By SCOTT LIMBRICK
Labor has been in negotiations with state governments over the ‘Better Schools Plan’, which among other changes would see around $10 billion in increased funding flow to schools over the next six years.
Of the additional funding approximately 65% would come from the federal budget, with the remainder coming from the respective states and territories. $2 billion in university funding would be cut to help pay for these reforms. The Greens oppose these cuts while arguing for an additional $2 billion in spending above proposed Better Schools funding over the next three years.
The Coalition has announced that if elected it will honour federal funding agreements that have already been struck, regardless of the financial commitments of states and territories. However, this would only hold for the first four years rather than the full six, where the majority of Labor’s funding – more than $7 billion – would be provided in the final two years.
Labor’s current core policy is referred to as the ‘Papua New Guinea solution’, which would see all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat being sent to PNG for processing and settlement. Labor would also raise Australia’s humanitarian intake to 20,000 per year.
The Coalition would introduce Operation Sovereign Borders, where a three-star general would lead a Joint Agency Taskforce with responsibility for border protection. They would also reintroduce temporary protection visas, turn boats around where safe to do so, and reduce Australia’s humanitarian intake.
The Greens seek to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 30,000 and urgently resettle 10,000 asylum seekers from within the region. They would also abolish offshore processing, restore Australia’s migration zone, increase funding to the UN in Indonesia and Malaysia to speed up processing and resettlement, and stop children being held in detention.
The debate over roads and public transport funding has been particularly prominent this election. The Coalition has pledged almost $19 billion to accelerate projects such as the East-West Link in Victoria, the M4 East in NSW, and the Bruce Highway in Queensland.
However, they have been less interested in public transport upgrades, with recently released costings highlighting savings from not proceeding with Melbourne’s metro rail, Perth’s urban rail, and a number of other rail projects supported by Labor.
Labor has also announced a commitment to begin planning of a Melbourne-Sydney high speed rail project for completion in 2035. The Greens are committed to fast tracking high speed rail between Australia’s south-eastern cities and increasing the proportion of Nation Building funding spent on rail and public transport from 25 per cent to 28 per cent.
Policy targeting climate change is a significant point of difference between Labor and the Coalition. Labor has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, with their original carbon pricing policy to shift to an emissions trading scheme in July 2014.
Under the ETS a cap would be placed on carbon emissions, with permits available to companies that produce carbon. Businesses reducing their emissions could sell their permits to others requiring them. The Australian ETS would also be linked to the European Union’s ETS.
The Coalition has pledged to scrap Labor’s carbon pricing scheme and ETS, instead proposing a $3 billion direct action plan where companies could bid for funding to assist in reducing their emissions below ‘business-as-usual’ levels.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott recently announced that there would be no increase in funding for this plan even if it failed to reduce emissions by 5 per cent by 2020, despite the widespread belief that direct action will be unlikely to achieve this target.
The Greens believe the target should be 25-40 per cent reductions by 2020, with a carbon price a core part of the set of policies aimed at achieving this target.
The Coalition has pledged to commission a White Paper on agriculture, as well as providing $100 million in additional funding for Rural Research and Development Corporations, $15 million for small exporters for Export Certification registration costs, and $20 million to improve quarantine and biosecurity capabilities.
Labor plans to appoint a mediator to negotiate a Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, ensuring fairness across the food supply chain between supermarkets, processors and farmers, review the $420 million Farm Finance Package, and have a National Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land operational by July 2014.
The Greens promote a national strategic plan for sustainable agriculture, a $75 million investment in a national soil health strategy, strengthened country-of-origin labeling laws and competition laws, and investment in agricultural research, particularly focused on adapting to climate change.
Labor’s national broadband networkis estimated to cost between $37.4 and $44.1 billion to roll out across Australia. The network would provide fibre to the premises (FTTP) to approximately 93 per cent of households by July 2021.
The key differences between Labor’s NBN and the Coalition’s policy are cost and installation. A Coalition NBN would provide 22 per cent of homes with FTTP and 77 per cent with fibre to the node (FTTN), where existing copper wires would connect homes to cabinets installed by street, at an estimated cost of $29.5 billion. The Greens support the establishment of a FTTP network.
Labor’s policy promises download speeds of 1000 megabits per second by 2021, while the Coalition’s promises speeds of 50 megabits per second by 2019. Individuals could upgrade to FTTP with the Coalition NBN at an additional cost.
Labor remains committed to the Closing the Gap program, focusing on education, life expectancy, infant mortality and employment outcomes. Stronger Futures is also a core policy, concerned with health, education, alcohol abuse, community safety, and housing and land reform. This has been criticised by many groups due to inadequate consultation with indigenous communities.
The Coalition supports the targets outlined in the Closing the Gap program and has announced the establishment of a Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, chaired by former Labor National President Warren Mundine. The Greens hope to pursue compensation for the Stolen Generation, the inclusion of a justice target under Closing the Gap, and increase training for indigenous health workers.
The Coalition and Labor both broadly support activity-based funding for hospitals, where hospitals are funded based on the services they provide for a set number of patients at a set price. In 2011 Labor announced $2.2 billion in funding for National Mental Health Reform, and recently announced further funding to increase the number of headspace centres to 100. The Coalition has supported this policy, committed $18 million to the National Centre for Excellence in Youth Mental Health, and task the National Mental Health Commission with a review of mental health programs focusing on unnecessary red tape and service duplication.
While Labor promotes a means tested Private Health Insurance Rebate, the Coalition intends to remove the means test as soon as possible. The Greens support the removal of the rebate entirely, as well as universal access to publicly funded primary dental care, restrictions on the promotion of pharmaceuticals to health care professionals, and greater access to health care in rural and remote areas.
Both Labor and the Coalition emphasise the need for Australia to strengthen ties in Asia while maintaining relationships with Europe and the United States.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr has emphasised the importance of Australia playing a role in easing tensions over regional disputes in the South China and East China Sea.
This month Australia is chair of the United Nations Security Council and in December will become president of the Group of 20 (G20), following Russia. Labor has pointed to such leadership roles as key achievements of its foreign policy.
The Coalition has criticised Labor for damaging relations with Indonesia due to asylum seeker and live export policies. Tony Abbott has signalled his intention to make a trip to Indonesia one of his first international priorities. The Coalition also plans to conclude several free trade agreements with partners in the Asian region and establish a New Columbo Plan to facilitate educational opportunities for Australian students across Asia and international students within Australia.
Labor has committed to foreign aid levels of 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2016-17, though the last budget shifted this to 2017-18, both deferrals from Labor’s original commitment of 2015-16. Labor has also reallocated a significant portion of the aid budget to cover costs of processing asylum seekers. The Coalition is committed to 0.5 per cent, but with no timeline in place, while the Greens propose 0.7 per cent in line with recommended UN levels.
Cost of Living/EconomyThe Coalition has criticised Labor’s budget, however based on recently released costings a Coalition government would save just $6 billion over four years. Tony Abbott has claimed that a surplus would come second to previous commitments and would only be pursued when this could be achieved responsibly.
Labor has delivered a series of personal income tax cuts as a part of the carbon price, which the Coalition would retain even after abolishing the government’s carbon policy. Labor remains committed to the Minerals Resource Rent Tax in its current form, while the Coalition would abolish this tax along with the carbon price and the Greens would increase the tax.
The Coalition also claims that its paid parental leave scheme will increase productivity. This will be paid for with a levy of 1.5 per cent on companies with over $5 million in taxable income, though offset by a 1.5 per cent cut in company tax. The Greens would provide a 2 per cent cut in income tax for small businesses.
The Coalition is committed to generating one million jobs over the next five years, while Labor has announced “A Plan for Australian Jobs” particularly aimed at assisting small and medium business to grow. On superannuation, Labor would continue increasing mandated employer contributions to 12 per cent by 2019 where the Coalition would defer this target to 2021.
Scott recently graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts after completing high school in Singapore. He has written for Meanjin, Voiceworks, and The Punch, volunteered with the Oaktree Foundation and interned at Change.org. Scott has worked in a chocolate shop and a call centre, annoys his housemates with his mediocre cooking skills (tacos only), and his finest moment was playing a Jimi Hendrix solo behind his head. He can be found on Twitter here.