Federal Election Campaign Diary
Week five of the Federal Election campaign saw industrial relations and banking sector reform firmly put back on the agenda, with the Coalition
reigniting the workplace relations
debate calling for the urgent re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), and Labor renewing its push for a Royal Commission
into the banking sector.
The Coalition’s focus on workplace relations
was sparked by reports of industrial action affecting construction on the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games sites, with Employment Minister Michaelia Cash
saying the work stoppages reiterated the need to urgently re-establish the ABCC. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Turnbull
pledged to amend the Fair Work Act
to limit union influence on volunteer organisations if re-elected, which came amid the ongoing battle between Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the United Firefighters Union over a new industrial agreement. Bill Shorten
refused to comment on the situation however, accusing Mr Turnbull
of weighing in to the debate for political reasons saying it should remain a state issue.
pushed back against the Coalition’s
workplace relations agenda this week by renewing calls for a Royal Commission
into the banking sector, following confirmation the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)
has commenced legal proceedings against the National Australia Bank over allegations of rate rigging. Mr Shorten
said the case further demonstrates the need for a Royal Commission, while the Coalition
argued it highlights that ASIC is well-resourced and has the necessary investigative powers to uncover misconduct in the banking sector.
also remained in the headlines this week, with Labor
releasing its 10-year economic plan on Wednesday and committing to match the Coalition’s
timeframe for returning the budget to surplus by 2020-21. Labor
went on to reveal it would run deeper deficits than the Coalition in the intervening years, arguing that savings measures should be back-loaded in a bid to protect the economy and retain services. Prime Minister Turnbull
dismissed Labor’s plan as a “glossy brochure”, while Finance Minister Mathias Cormann
went up against Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke
in a debate at the National Press Club, arguing that increased deficits under Labor would place Australia’s AAA credit rating at risk.
Meanwhile, the Coalition
continued to spruik its company tax reduction plan, with Treasurer Scott Morrison
issuing a mid-campaign report to promote the Coalition’s economic credentials, while also criticising Labor for having a “black hole” in their budget and significantly outspending the Coalition during the election campaign. Labor
responded today by unveiling a series of savings, which include reductions in some family tax benefits, the removal of the private health rebate for natural therapies and an extension to the private health insurance rebate threshold pause. Labor also announced support for measures it has previously blocked in the Senate, including cuts to research and development tax incentives, higher education fee indexation, and changes to the university loan program and loan repayment thresholds.
Both the Prime Minister
and Opposition Leader
briefly suspended the campaign during the week to visit flood-affected areas in NSW and Tasmania. The PM travelled to Picton, where he joined local Liberal MP Angus Taylor
and NSW Premier Mike Baird
to inspect the damage, indicating the Federal Government
will provide flood recovery assistance through the existing National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements agreed with state and territory governments. Bill Shorten
made his way to Coogee Beach’s Surf Living Saving Club, which was severely damaged at the weekend, before both leaders arrived separately in Tasmania to tour the State’s flood zones later in the week.
Former Prime Minister John Howard
campaigned alongside Liberal MP Jamie Briggs
in his South Australian seat of Mayo this week, telling local media he predicted support for the Nick Xenophon Team
would wane over time. Mr Howard also criticised Senator Xenophon for “trying to whip up concern” about free-trade agreements and agreed there were parallels between the South Australian Senator and Pauline Hanson
Last weekend’s Newspoll, taken at the halfway point of the campaign, indicated the parties were neck and neck, with the Coalition
currently tied at 50-50 on the two-party preferred vote. The punters, however, continue to favour the Coalition, with CrownBet
offering $1.29 for a Coalition win and $3.60 for Labor.
Highlights of the Week
Policy Focus – Infrastructure
- Newspoll results indicate a record 15 per cent of voters intend to support a micro-party or independent candidate on July 2.
- Labor released its 10-year economic plan and $16.2 billion in new and updated budget savings proposals.
- Former Independent MP for the electorate of Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, announced he will contest the NSW seat of Cowper at the Federal Election.
- The Greens announced a plan to establish a National Environmental Protection Authority similar to the US model as part of a broader $2.6 billion package to strengthen environmental protections.
- The Coalition released its policy to ban cosmetic testing on animals in Australia and the sale of cosmetic products tested on animals outside Australia, which will take effect from 1 July 2017.
- Television campaign advertising ramped up, with the Coalition releasing a personal ad about the influence Malcolm Turnbull’s father had on his childhood and Labor rolling out television commercials in a dozen languages to appeal to migrant communities.
- The Coalition announced it had reached an agreement with the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association to assess the commercial pressures faced by providers via a review process which will take place after the election.
- The Coalition released its plan for jobs and growth in South Australia, which features a commitment to introduce 1,200 new scholarships for undergraduate, postgraduate and vocational students to study in SA, and undertake internships with local businesses to gain experience.
- Prime Minister Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will participate in Australia’s first online leaders’ debate via Facebook next week, with the final date still to be confirmed.
- Incumbent Liberal MP for the WA seat of Canning and former SAS officer Andrew Hastie has been dismissed from the Army Reserves after refusing to remove campaign billboards in which he is featured wearing an Australian Defence Force uniform.
- Labor announced its childcare policy which focuses on addressing waiting lists, tackling childcare fee rises and increasing the Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate cap.
- The Greens announced their solar energy policy, which proposed the establishment of a Solar Ombudsman within the Clean Energy Regulator, ‘right to solar’ for residential and commercial tenants.
- Prime Minister Turnbull has written to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia confirming the Coalition will continue to support the current community pharmacy model.
Infrastructure policy remains a challenge for the government of the day, particularly in Australia’s larger cities where there is increasing community pressure for additional infrastructure to meet the demands of a growing population.
Soon after assuming the prime ministership, Malcolm Turnbull said he will be “an infrastructure Prime Minister” who will assess all infrastructure needs “on the basis of its merits”. Drawing parallels to the Coalition’s leadership on infrastructure under his predecessor, Prime Minister Turnbull has upheld the Government’s focus on delivering road projects in partnership with the states, but also signalled a shift toward urban planning and supporting infrastructure networks. In line with this, the Prime Minister established a new Cities portfolio within his ministry to develop a long-term strategy for liveable cities – the Smart Cities plan
was subsequently released in April 2016, and details a commitment of $50 million to fast-track business cases for major infrastructure projects and the establishment of an Infrastructure Financing Unit to work in collaboration with the private sector to solve urban infrastructure problems.
While the Coalition has made little in the way of new infrastructure announcements during this campaign so far, the Government made a number of major infrastructure commitments in the lead up to the election, including investment in public transport projects such as Stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail project
for the Commonwealth Games, and $1.7 billion for the Sydney Metro project
to double the number of trains servicing the CBD. In pursuit of its policy to encourage private investment in key infrastructure projects, the Government also announced
it will pursue private sector partnerships to help finance and deliver the Inland Rail Project, connecting Brisbane to Melbourne, and linking south-east Queensland with Perth and Adelaide.
Central to Labor’s infrastructure policy
is a plan to increase the powers of Infrastructure Australia to, among other tasks, broker deals and work with state governments to facilitate the delivery of priority projects. Under Labor’s policy, Infrastructure Australia will also have a $10 billion financing mandate to organise private sector finance and take part in infrastructure loans, guarantees and equity – similar in operation to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The Opposition said its plan to revamp Infrastructure Australia will encourage more private sector investment in national infrastructure by ensuring the delivery of major projects are separate to the political process and three-year election cycle. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has positioned Labor’s infrastructure policy as the Party’s response to the end of the mining boom, saying it will create much-needed jobs and economic growth.
In addition, Labor has also released a short-list of priority infrastructure projects that would be advanced under a Labor Government, including the Airport Rail to Badgerys Creek, Melbourne Metro, Perth Metronet and the AdeLINK tram network in Adelaide. Similarly, it has also committed
funding for Stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail project in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.