Beyond Rhetoric: Policy Explained by Dragana Mrkaja
People often look to the superficial when deciding who to vote for: Should we have a prime minister who wears budgie smugglers with confidence, or one who tweets about his recent shaving mishaps? It’s great to see leaders as human beings, but we need to separate the bullshit from the facts, too.
All policies are subject to change, so we’ll just call them promises for now. They are often quite vague and it can be hard to distinguish what the parties are actually planning. So, a simplified comparison of the promises the major
parties have publicly announced awaits your scrutiny.
Education: The Australian Labor Party (ALP) stands by its National Plan for School Improvement, also known as the Gonski plan. They believe the current funding system is inadequate, highlighting the extra needs students in public schools often have. The new funding agreement would ensure $10 billion in support from the Federal Government, with States and Territories contributing an extra $5 billion throughout the next six years.
While this is fantastic for disadvantaged students, the ALP has cut $2.8 billion from the tertiary sector to pay for these reforms. These cuts will abolish the 10 per cent discount on upfront payments made for HECS loans, and force students to pay back the money they receive from Student Start-Up Scholarships once they start work. It’s known that Mr Gonski himself does not approve of these cuts. At the time of publication the ALP was promising to review these cuts, with the possibility of capping student intake to pay for it.
The Coalition previously promised to back the ALP’s education reforms only if an “overwhelming majority” of States and Territories have signed on. However, Tony Abbott indicated last week the Coalition would provide the same level of funding to schools as the Gonski plan, but with no strings attached. Only Queensland failed to sign up to the ALP’s offer before the cut-off date.
The Coalition also promises to better policies regarding Online Higher Education, work to reduce red tape within the university sector, and grow international student intake.
Broadband: Both the ALP and the Coalition want to upgrade networks around Australia. The ALP came up with the National Broadband Network in 2007, but the Coalition thinks the project is too expensive. The ALP would spend $44.1 billion to get fibre optic cable to 93 per cent of buildings in the country, while satellites would cover the remaining 7 per cent. The Coalition would connect fibre cables to neighbourhood nodes, and leave existing copper cables to link the last few hundred metres to homes or businesses. The Coalition plan would cost less at $29.5 billion, but offers significantly slower speeds.
Disability Care: The National Disability Insurance Scheme (now known as DisabilityCare Australia) will support the needs of over 400,000 Australians with a disability, and their carers. To help pay for the scheme the ALP allocated a 0.5 per cent increase in the Medicare Levy to raise over $3 billion per year. These funds would cover about 40 per cent of the total costs, with states and territories contributing around $9 billion over the next 10 years.
The Coalition is fully committed to DisabilityCare Australia, but is less committed to the increase in the Medicare Levy. They would like to introduce a Joint Parliamentary Committee, which would see both sides of politics ensuring the implementation of the scheme. The scheme excludes those aged 65 and over.
The economy: In May the ALP announced an $18 billion deficit for 2013-14, but our overall government debt is much lower than most other developed countries. Interest rates are low, and unemployment stayed under 6 per cent even during the global financial crisis.
The Coalition has promised to bring the Budget back into surplus faster than the ALP would, and have promised to rein in the Government’s “wasteful spending”. The Coalition often points to former Prime Minister John Howard, who delivered 10 surpluses while in office.
Asylum Seekers: The ALP announced in July that all refugees arriving to Australia by boat will be processed and settled on either Nauru or Manus Island. No refugee arriving by boat will be resettled in Australia. The Coalition has indicated a level of support for this approach, while promising to use the military to contain our “border emergency”.
The ALP wants to increase refugee intake to 20,000 per year, even flagging the possibility of 27,000 if the so-called PNG Solution slows boats. The Coalition wants to keep it at the current level of under 14,000.
The Coalition also wants to revive the Howard-era policy of allowing the Australian Navy to turn boats back to Indonesia.
The environment: Kevin Rudd has dumped the carbon tax and will move straight to an emissions trading scheme in 2014. This will remove the fixed price on carbon and connect us to overseas markets. The floating market price is currently much lower than the fixed price, which could relieve pressure on consumers.
The Coalition would scrap any form of carbon pricing in favour of a direct action plan that would effectively pay big polluters to emit less carbon. They have also promised a 15,000 strong “green army” to address environmental issues.
Transport: The ALP has commited $525 million to widen Melbourne’s M80 to three lanes. The Coalition has not made any commitment toward this project. Instead, the Coalition has focused on the East West Link, promising $1.5 billion for the construction of the road, which would connect the Eastern Freeway with the Western Ring Road. The ALP is waiting on Infrastructure Australia’s comments on the project before promising any funding.
The ALP is promising $3 billion towards new underground train networks in Melbourne, and pledging to build a high-speed rail (although it’s not a priority and probably years away from actual construction).
It’s important to note that Kevin Rudd, if elected, will be the first Australian PM to allow a conscience vote on gay marriage and actually support it. What’s Tony Abbott’s stance? Well, not very positive.