By Siri Gamage –
Australian Federal Election is to be held on the 18th May 2019. The campaigns by various parties are in full swing. Leaders’ debates have been conducted, advertising by various parties are ongoing, and pre-polling stations have been running for several weeks. The finer points of policy are being scrutinised by the media and contending party spokespeople. In addition to the Liberal- National coalition and the Australian Labour Party, there are minor parties such as the Greens, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, and Palmer United Party competing. Several independents are also competing in some marginal and some not so marginal (held by conservative) seats. In this election, over 150 parliamentarians are to be elected to the Federal Parliament along with a number of Senators from each State to the Australian Senate.
Being the two major parties represented in the parliament, the Liberal-National coalition and the Labour Party policies are being carefully scrutinised by the media. Leaders of the Liberal, National (minor party in the governing coalition) and Labour parties are zig zagging the country daily with policy and funding announcements for hospitals, sporting facilities, roads and the like. Their attention is focused mainly on marginal seats because in the last analysis such seats can make the difference in forming a government. Seats held by a party with a larger margin are not easily moved to the opposing side at the election unless there is a larger swing.
Liberal-National coalition that held power during the last six years faced some instability in the last term due to leadership changes in the Liberal party. Scott Morrison – who was elected by the liberal party few months back to replace Malcolm Turnbull – became the PM and currently campaigning on a platform of good economic management, funding for education, health and infrastructure, and tax relief for the people. The Labour party and others state that the coalition does not have a plan or vision for the future of this country. Some senior ministers are not contesting this time. Independent candidates are contesting several seats held by Liberal-national coalition MPs.
The Labour party is campaigning on a ‘Fair Go’ for lower and middle classes plus the more vulnerable in the community. Its Tax plan includes removing concessions available to investors in the housing market, share market, Super and what it calls the Top End of Town. It is planning to raise over A$ 150 billion over 10 years through these measures and re-allocate money for wage increases for early childhood workers, dental relief for pensioners, relief for cancer patients, and so on. Most importantly, Labour has set a target of 45% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions while proposing to increase the uptake of renewable energy through concrete policy and funding initiatives. Coalition’s plan is to meet Paris target of 27% by 2030. Thus, the electoral contest is being fashioned along a contradiction between classes, i.e. those who are well to do and those who are not so well to do including the young. In fact, the Labour is saying the current tax system is stacked against those in the latter category.
It is known that in Australia, after one party or coalition holds power for two terms, winning a third term is not that easy. In the recent history, this has happened rarely. In this sense, the chances of Liberal-National party coalition are slim. However, the coalition is hoping to get through the line with a new leader who has campaigned without a hiccup thus far. The major problem for the coalition though is its lack of future oriented policies and a vision for the country. Relying on good economic management alone is not going to bring the bacon home when the Labour is accusing that the economy has not been good for many Australians, especially in the lower and middle classes. Conversely, the coalition has mounted a scare campaign to alert voters to the fact Labour cannot be believed on anything they say and taxes will be higher under their government.
The issues facing the people are not necessarily similar across the country. Cost of living pressures including higher energy prices, slow wages growth, etc. are affecting many in the country. Farmers in the rural and remote areas face unique problems due to shortages of water, drought, and the like. Many are questioning the merits of the existing economic model, in particular whether the free market, neoliberal economic policies and programs are benefiting them? There is an emerging view that the new and globalised economy is making some rich, particularly those in the corporate and mining sectors including the banks. Some politicians are being seen as unnecessarily close to such corporate and mining sector interests rather than the average punters.
More and more young people and others are convinced that the government has to do more to address climate change. Women’s representation in the parliament is another issue. How to generate money for the government by way of taxes and how to allocate this money, where and when are key questions being addressed by all major parties. When governments do not address the key issues and concerns of people including service provision, it is inevitable that the party or parties in power are thrown out at the elections.
According to many news polls, it is expected that the Australian Labour Party will have a better chance of forming government after the May 18th election. If this materialises, multiple investment property holders will not be able to buy new investment property and claim negative gearing (unless they are newly constructed dwellings) –a form of tax concession. They will also have to pay more in capital gains tax. Negative gearing concessions will be limited to those who purchase newly built properties. Labour wants to create a context where intergenerational equity is restored through various proposals that it has presented to the voters.