Looking at the ALP’s campaign over the last four weeks you could easily get the impression that the Coalition is coming into this election without any laid out agenda. Just last week the ALP went on attack about an apparent $10billion hole in the Coalition’s costings, and it seems like this week all focus will once again be on costings after the Coalition announced it would have it will have them all out by Thursday. The attacks are painting a picture of a party that has a policy and economic void, and will shock voters with slashes to services and programs after the election.
To be fair, there is merit in this argument – even Joe Hockey admitted that there would be a range of cuts announced after the election. But at the same time, it is a curious way to campaign. Whilst the ALP have been focused on potential cuts in the future – in turn building a confusing debate around budget costings that most people don’t really understand – they are avoiding the already laid out, far right-wing agenda of the Coalition.
Let’s start with ALP’s favourite topic – budget cuts. As Lenore Taylor points out, whilst the ALP is focusing on potential future cuts, they’ve ignored the swathe of cuts the Coalition have already announced:
“Nonetheless Labor persisted (in campaigning on future cuts), and in doing so virtually ignored the real cuts the Coalition had laid out – the abolition of the schoolkids bonus ($4.6bn worth of payments to families), the $1.6bn hit on shareholders and self-funded retirees from the Coalition’s decision to not count its 1.5% levy as a tax for tax credit purposes, the $3.7bn that won’t be paid to low-income earners’ superannuation accounts, the $1bn which over the next four years was to be paid in twice-annual supplements to those on unemployment benefits, and the money to be saved by cutting 12,000 public servants.”
That last point is one worth reflecting on. Abbott has proposed the slashing of 12,000 jobs in the public service, meaning the loss of 660 jobs per month after he is election for the first year. A report out last week showed the massive impact that will have on the ACT economy, not to mention the impact it will have on Government service delivery (as we can see through similar sorts of cuts in places like Queensland). One can only imagine what sort of reaction that would get if the cuts were to occur in any other industry, but it seems to have been untouched.
It’s cuts to the budget where the Coalition have swung far to the right on the environment as well. The Coalition’s direct action plan has been under fire throughout the campaign, particularly after the Climate Institute report that showed that it would cost between $4 – $15 billion to achieve the emissions cuts needed under Abbott’s scheme. But it is in abolishing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and more recently announcing cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – a loss of billions of dollars in clean energy investment – that the Coalition’s plan becomes more extreme. Whilst doing this Abbott has not made any announcement to remove the billions of dollars in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry (as far as I am aware). His direct action plan could therefore be described as one that directly takes money out of the technologies that are the solutions to the problem, whilst keeping money into the causes of the problem. These sorts of cuts will have a huge impact on the renewable energy industry, yet the ALP has hardly touched them.
Moving on, earlier this year, Joe Hockey announced that the Coalition would take aim at welfare programs. These plans have already started to trickle out, with Abbott announcing the cutting of a supplementary allowance paid to people on Newstart, worth between $210 – $350 per year for some of our poorest people. This has been coupled with the announcement to give welfare claimants up to $15,000 after they have found a job – money at the time when it seems like they would no longer need it. This seems to be in line with Abbott’s self described ‘tough-love’ approach to welfare.
On the issue of education, Abbott’s claims that the Coalition is on a ‘unity ticket’ with the ALP is what Maralyn Parker calls a ‘Conski’. As it currently stands, Abbott has only committed $2.8 billion to the Gonski reforms, compared to the $10 billion promised by the ALP and the Greens.
I’m pretty sure the Coalitions’ plans on industrial relations would worry people as well. The Coalition has already announced or indicated a whole range of positions and policies to attack penalty rates, stand behind bosses who refuse to negotiate with employees and to reintroduce the draconian Australian Building and Construction Commission. During the election campaign Eric Abetz has also announced the Coalition’s policy to police wage claims, even if unions/employees and employers agree on wage increases. The only impact this could have would be to reduce real wage growth.
These are just some of the areas in which the Coalition has displayed its far right-wing agenda. This does not mention its attack on the National Broadband Network, its cruel and unusual policies towards asylum seekers, his refusal to pass same-sex marriage and what feels like a complete void in health policy.
The Coalition doesn’t lack an agenda. And it doesn’t lack costings in a range of policy areas. Their policies are laid out, are extremely right-wing, and involve massive cuts across a number of important areas. In the last week, instead of focusing on some future cuts that no one knows about therefore, the ALP would be wise to turn its attention to what is already there. That is where the real danger for the Coalition lies.