million in public funds. See Courier Mail coverage here.
 


INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
 
State Developments
 
NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian has announced the NSW Government will invest $108 million in new buses as part of the upcoming State Budget. The Government will provide 3,800 additional services a week and purchase brand new double decker buses. See media release: NSW Budget: $108 Million Bus Boost

City of Adelaide Mayor Martin Haese has proposed building a super-fast internet service for Adelaide, with greater speeds and bandwidth than the NBN. Haese told the AFR Infrastructure Summit that Adelaide needed to support growth of knowledge industries, including health, education and professional services, as part of the transition to a post-manufacturing economy. See AFR story: Adelaide mayor Martin Haese says ultra-fast broadband will create a smart city (subscription service).
 
NSW Premier Mike Baird has confirmed his government is committed to proceeding with the $16.8 billion WestConnex motorway despite conceding the project’s community consultation process could have been improved. Speaking at the Australian Financial Review National Infrastructure Summit in Sydney on Wednesday, Premier Baird used the example of Melbourne’s cancelled East West Link project to argue governments should be prepared to “push through” community opposition to avoid sovereign risk issues associated with cancelling major projects. See coverage by the AFR here (subscription service). 
 


HEALTH

State Developments
 
The Victorian Government has announced the locations for the State’s first five 24-hour community pharmacies to be known as Supercare Pharmacies. The Supercare Pharmacies model will feature a nurse on site from 6pm to 10pm and round-the-clock supply of medicines and dispensing of prescriptions. A total of 20 Supercare Pharmacies are set to open by 2018. See media release:  Victoria’s First Supercare Pharmacies Opening Soon
 

About GRACosway
GRACosway is Australia's leading public affairs and corporate and financial communications counsel, and has been assisting organisations understand and navigate elections at federal and state levels for over 20 years. The firm provides a full suite of integrated services to a range of domestic and international clients across all industry sectors, including public policy, communications, regulatory, issues management and media relations advice. From offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth (GRA Everingham), GRACosway’s clients benefit from the combined experience, expertise and strategic perspective of our team of professionals in addressing complex and commercially sensitive projects. For more information, visit www.gracosway.com.au
 
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