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Election day and the state of policy debate

By Chris Lewis - posted Monday, 23 August 2010

On election day (August 21, 2010), it was interesting to observe newspapers to assess the extent that key issues were still on the political radar.

All papers made their judgments about which party should win the election. The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Courier-Mail and the West Australian endorsed the Coalition; while Labor was supported by the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Advertiser, Mercury and The Canberra Times.

Jennifer Hewett (The Australian) noted that the 2010 election campaign has seen an avoidance of big promises as was the case during the 2007 election campaign. Besides mental health and a generous paid parental leave scheme, the Coalition offered few big sounding promises.


Paul Kelly (The Australian) noted how Abbott brought “an energy, momentum, authenticity and ideological thrust absent since John Howard at his best”. Similarly, Laurie Oakes (Daily Telegraph) noted how Abbott has transformed himself to reflect enormous self-discipline, a development that reminded him of Bob Hawke who gave up boozing and (for the most part) womanising to fit the mould of a viable PM.

Oakes also criticised Labor’s tactics. This included going to the polls too early, announcing that a re-elected federal Labor Government would invest $2.6 billion in a rail link between Parramatta and Epping in Sydney after 12 years of New South Wales Labor reneging on a similar promise, and the “ridiculous Citizens' Assembly proposal that discredited her climate change policy”.

Peter van Onselen (The Australian) called for Labor to be given a second chance on the basis that the Liberals had not learned the lessons of their defeat three years ago. He noted Abbott not debating Gillard on the economy, the Coalition not having its policies costed by Treasury, and the Coalition losing a 47 to 35 per cent lead at the start of the campaign as then best party to handle the economy (according to Newspoll).

But other articles did reflect policy difficulties ahead despite Australia having low government debt and being fortunate to benefit from a booming China.

Jennifer Hewett (The Australian) highlighted many issues that need to be addressed, even allowing for the possibility that the developed world is not affected by a double-dip US recession or new global debt crisis.

They include economic infrastructure (such as ports, roads and rail) with both sides estimating that it will cost of billions of dollars with Labor doing little besides its promise to build broadband and private expenditure complicated by the global credit squeeze. It was only in the last days of the campaign that the Liberals introduced the notion of infrastructure bonds and a tax rebate to encourage greater private-sector investment, particularly from superannuation funds, although it remains to be seen how this proposal would work.


Health care, despite a package negotiated by the Rudd government, also will not end the blame game with the states as costs continue to increase because of improving technology and an ageing population supported by few working taxpayers.

Universities, along with other education issues, were also important. With student-staff ratios increasing from 12:1 to 20:1 in the past 15 years, and universities relying more on higher fees and foreign students for finance, there are likely to be further problems ahead. While university professors may advocate even more international students, as Hewitt highlights, it will be interesting to see if public opinion will be as supportive.

There are also immigration concerns, although many economists are already predicting that shortages will lead to increased wage pressures next year, which will lead to rising inflation and interest rates.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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