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Final thoughts as Australians go to the polls

By Tristan Ewins - posted Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Australia goes to the polls this coming Saturday, August 21, 2010. But some voters will not make their decision until the final day. Others might not even decide until they arrive to vote.

That said, what kinds of issues might play on voters' minds as they make their decision? What follows is a consideration of some questions which might influence voters - even this late in the campaign.

Would-be-Prime Minister, Tony Abbott opposes the National Broadband Network claiming it's too expensive and that it shouldn't be public. But privatisation of Telstra created a private interest which obstructed modernisation of communications infrastructure to defend its own profits. Does Abbott want to repeat this mistake?

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He is also proposing an alternative to the National Broadband Network which makes use of inferior technology. This infrastructure should last decades; but if we don't invest in fibre optic broadband now, we will have to do so in the future. Tony Abbott talks of “waste”, but given his $6 billion commitment to broadband based on inferior technology, and its probable short-term life span, does he really know what he is talking about?

Compared to the Abbott proposal, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy expects the NBN to provide “speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second”, ten times the speed originally envisaged by the government. Conroy described Labor’s NBN investment as being "truly about future-proofing".

Another commitment from the Abbott campaign is their determination to drop the resource rent (mining) tax which gives Australians a share of the profits from resources, which belong to us all. Rio Tinto and BHP now accept the tax. But Abbott’s plan to drop the tax would cost the budget bottom line more than $10 billion a year. This, in turn, raises the question, what specifically will Abbott cut - amounting to $10 billion a year - to pay for this promise? Will he take the knife to healthcare again? Already we know he plans to abandon the GP “Super Clinics” designed to take the pressure off hospitals.

Abbott wants to implement a parental leave scheme which will discriminate against parents on low and middle incomes. According to Jenny Macklin, Abbott’s scheme “would provide high income earners living in cities with up to $75,000 and hairdressers, cashiers and hospitality workers much less”. But even voters on low incomes would pay as a proportion of costs from Abbott’s company tax levy, to pay for the parental leave scheme, flows through to all consumers. Abbott’s parental leave scheme would initially cost more than $8 billion in the first two years. Voters on low and middle incomes would effectively subsidise those on high incomes. Is this fair? Why should voters on low and middle incomes vote for this?

By comparison Labor’s existing scheme “provides 18 weeks' pay at the minimum wage, currently about $570 a week”: a flat rate for all.

There are crucial questions on taxation policy, also, which have barely featured in media coverage. Abbott is considering the Henry Tax proposal for a flat 35 per cent rate for earnings from $25,000 up to $180,000. Michael Stutchbury of The Australian, however, thinks there may be complications. These concerns, and also some of my own, are as follows.

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How will this affect overall revenue? And if it is reduced where will the shortfall come from? Will the GST rise? And where's the fairness in taxing an average income earner at the same rate as a person on $180,000 a year? Will Abbott announce the full details of his tax plans ahead of election day? Voters deserve the full story.

Then there are Liberal claims about “debt” and “waste”

In fact, Liberal claims of “stimulus waste” are greatly exaggerated and their advertisements downright deceptive. At first, Liberal “attack ads” accused Labor of an “$8 billion waste” on “school halls”. This has now been revised to “up to $8 billion”.

The Age, however, reported that the costs of Labor’s “Building the Education Revolution” (BER) infrastructure program “blew out by [only] up to 12 per cent”. Any blow-out is obviously a problem; but the Liberal response via their “attack ads” has been one of extreme and deliberate exaggeration.

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins has a PhD and is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.
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