“It’s on,” was how Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd began his press conference in announcing that the Australian Federal Election would take place on 7 September 2013 as he seeks a renewed 3rd term for the Australian Labour Party. With a booming export led economy, an unrivalled commercial entry point for South East Asia and an enhanced global role what next for Australia?
On the day the election was announced opinion polls were suggesting that support for the governing Labour Party is now virtually level with Tony Abbott’s opposition Liberal National Coalition on a two-party-preferred basis, the election could go either way, with a second hung parliament also a possibility.
Australia enjoys an enviable AAA credit rating, a booming resources-led economy and has been insulated from the GFC mainly because of its significant engagement in South East Asia and its rapidly growing role as a business hub for the entire region. Australia also became a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in January and chairs sanctions committees on the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Iran, starting its one-month tenure as president of the Security Council from September. Australia will have “pen holder” responsibility in respect of Afghanistan, meaning Australia will draft Security Council agreements relating to the UN involvement after American and allied troops substantially reduce their presence in Afghanistan, and in 2014 Australia hosts the G20 in Brisbane in resources rich Queensland enhancing its crucial Asian role in particular.
Patton Boggs, which now has a permanent presence in Australia, has identified the following main issues upon which the election will be fought:
Synergies with President Obama’s Action Plan on Climate Change can be found in both parties’ general approach to the issue.
Under a new Labour Government Australia will move from a fixed price for carbon (“the carbon tax”) to an emissions trading scheme (ETS) in 2014, one year earlier than planned at a cost to the budget of $US 3.5 billion.
Labour’s carbon emission’s reduction target is aligned with U.S. and international targets of 5 percent by 2020-based on 2000 levels – and 80 percent by 2050.
Under a Liberal-National Coalition Government “direct action” involving, for example, the planting of 20 million trees and a 15,000-strong “green army” will be the preferred approach, as would public subsidies for climate friendly energy producers. Tony Abbott has made a “pledge in blood” to abolish carbon pricing in favour of this “direct” approach.
The Coalition has the same 5-percent emission’s target but has made no commitment beyond 2020, preferring to review longer term targets as part of a “multinational approach.”
It is clear even at this early part of the election campaign that one of the main battles will be about which party has the preferred long-term economic plan for addressing Australia’s post resources boom. In the lead up to the election announcement Prime Minister Rudd declared that the so-called, and much maligned, “mining tax” aimed at reducing carbon emissions was to be abandoned and instead a move to a floating carbon price and cap and trade scheme would proceed post the September election. A number of other unpopular policies have also been abandoned to “clear the decks” for the election. During the period of the month-long election campaign four announcements will no doubt colour the electorates views of who they want to occupy the Prime Minister’s residence, the “Lodge,” namely: the Reserve Banks’ two anticipated interest rate decisions, next week’s Labour force figures, and the June Quarter gross domestic product announcement, the latter coming a mere 3 days out from polling.
Labour has committed itself to returning the Federal Budget to surplus by 2016- 17 and will seek to promote its economic stewardship during the GFC.
The Coalition proposes to undertake a programme of spending cuts to get the budget back to surplus, including the loss of 12,000 public service positions and reduced expenditure on environmental programs. Deferral of proposed increases to Australia’s superannuation contributions has also become a major part of its economic platform.
The role of Australia in terms of collaborative approaches to issues of mutual US/Australia security will continue to be a central plank of Australia and the region’s security. In terms of Afghanistan, both parties are committed to the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2013
Defence co-operation with the United States will be increased, for example, increasing the number of U.S. Marines in Northern Australian ports by 2,500 in the next 3 years, and there will be a greater emphasis engagement with Indian Ocean fronting nations.
The Coalition will “aspire” to restore 3-percent annual growth to defence, and Indian Ocean security engagements will be similarly pursued.
Both parties have confirmed that they will continue with the policies of mandatory detention and offshore processing of asylum seekers, however there are significant differences of approach.
Labour will send more than 10,000 asylum seekers to nearby Papua New Guinea who would not be resettled in Australia. Labour will also increase the refuge quota to 20,000.
The Coalition haS pledged to send 5,000 asylum seekers to the Micronesian Nation of Nauru to be housed in tented compounds. The Coalition will also increase the refuge quota but by a lesser amount of 13,750.