Throughout 2013’s torturous seven-and-a-half month federal election campaign, Crikey will be documenting the major and minor promises of Labor and the Coalition and then — after the poll on Saturday, September 14 — we’ll hold the winning party to account.
The major promises since Crikey‘s initial crack on January 31 have sat with Tony Abbott — his National Press Club “HOPE. REWARD. OPPORTUNITY” address, while containing little in the way of detailed commitments, reminded the public of his many and varied Tory blood oaths hatched over the past few years.
Crikey has updated PromiseWatch with 15 new items to add to golden oldies like “cranes over cities” and “stop the boats” . The question is how they’ll be funded — Abbott reckons the Coalition costings will be released after the May budget but before polling day, while Labor says a multi-billion dollar black hole will arise because of other promises to roll back the carbon and mining taxes. The Coalition and the Greens will likely submit policies to the Parliamentary Budget Office, while Labor will rely mostly on Treasury and Finance.
In further promise news, a report over the weekend reiterated the point that the Australian Electoral Commission has no powers to investigate whether the promises printed on election material are true or false. It seems Crikey will have to take up the cudgels instead.
Updated Coalition promises
Axe the SchoolKids bonus: To add to flagship promises In his speech to the NPC last week, Abbott threw up a series of new claims — he’ll dump Labor’s $1.23 billion Schoolkids bonus, currently being paid into accounts, that provides families with $410 for each child in primary school and $820 for those in high school.
Stop the NBN at the node. On Radio National’s Drive program last week opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull reiterated the Coalition’s promise not to rip up the NBN — implicating the destruction of hundreds of Tasmanian and Brunswick rose gardens — but cautioned NBN Co from entering into contracts with providers that Abbott might tear up later.
Return to Surplus. In his NPC speech, Abbott reiterated a previous pledge to return the federal budget to “the black”. But in the lead-up, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey went a step further, saying that based on current numbers “…we will deliver a surplus in our first year and every year after that.” The commitment was “emphatic”, the North Sydney lap-band aficionado said. But, before Christmas — at the same time the government backed away from its surplus pledge — Hockey said that he couldn’t guarantee an end to red ink because Labor had hidden the true truth about the nation’s balance sheet.
Increase (?) defence spending. In a speech to the RSL national conference last September, Abbott claimed his “aspiration” was to restore real growth in defence spending to 3% per year. However, in his speech last week, that aspiration had changed somewhat — now the commitment was simply not to “further reduce” spending.
End of mining tax-linked spending measures. A suite of cuts will be pushed through parliament associated with the abolition of the mining tax, including the end of the low-income super contribution, increased family payments, loss carry-back, instant asset write-off and the latest round of auto industry assistance. The move could lead to the sacking of 20,000 public servants.
Cut industry and household assistance packages linked to the carbon tax. Last year, Greg Hunt said industry pensioners could conceivably lose $210 a year — and the average family $140 a year — when the carbon tax is wound back within six months of an Abbott victory. “While the carbon tax is in place, compensation will continue. Once the carbon tax has gone, there’s no need for compensation,” Abbott said last July.
Abolish the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. DCCEE will go alongside five climate agencies (Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Energy Security Council, the Climate Change Authority, the Climate Commission and the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute) as part of the Coalition’s “direct action” plan. Greg Hunt said last year he would set up a merged Department of Climate and Environment.
No cuts to medical research. During his NPC speech, Abbott promised that coalition government wouldn’t cut funds for medical research: “There’ll be a new Colombo plan that’s a two-way street between Australia and our region, sending our best and brightest to study in the region and bringing their best to study here…we will protect spending on medical research where Australia’s talented scientists give us such a comparative economic advantage.”
A vague commitment was fleshed out at the NPC to outsource or devolve large slabs of health administration to the states. A lukewarm Coalition response to the Gonski reforms means responsibility for education could also be thrown off Capital Hill.
Abolish Medicare Locals and fully privatise Medibank. This “promise” was first made before the 2010 election by Joe Hockey. In 2006, Abbott, then health minister, flagged Medibank’s imminent privatisation, which he said was “good for consumers”. The Gillard government has ruled it out.
Reduce Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake by 6500 places to 13,750. “Under this government, those positions are increasingly being filled by the people who are coming to this country illegally by boat,” Abbott told AM by way of explanation last year. “We need to send the strongest possible message to the people smugglers and their clients that the game is up, we will not be dictated to by criminals.”
No “detrimental changes” to superannuation. While the government continues to leave open the possibility of closing tax perks on superannuation contributions, Abbott suggested at the NPC that he wouldn’t reduce the amounts going into people’s pockets. He says he will abolish the Low Income Superannuation Contribution so 3.6 million low income Australians — mostly women — lose $500 in taxes from their super every year.
“Restore” the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The ABCC would be re-spun out of its current pared-back home inside Fair Work Australia, presumably at a cost of millions. The move would achieve “$5 million” in productivity gains.
Union leaders to face same laws as corporate directors. Changes to federal laws would mandate the same penalties for directors as for union officials, despite directors being responsible for incalculably more wealth and usually being paid handsomely for the burden. A new body would be set up to enforce the rules, Abbott reckoned last April. This morning in parliament, Abbott introduced a bill to amend the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act to increase penalties for union officials found guilty of inappropriate behaviour.
Paid parental leave. One obvious promise we missed last time around was the Coalition’s “Rolls Royce” parental leave scheme, announced last March, that provides mothers with up to 26 weeks of leave at up to $75,000 via a 1.5% impost on businesses with taxable income of over $5 million a year. The tax and spend initiative remains Abbott’s “signature policy” and one of the “defining marks of his leadership”.
*Have you heard a politician utter or break a promise during this election campaign? Email [email protected] with your suggestions.