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GRACosway Political Week in Review
24 June 2016
 
Federal Election Campaign Diary
 
Medicare dominated the penultimate week of the election campaign, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten using Labor’s campaign launch in Western Sydney at the weekend to declare the Federal Election a “referendum on the future of Medicare”. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused his opponent of telling “extraordinary and audacious” lies about the Government’s plans for the Medicare payments system, refuting privatisation claims and promising that “every element” of Medicare will continue to be delivered by the Government.
 
With 883,000 pre-poll votes already cast and last weekend’s Newspoll placing the Coalition and Labor neck and neck at 50-50 in two-party preferred terms, debate on controversial policy matters intensified during the week. Labor continued its campaign on the Coalition’s perceived “privatisation agenda”, claiming a tender for the new Australian School Vaccination Register could lead to children’s vaccination records being “handed over to a for-profit company”. The Coalition returned fire by bringing immigration policy to the fore after it was revealed Australian authorities intercepted an asylum seeker boat in the Timor Sea at the beginning of June and returned its occupants to Vietnam when their claims for asylum were rejected. The Coalition argued the Opposition is internally divided on immigration policy while the Prime Minister warned of border protection “chaos” under Labor.
 
The Coalition continued to pursue its workplace relations agenda, with Prime Minister Turnbull visiting Victoria to meet the volunteer firefighters embroiled in a battle with the Labor State Government and the United Firefighters Union over an industrial agreement. Mr Turnbull confirmed the Coalition’s commitment to “immediately” amend the Fair Work Act when Parliament returns in a bid to curb union influence over volunteer groups. Meanwhile, Labor sharpened its criticism of the Government’s proposed same sex marriage plebiscite, arguing the public vote will be a “taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia” and promising to legislate same sex marriage within 100 days if elected.
 
The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader went head to head in Australia’s first online leaders’ debate last Friday evening, canvassing topics such as penalty rates, housing affordability, climate change and the NBN. A peak audience of 12,400 people tuned in to the debate online, with Bill Shorten declared the winner by a small studio audience. Suffering from the flu and losing his voice, Prime Minister Turnbull was the sole guest on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night where he responded to questions about same sex marriage, asylum seekers and company tax cuts, and also promised not to make any changes to the GST.
 
Marginal seats in Western Sydney were a priority for both the major parties this week, with the Prime Minister joining NSW Premier Mike Baird to announce a City Deal for the region centred on the Western Sydney Airport. The proposed partnership will facilitate collaboration between all levels of government to improve transport and boost jobs in the region by leveraging existing infrastructure commitments and making land use changes. The Prime Minister also launched the Coalition’s Smart Cities policy, which features an investment fund for renewable energy and energy efficient technology through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
    
Both leaders weighed in to the furore over comments made by radio personality and Collingwood Football Club President Eddie McGuire about journalist Caroline Wilson mid-week, with the Prime Minister telling reporters "there is no place for disrespecting women" – especially from those in the public eye. The Coalition later announced an extra $15 million for frontline domestic violence services, which will be allocated to particular initiatives in consultation with states and territories. The Opposition Leader also cancelled a scheduled appearance on McGuire’s Triple M breakfast show, labelling the host’s comments as “unacceptable”.
           
With seven days to go until the election, punters continue to favour the Coalition. Crownbet is offering $1.15 for a returned Turnbull Government and $5.50 if a Shorten Labor Government is elected.
 
Highlights of the Week
  • The Coalition announced it will provide $49.2 million for new machinery at the Arrium steelworks in Whyalla, South Australia to facilitate the production of a higher grade of ore and improve the company’s profitability. 
  • Labor committed $88 million for the fourth stage of the Nepean Hospital redevelopment in Western Sydney, including a new cancer centre and operating theatres. 
  • The Federal Coalition and the NSW Baird Government will jointly provide $30 million for upgrades to the M5 South West Motorway at Belmore in Sydney’s south-west. 
  • The Greens announced a plan to apply a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks in an effort to tackle obesity and raise an estimated $2.1 billion over four years.  
  • The Opposition committed to developing a fast-tracked business case for a second Bass Strait interconnector to give Tasmania a more reliable energy supply following concerns over widespread electricity shortages in the State, if elected next Saturday.
  • Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce announced the Coalition will establish the Regional Investment Corporation as a single national body to administer the Commonwealth’s $4.5 billion worth of drought and water infrastructure loans in a bid to streamline the process.   
  • Labor candidate for the safe Liberal seat of Farrer Christian Kunde resigned over alleged links to an extremist Islamic group, and the Liberal Party’s candidate for Gellibrand Ben Willis was forced to apologise for controversial comments he made on Facebook about Australia Day. 
  • The Coalition announced $215 million for upgrades to the M1 on the Gold Coast to ease congestion for commuters.
  • Labor committed to retaining pathology and diagnostic imaging bulk billing incentives at a cost of $884.2 million over the forward estimates.
  • Former Labor Prime Ministers Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Julia Gillard attended Labor’s campaign launch in Western Sydney at the weekend, where Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told the party faithful Labor should not be underestimated. 
  • The Coalition’s campaign launch will be held this Sunday in the marginal Liberal seat of Reid in Sydney’s inner west, with former Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard expected to attend. 
Election Battleground 

Last weekend’s Newspoll has Labor and the Coalition deadlocked at 50-50 on a two-party preferred (2PP) basis, with individual electorate polling indicating the Government maintaining an edge over the Opposition thanks to a strong performance in Coalition-held marginal seats. Both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten continue to campaign in the battleground states of NSW and Queensland, where over one-third of the seats up for grabs in both states are currently considered marginal. In order to secure majority government the Coalition cannot lose more than 12 seats while Labor need to win 19 seats, taking account of two seats it is likely to gain as a result of electoral redistributions in NSW and Western Australia.
 
There are a total of 30 electorates in Queensland, with 12 of these held by a margin of less than 5%. Labor holds just 6 seats in the Sunshine State after securing only 29.8% of the primary vote at the last election. The LNP’s Luke Howarth currently holds the Brisbane seat of Petrie with a wafer-thin margin of 0.5%; constituents in Petrie have given their vote to the sitting member of government since 1987, with sentiment in Queensland often considered to be indicative of the broader political landscape. In the Rockhampton-centred electorate of Capricornia, the major parties are currently in a dead heat and will battle it out for the State’s second most marginal seat (0.8%). In the seat of Brisbane, a recent Newspoll indicates the Government is likely to hold onto the key marginal seat, with LNP candidate Trevor Evans currently outpolling Labor’s Pat O’Neill in the race to replace retiring Brisbane Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro 51 to 49 (2PP). The LNP is also expected to pick up Fairfax following Clive Palmer’s retirement.
 
Over the border in NSW, the most recent polling shows the Government is ahead of the Opposition on a 2PP basis in the western Sydney seat of Lindsay (3%) and Central Coast electorate of Robertson (3.1%), while Labor has its sights set on nabbing the southern Sydney seat of Barton after major boundary changes handed the Party a notional margin of 4.4%. In Macarthur on Sydney’s south-western fringe, further boundary redistributions have decreased the Coalition’s margin (3.3%) with the latest Newspoll showing the major parties tied 50-50 on a 2PP basis. Western Sydney electorates remain a major focus for the Coalition and Labor, with both parties appealing to undecided voters by launching their campaigns in the region. 
 
Across the rest of the nation, the Nick Xenophon Team is polling well in South Australia and placing pressure on the major parties, across marginal and non-marginal seats. A poll conducted by Roy Morgan indicates 21.5% of South Australians intend to vote for an NXT candidate in their electorate, with the Party expected to secure three to four Senate seats on the day. In the Liberal-held seat of Mayo, polling also suggests the NXT has a realistic chance of winning against Liberal MP Jamie Briggs based on primary votes of 38 and 42, respectively.
 
In the Coalition’s strongest state from 2013, Western Australia, the Coalition currently holds 13 seats to Labor’s 3, with the new seat of Burt to be contested for the first time and polling indicating a likely Labor win. Notably, the incumbent members in Labor’s three Lower House seats are retiring at this election, which poses a challenge for the Party’s profile given WA is home to prominent Coalition Ministers Julie Bishop, Michaelia Cash and Mathias Cormann. Meanwhile, the spotlight is on Solomon in the top end, where incumbent Country Liberal Party MP Natasha Griggs is defending her marginal Northern Territory Electorate (1.4%).
 
As a result of the election being triggered by a double dissolution, all 76 seats in the Senate also up for the taking on July 2. With the quota for a Senate seat almost halved (14.4 to 7.7%) in each of the states combined with the recent passing of Senate voting reforms, the composition of the new Senate is difficult to predict. At this stage, it looks highly likely that the major parties and Greens will be joined by Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania, 3 or 4 NXT Senators and, potentially, 1 or 2 other independents.  The final Senate composition will be vitally important to the legislative agenda of whichever major party is able to form government after Saturday week.  


Policy Wrap Up
 
NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian delivered the 2016-17 NSW Budget on Tuesday, confirming the Baird Government’s focus on "congestion-busting" infrastructure with a $73.3 billion investment over the next four years. The Budget revealed a surplus of $3.4 billion for 2015-16 and predicted a surplus of $3.7 billion for 2016-17, with the Treasurer declaring NSW “effectively” net-debt free and in the strongest budget position of any Australian government. See GRACosway’s briefing note on the NSW Budget here.
 
Still in NSW, Premier Mike Baird says it is unfair that Queensland could get a bigger share of GST revenue because it has not pursued difficult reform to boost its economy and argues NSW should not be “subsidising” Queensland. The Premier said his Government made the difficult decision to sell its electricity businesses in order to finance infrastructure in NSW but is likely to receive a smaller piece of the GST pie because of its economic success. See coverage by The Australian here (subscription service). 
 
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has reshuffled senior public servants and split child protection from the Education Department in a major shakeup of the State’s public sector. Chief Executive of the Attorney-General’s Department Rick Persse has been appointed head of the Department for Education and Child Development, which will no longer have oversight of the State’s embattled child protection agency, Families SA. The move is in response to an interim recommendation of the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission and will prompt a ministerial reshuffle to appoint a Minister for Child Protection. See coverage by The Advertiser here (subscription service).

The WA Parliament sits next week. 
 


RESOURCES AND ENERGY

Federal Developments

The Liberal Member for Solomon Natasha Griggs held a debate with her Labor opponent Luke Gosling in Darwin. When the subject of fracking was raised, Mr Gosling reiterated the Federal Labor Party’s support for a moratorium on fracking on the grounds of environmental concerns, whereas Ms Griggs stated "I actually haven't seen anything at this stage to sway me not from supporting fracking in the Territory". See media coverage: Election 2016: Natasha Griggs, Luke Gosling go head to head over Solomon
 


INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
 
State Developments
 
The NSW Parliament passed the Point to Point Transport Bill this week, which establishes new regulator Point to Point Transport Commission and provides compensation for taxi license holders affected by the arrival of ridesharing services such as Uber. The $250 million assistance package includes $98 million for $20,000 payments direct to license plate holders with up to two licenses and will be funded through a temporary $1 levy on point to point transport trips, which is expected to commence in January 2017 and remain in place for up to five years. Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Adam Constance told reporters the “generous compensation package” for the taxi industry was unlike anything else worldwide. See media release: Historic green light for the new transport economy
 
The Victorian Government has announced it will develop a regulatory framework for ridesharing services such as Uber. The Andrews Government will work with Upper House Member Fiona Patten on a plan for the growing industry, with Transport Minister Jacinta Allan flagging compensation for taxi drivers as an issue that will be addressed. See media release: Government welcomes cooperation on rideshare regulation
 
Still in Victoria, the Andrews Government announced three consortia have been shortlisted to tender for the design and construction of the $5.5 billion Western Distributor road project: John Holland and CPB Contractors; Lend Lease Engineering and Bouygues Construction; and Salini Impreglio, Fluor Australia and Lane Worldwide Infrastructure. The project will see the West Gate Freeway widened and a tunnel built under Yarraville, while a second river crossing will be constructed to ease congestion on the West Gate Bridge and reduce travel time from Geelong. The contract for the project will be signed in late 2017, with construction to be complete by 2022. See media release: World class shortlist for vital second river crossing
 
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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