REPORT Anna Glen
Kevin Rudd has officially called the election, meaning the campaign trail is on and each political party has until September 7 to convince the voters. Despite the fact that one in four 18 – 25 year olds (the demographic that makes up the majority of tertiary education students) are not enrolled for the upcoming election, the youth vote still accounts for nine per cent of the total vote, making it a formidable – and potentially deal-breaking – segment of the constituency. For those who have hitherto been politically apathetic, key areas such as education, economic management, climate change and asylum seeker policy are likely to dominate the agenda.
Labor’s National Plan for School Improvement, previously known as the Gonksi reforms, has been described as the biggest overhaul of education in 40 years. In short, the plan seeks to provide a needs-based school funding system and will consider school size, location, disability, socio-economic background and English proficiency when allocating money. Though formerly opposed to the price of the reforms, the Liberal Party has sought to ‘neutralise’ education as an election issue by announcing that the Coalition and Labor are on a “unity ticket” as the Liberal Party has committed to providing the same amount of funding as Labor in the first four years of the six-year scheme. What would be different, however, is the implementation, as the Liberal Party opposes the centralising aspects of Labor’s arrangement.
In terms of tertiary education, Labor announced its controversial $2.3 billion cut to universities – the largest since 1996 under the Howard government. The Minister for Higher Education Kim Carr has given some indication that the cuts may be reconsidered and remedied by the reintroduction of the capping of undergraduate students. The Greens oppose the cuts and offer universities and students the greatest support as they have advocated for increases to both university funding and youth allowance.
Labor’s asylum seeker policy aims to take a hardline approach to people smugglers. The plan would send all people arriving by boat to Manus Island to be processed where they would eventually be resettled in Papua New Guinea if they were found to be genuine refugees. The Labor party has framed the policy from a humanitarian standpoint, arguing that the policy acts as a deterrent and will prevent people from drowning at sea. This said, the policy remains internationally unprecedented and is in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which prohibits discrimination against asylum seekers based on the means through which they enter. There are also concerns for LGBT and female refugees, as homosexuality is illegal in PNG, and two thirds of women experience physical or sexual assault. Those refugees that arrived by boat before the PNG solution have been subject to the ‘No Advantage’ rule recommended by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, where refugees are not permitted to work and receive only $30 a day from the government.
The Liberal party also adopts a deterrent strategy with its defence-centric plan, “Operation Sovereign Borders”, which would “turn back the boats” via a joint taskforce (including the use of a three star commander) and introduce increased capacity for processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru. The Liberal party considers the increased boat arrivals as a “national emergency” and believes it should be handled as such. They also advocate the return of temporary protection visas, which allows refugees to be integrated into the community for three years, and, after such time the safety of their home country can be reassessed.
The Greens strongly reject the deterrent policies coming from the major parties and seek to strengthen ‘proper channels’ for seeking asylum, for example by increasing the refugee intake and furthering the capacity of the United Nations refugee agency to process claims in Indonesia, giving refugees hope and less incentive to pay people smugglers.
After the removal of Julia Gillard, Prime Minster Kevin Rudd announced that he would drop the fixed price on carbon and go to a floating market price, one year earlier than legislated. The Greens have opposed this policy on the grounds that pricing carbon is the best approach for reaching 2020 targets, which is supported by research from the Grattan Institute. The Liberal Party supports a Direct Action policy, which would involve buying emissions reduction through competitive government grants.
A survey of 145 economists found that 85 per cent thought the Liberal Party’s Direct Action plan was not sound economic policy compared to 60 per cent who believed Julia Gillard’s Carbon Tax was good economic policy, which is reflective of how seriously each party sought to tackle climate change.
It’s ‘cutting to the bone’ vs ‘out of control spending’. Respectively, this is how Labor and Liberal interpret each other’s mode of economic management. This comes down to how each party perceives the current state of the economy: the Labor Party focuses on the delivery of continued growth, low interest rates, inflation and unemployment while the Liberal government points to the government’s “debt and deficit” – the biggest since at least 1970 – which has been created by the government’s high spending, particularly the stimulus packages rolled out in 2009.
Just this month Labor announced a $30 billion deficit alongside $700 million dollars of new spending, including $450 million for out-of-school hours care, $200 million for the car industry and $21 million extra for local mental health services. This represents significant levels of spending, which relates to Labor’s welfare ideals that have seen the allocation of significant amounts of money to welfare reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Better Schools Plan. By comparison, the Liberal party, whose party name is derived the idea of economic liberalism, prides itself on its economic management because of its history of delivering surpluses – for instance John Howard delivered 10 budget surpluses under his government. This said, the Liberal Party is yet to properly identify where the cuts would come from if they were to come into government and bring the budget back to surplus.
At the first election leaders debate, Kevin Rudd announced that, were he elected, he would introduce a bill in the first 100 days of government to legalise gay marriage. Earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minster Anthony Albanese also stated that marriage equality “will happen” under Labor. This change is welcomed by the Greens who unequivocally adopt marriage equality as an official policy of the party. Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott has expressed considerable resistance to the move, as he will not call a conscience vote and supports the current definition of marriage under the Family Law Act 1975 which states that marriage is between a man and a woman.
It is important to remember that while the two major parties dominate the headlines, minor parties and independents serve an important check-and-balance function, to ‘keep the bastards honest’ as it were. There are over 30 parties registered on the Electoral Commission list of political parties for 2013, with 14 newly registered just this year. What follows is a crash course of some of these parties, from the well-known to the more quirky.
The Nationals: In Coalition with the Liberal Party, the Nationals represent the interests of regional Australia, which are concerned with issues such as regional health and education, food security and agriculture and land and water management.
The Democratic Labour Party: Claiming to be ‘neither right nor left’, the party split from ALP in the 1950s because of the perception that the party was held hostage by the unions. Traditionally made up of Irish Catholics, their policies generally subscribe to social conservatism. Party members have described the DLP as the “only political party in Australia which is pro-family, pro-life and genuinely pro-worker.”
Palmer United Party: Formed by mining magnate Clive Palmer this year, the party will stand for 150 seats this coming election, with six candidates being of Aboriginal descent. The party seeks to abolish the Carbon Tax, give 80 billion dollars to hospitals and make infant mortality among the Indigenous population a priority of the party.
Christian Democratic Party: Seeks to promote “pro-Christian, pro-family, pro-child, pro-life policies”. This means the party opposes abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, incest, adultery, and Sharia law to name just a few.
The WikiLeaks Party: The Party’s slogan is “transparency, accountability and justice” with many of the candidates being journalists, activists and academics. Unsurprisingly, the party’s first policy would be the introduction of a national shield law to protect a journalists right not to disclose a source.
The Australian Sex Party: The party originally began as a response to the influence of religion into the secular state. However, given the existence of the Secular Party of Australia, the Sex Party now focuses on Libertarian agendas such as the legalisation of abortion in all states, gay marriage, voluntary euthanasia and cannabis.
HEMP Party: Predictably, the HEMP Party advocates the legalisation of marijuana and is based in Nimbin, New South Wales.
One Nation: Australia’s extreme right wing party endorses nationalist and protectionist policies. The party sees the Carbon Tax, “illegal boat people”, political correctness and immigration as “serious problems” in the country.
Pirate Party: Based on the Pirate Party in Sweden, the party shares similar ideals to Wikileaks, advocating for the reduction in censorship as well as reforms to copyright legislation.
Still unsure? The ABC has launched a new website ‘Vote Compass’ (www.abc.net.au/votecompass) which provides a useful starting point if you consider yourself an undecided or ‘swing’ voter as it asks a series of questions and sees which political party you are most aligned with based on the responses.