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As the year rushes headlong towards September 15, the date set for the Australian federal election, voters are being bombarded with information, accusations and rumours that are threatening to overrule rational policy debate. A dubious Labor leadership suffers almost constant speculation over its stability, while the Liberal opposition is exploiting these doubts by staying firmly on-message with unremitting shouts of debt and deficit. This election is being fought very close to the line in a country that is finding it hard to determine the lesser of two evils—the deciding issues will need to be convincingly reinforced if either of these two parties is to triumph.
Although there are many thorny issues for voters to confront and evaluate before making an informed choice on September 15, a few of the big ones storming the stage are particularly worthy of note—and will all weigh heavily on the outcome of the 2013 election. Carbon tax, for example, has proved a highly contentious subject. Indeed, Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, is committed to repealing the tax installed by the Gillard Government on July 1 last year, which has unsurprisingly sparked a nationwide debate.
In summary, carbon tax means that the companies and consumers responsible for any environmental damage are currently obliged to provide financial compensation for their actions. The final price of goods being manufactured therefore includes the external cost, similar to the ‘polluter pays’ principle. This scheme is designed to promote a greener mentality, as higher taxation on carbon emissions encourages firms to develop more efficient engines and/or find alternatives to fossil fuels.
Carbon tax in turn raises revenue to subsidise the use of green electricity, generated by hydrogen engines and solar power, or to repair the existing damage caused by pollution. Although the policy has been habitually misinterpreted as imposing a direct tax upon the domestic consumer, it is in fact the biggest corporate offenders—BP, AGL, Fujitsu, IKEA, GE, and WestNet Rail, to name but a few—that are most affected, many of whom openly support the carbon pricing scheme. The opposition’s platform for wanting to repeal the tax is based purely on a ‘consumers dislike taxes’ tagline, which argues that the cost of administration may undermine its alleged efficacy.
Another political hot potato is the much-discussed Gonski reform: an ambitious makeover of the education sector, advocated by the federal ALP government. The Gonski funding model was recommended by businessman David Gonski in 2012 after his report on Australia’s education system found that the country is not investing enough money in its schools, and that the way funds are distributed is not effective, efficient or, perhaps most importantly, fair. Sceptics have dismissed the reform as too centralised, believing it offers parents and students less choice. There has also been an uproar over the $2.8 billion cuts in the higher education sector that will be required to free up the necessary funds for the new education model.
New South Wales, a liberal state, has defied the cynical stance adopted by Mr Abbott and signed up to the Gonski system. By contrast, the liberal-conservatives in Queensland are holding back for the moment (as is Western Australia, which was always a lost cause), while Victoria deems its chances of approving the reform to be 50/50.
Perhaps most troubling to voters, however, is the issue of what an LNP government is likely to do on a national scale if voted in federally. Since coming to power as Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman has slashed jobs and services, in addition to breaking his key election promise to return the state to budget surplus in 2014-15. Alex Scott, Secretary of Together, has spoken out on behalf of the union against the cuts that have been made to the health service in rural Queensland, as well as the proposed cuts to Translink and Queensland Rail staff. Up to 25,000 workers have been canvassed for further cuts, as the Newman Government has redefined ‘front-line staff’ in order to justify the changes being made.
All of these problems, combined with the furore that has been displayed in the many rallies held around Queensland, will inevitably affect the election run of the Abbott Government, and despite reassurances that such things will not snowball under the wider influence of an LNP Government, voters are beginning to heed the warning signs. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the 2013 Australian federal election will bring about a tooth-and-nail fight, and it’s always good to bear in mind that a week is a long time in politics.