By ASHLEIGH PISANI
Before you head to the polls on Saturday, make sure you know what the major parties are promising (or are refusing to say) what they are planning for these key policy issues.
The polls are tight and every vote counts so here is what you need to know to make an informed decision this election.
Coalition (Liberal/National Party)
- $1.2 billion for schools in 2018-2020
The Coalition Government has promised an extra $1.2 billion for schools this election that will be spread out over 2018-2020. However, this falls well short of the $4.5 billion Labor have promised in order to fully fund the Gonski needs-based school funding agreements (which the Coalition promised to deliver in the 2013 election campaign).
Education Minister Simon Birmingham says the Government’s focus is not just on more money but more importantly on investing it in areas such as “teacher quality, school autonomy, strengthening the curriculum and engaging parents in education” which he says will make a more significant difference to student results.
- 6 million P-Tech Schools Program
The Coalition’s newly announced P-TECH schools program would see businesses co-fund and partner with high schools to provide an entry-level qualification alongside a high school certificate. The Education Minister announced in a press release that the $4.6 million initiative is a key part of the Government’s national economic plan to help young people develop the skills to drive Australia’s future prosperity. There is some concern though that this could result in corporations having an undue influence in schools.
- $37 billion for the full Gonski over the next decade
In 2013, the Gillard Labor Government introduced the Gonski needs-based school funding reforms. This model sees every student receive a base amount of funding for their education and then allocates additional money to students who are disadvantaged or have additional needs.
In this campaign, Labor has committed to fund the full six-year plan. The package is expected to cost $37 billion over the next decade and includes more one-one support for students, early intervention programs so children don’t fall behind, better support for students who are struggling and better training for teachers.
Labor says they will pay for Gonski by cracking down on big multinational companies who avoid paying tax in Australia, increasing the cost of cigarettes over time and cutting back on super contributions for high income earners.
- $3 billion ‘Jobs for Families’ childcare package
The Turnbull Government has announced a significant package to reform childcare subsidies from July 2018. They are proposing a $3 billion package to replace the current child care rebate (which covers 50% of out of pocket childcare costs up to $7,500 annually) into a single means tested payment.
Low income families will be eligible for up to 85% of their out of pocket costs. This will gradually reduce, depending on your family income, down to 50% for families earning over $170,000. Families earning up to $185,000 a year will not have a cap on the amount they can claim back. The payment will be capped at $10,000 for families earning above this.
HOWEVER, the package is tied to a substantial cut to Family Tax Benefit Part A that the current Senate refused to pass because of the detrimental impact it would have on low income families. Meaning that whether or not the childcare package ever actually happens depends on who is elected to the Senate after the election.
- $3 billion childcare package
Labor are in favour of keeping the current system although they have said they will consult with industry if elected to enact “long-term reforms”.
In the meantime, they have announced an extra $3 billion for the sector, which will come into effect at the beginning of 2017, 18 months earlier than the Coalition.
Under Labor’s policy, the cap on the childcare rebate will be lifted from $7,500 to $10,000 and the childcare benefit will also increase by 15% which Labor say will mean an extra $31 a week for families.
Labor will also provide $160 million to increase childcare and after-school care places in areas where there is a high demand and boost funding for services that cater for Indigenous children.
Additionally, Labor have announced a plan to teach computer coding in every school.
- Partial de-regulation of university fees and ???
The Coalition is refusing to say what their intentions are for university funding post-election.
They have signalled their intention to persist with partial de-regulation of university fees for some “flagship courses” which would allow universities to set their own course fees for certain courses at the expense of Government funding. This would be monitored by a new agency similar to the ACCC.
Currently fees are “regulated” which means the Government controls the amount universities are allowed to charge students for courses.
Other than this, the Government has released a discussion paper to be considered after the election to reform the higher education sector because they say too many people are going to university and the cost is unaffordable for Government.
Measures flagged include: Making HECS repayments be based on household income rather than personal income and lowering the threshold for when HECS repayments are due to $42,000 a year (Currently graduates do not start paying back their HECS loans until their personal income reaches over $54,126 a year).
The Government has also allocated an additional $127 million in targeted research funding which they say will connect academics with industry partners.
- No de-regulation of fees
Labor has ruled out supporting any form of university fee de-regulation.
They have said they will cap loans for students attending private colleges at $8,000 per student per year which Labor says will save $6 billion over the next 10 years.
- $2.9 billion for public hospitals
The Turnbull Government has recently made agreements with the State and Territory Governments for public hospital funding which will provide an additional $2.9 billion over the next three years. This is a short-term agreement, which comes after the Coalition refused to honour the agreements made by the previous Labor Government, despite promising to do so during the 2013 election. Breaking these agreements will result in a $50 billion cut over 8 years from 2017.
- $5 billion for public hospitals
Labor has promised to increase hospital funding by $2 billion over 4 years. This will restore the cuts made by the Liberals in the 2014 budget over the short-term however they have not said if they will restore the full $50 billion over the long-term.
Medicare Rebate for Doctors
- Medicare Rebate remain frozen
After the proposed $7 GP co-payment was scrapped the Abbott Government froze the rebate paid to doctors. The Turnbull Government announced in the 2016 budget the indexation freeze will be extended until at least 2020. They say the measure will save $925 million.
According to the Australian Medical Association, GP practices have been largely absorbing the cost of the indexation freeze and if the freeze continues services will be affected. Changes would include charging a larger gap to fee-paying patients, choosing to bulk bill fewer patients or asking patients to return for further appointments for follow- ups.
- Unfreeze the Medicare rebate
Labor has promised they will end the freeze and restore indexation from January 1, 2017. This has been costed at $2.4 billion by 2019-20 and $12.2 billion over a decade.
Diagnostic Imaging and the PBS
- $650 million cut
The Liberals have cut $650 million from bulk-billing for pathology and diagnostic imaging. The Government announced it would scrap an incentive paid to pathology companies to encourage them to bulk bill patients. This was a top up payment – in addition to regular bulk-billing payments which was introduced by the former Labor government to encourage bulk-billing.
Health Minister Sussan Ley has said, “The bulk billing incentive has cost taxpayers $1.3 billion over five years, yet again has clearly failed to improve bulk billing rates beyond natural growth.”
- Restore the $650 million
Labor has been very critical of the cut and at the Labor campaign launch Bill Shorten said an incoming Labor government will reverse Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to pathology and diagnostic imaging.
- 10 Primary Health Networks and a guarantee to fund Headspace
The Turnbull Government has promised to spend $26 million on 10 lead Primary Health Networks, which coordinate medical services, to trial new approaches to mental health including four sites to focus on suicide prevention.
They have also committed to funding an additional eight Suicide Prevention Trials in regional, rural and remote areas and youth mental health service, Headspace. As well as said they will trial new digital technologies to provide 24/7 support.
- Overhaul the mental health care system
Labor has stated mental health is a national priority. They have said they intend to implement a long-term mental health care reform.
Labor support the National Mental Health Commission’s recommendations which advocate for:
A major overhaul of the mental health system to shift the focus of the system from crisis and acute care to community based services, primary health care, prevention and early intervention; and to better focus services on supporting individuals and families. It also proposes specific actions to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the mental health and wellbeing of people living in regional, rural and remote Australia.
The idea is to direct Government support toward services that prevent mental illness and support recovery rather than acting only once people have reached crisis point. This is better for those suffering from mental health issues as they get the immediate care they need and will save billions of dollars in the long term as it relieves pressure on the hospital system and allows people to work and study and therefore participate in the economy.
Labor have committed to the National Mental Health Commission’s target to reduce suicides by 50% over the next ten years and have said they will create 12 regional initiatives (six urban, four regional and two remote) as the first stage in implementation of a comprehensive, whole-of-system approach to suicide prevention. Regions will apply for grants to fund place-based initiatives tailored to local community needs for services and support.
The National Mental Health Commission’s recommendations can be read in entirety here:
- Continue with Health Homes Trial
This is a Turnbull Government initiative which was announced earlier this year. It is currently a trial for 65,000 chronic patients that would allow them to “enrol” with a particular GP to manage their care needs. Doctors will receive quarterly funding to pay for the patient’s medical and allied health services. According to Health Minister Sussan Ley, the idea is to ensure patients do not end up slipping through the cracks with multiple doctors and no continuity of care.
- Unclear as to whether they will continue with Health Homes Trial
Labor have supported the idea but have criticised its implementation as rushed and say the plan lacks detail.
- No change
The Turnbull Government is strongly opposed to any changes that Labor say would make houses more affordable. They oppose Labor’s plan to make negative gearing only possible for new houses from July 2017.
- Abolish Negative Gearing and the Capital Gains Tax Discount for Existing Properties from July 2017
Housing affordability has been a big issue for Labor during this campaign. They made the brave decision to abolish negative gearing (where investors can claim any losses on investment properties as a tax deduct) on existing properties from July 2017. This will make it easier for people to get into the housing market because it will mean new homebuyers will not be at a disadvantage when competing against those buying investment properties. The changes will not be retrospective so anyone currently negatively gearing a property will not be affected and negative gearing will still be allowed for new properties to encourage investment in new housing projects.
Labor will also halve the capital gains discount for all assets purchased after 1 July 2017. The capital gains tax discount works by treating the money made on an investment as taxable income in the year that it is sold and then applying the discount to reduce the amount of tax paid. Labor will reduce the capital gains tax discount for assets that are held longer than 12 months from the current 50 per cent to 25 per cent.
All investments made before this date will not be affected by this change
This is projected to save more than $30 billion over the next decade.
Employment and Penalty Rates
- In discussion but official policy is to respect FWC
There has been discussion within the Government about reducing penalty rates on Sundays and public holidays. However, their official policy is that it is up to the Fair Work Commission to determine penalty rates.
- Made a submission to protect penalty rates but will respect the FWC
Labor have argued strongly during this campaign about the importance of penalty rates and have made a submission to the Fair Work Commission arguing against any proposed cuts. They have said they will respect the FWC decision on the matter.
- Tax Cuts for Business, STEM and Manufacturing Jobs
The mainstay of the Coalition’s campaign has been their slogan of “Jobs and Growth”. Their main plan to achieve this is by giving business a $50 billion tax cut by reducing the company tax rate to 25% in the next three years, which they say will drive investment and result in new jobs. This relies on a particular ideological view of ‘trickle down economics’ which is contested in terms of how far down the benefits actually ‘trickle’.
The Government has also announced they will increase the tax on superannuation contributions for those earning more than $250,000 a year from 15% to 30%.
In addition, the Government are planning to create jobs with their science and innovation agenda which they say will bring “more great Australian ideas to market, providing tax incentives to invest in start-up businesses and helping prepare our children for the jobs of the future by boosting participation in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)”.
They also say they will support jobs in manufacturing and hi-tech industries.
- Address inequality, investment in new industries and support for small business
Labor’s economic plan is largely about addressing inequality and enabling social mobility. They have spoken at length about the need for investment in education and training in order to drive productivity in the future. As well as support for small business and investment in new industries such as renewable energy to create new manufacturing jobs in an up and coming industry.
In addition, Labor will offer incentives to businesses to hire employees aged over 55.
Labot have come out strongly against Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to cut company tax at a cost of $50 billion and will instead target tax concessions at middle and low-income earners.
Labor support cutting company tax for businesses with a turnover of under $2 million but does not support cutting taxes for bigger businesses.
Labor supports the Government’s proposal to increase the tax on superannuation contributions for those earning more than $250,000 a year from 15% to 30%.
Labor’s key economic policies to improve the budget bottom line are a crack down on multinational corporations who avoid paying tax in Australia, an increase in taxation on cigarettes and abolishing negative gearing.
They have projected to return the budget to surplus in 2020-2021 (the same year as the Government) however they would increase the deficit in the meantime so as to avoid drastic Government cuts which would unfairly hurt those most vulnerable.
- Fibre to the Node
The Abbott/Turnbull Government has started rolling out their “cheaper” and much slower fibre to the node NBN model rather than the fibre to the home version that Labor began. The Coalition’s plan involves connecting fibre optic to a “node,” which will act as a connection point, and then distribute broadband along copper wires connected to houses and businesses.
It was championed by the Coalition because it would be much cheaper than Labor’s NBN and would be delivered sooner however the initial $29.5 billion, as opposed to Labor’s $44.9 billion, has become $56 billion, and is not expected to be finished until 2020, more than four years behind schedule. They have since adopted “a multi-technology mix (MTM)”, which includes some fibre to the premises (FTTP), using the Optus coaxial cable network, as well as a satellite network, and the copper network.
- Fibre to the Premise
Labor have said that where the Coalition’s fibre to the node is working effectively they will not rip it out but they will enable up to 2 million extra households and businesses to connect to the much faster FTTP. They will also investigate ways for those using the slower NBN to upgrade if they wish. Labor have said their scheme will cost $57 billion and will be finished in 2022.
Environment and Action on Climate Change
- Reduce emissions by 26%-28%, Direct Action Policy and $210 million for the GBR despite allowing Adani Coal Mine
The Coalition have committed to reducing Australia’s emissions by 26–28% on 2005 levels by 2030. They plan to achieve this through their Direct Action Policy, which sees the Government pay $2.55 billion to big business in order to get them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Government has promised more than 20 per cent of electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020.
Prior to the election, the Liberal Party pledged $210 million to tackle issues on the reef including reducing run-off and managing coral bleaching events. However, Environment Minister Greg Hunt also approved the enormous Adani Coal Mine which will be the biggest coal mine in Australia and according to the Australian Conservation Foundation, who are suing the Government over the decision, will increase Australia’s carbon emissions massively for decades and will see huge continual dredging and dumping in the Great Barrier Reef causing irreparable damage.
- Reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and create 2 Emissions Trading Schemes
Labor have committed to reducing emissions by 45% on 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Their method for achieving this is by re-introducing an emissions trading scheme.
Labor plan to create two emissions trading schemes, one for electricity generators and one for other big businesses, to be introduced in two phases. The first phase will operate for two years, from 1 July 2018 until 30 June 2020 to align with the second (and final) commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol then the second phase will operate from 1 July 2020. At this point, pollution levels will be capped and reduced over the course of the decade in line with Australia’s international commitments under the Paris Climate agreement.
According to Labor, this method will “allow business to work out the cheapest and most effective way to operate and will not involve taxpayers handing over billions of dollars to Australia’s large polluters”.
In order to protect the Great Barrier Reef, Labor has announced a $500 million fund for better research, co-ordination and environmental programs, of which $377 millon is new money. They also say they give $100 million to the CSIRO, universities and other institutes for research as well as $300 million on environmental programs and better management of the reef.
Gender Equality and Domestic Violence
- Domestic Violence
The Turnbull Government has announced an additional $100 million for their National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 to address domestic violence.
Currently, two women are killed every week by a current or former male partner. While, 1 in 3 women experience physical abuse from a male partner.
The Government’s plan builds on last year’s Women’s Safety Package released by the Government and will be implemented over 12 years. It consists of trialling technology such as GPS trackers and safety technology, more support for front line training for people such as police, doctors and social workers. It also aims to address the negative behaviours and attitudes that can lead to violence by providing additional resources to help teachers, parents and students learn more about respectful relationships.
This policy goes some way to replacing the $300 million taken from chronically underfunded frontline services such as shelters for women fleeing violence that were taken by Abbott and Hockey in the 2014 budget.
- Representation of Women
The Coalition have committed to increase the representation of women on Australian Government Boards as well as in their own ranks to 50% by 2025, however they do not support the use of a quota system to achieve this.
- 18 Weeks Paid Parental Leave topped up by the Government
The Coalition has done a complete 180 on this issue. In 2013, they went to the election with a generous scheme that would pay families 26 weeks leave at the mother’s full wage. They have since backtracked significantly on the issue and now only support providing 18 weeks leave in total with the Government only topping up any leave that is already provided by employers at the minimum wage. Despite the policy intending to complement employer provided parental leave, the Coalition has accused women of “double dipping” by accessing both schemes.
- Frontline Funds for Domestic Violence
Labor have promised $70 million over three years in targeted funding to ensure those suffering from family violence can access critical services when they need them. They have allocated another $50 million to frontline legal services, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, to ensure women suffering from family violence get legal support.
They have also promised an initial investment of $15 million into Safe at Home grants to help people affected by family violence make their homes safer as well as $88 million over two years in a new Safe Housing program, to improve transitional housing options for women and children escaping domestic and family violence by filling the gap between crisis housing and longer term arrangements.
In addition, Labor will invest $8 million in perpetrator mapping to look at the interactions across family violence, law enforcement, justice, child protection and related systems to help identify opportunities to prevent violence through information sharing.
For the first time, Labor has also committed to providing 5 days of paid domestic and family violence leave to anyone experiencing family violence. They will legislate this condition in the National Employment Standards which set out mandatory statutory minimum conditions for all employees in Australia.
- Gender Pay Gap
Labor have committed to addressing the gender pay gap which is currently at more than 17% in Australia. Australian women earn on average $277.70 per week less than men and have an average of $90,000 less in superannuation.
- Paid Parental Leave
In 2011, Labor introduced the first national paid parental leave scheme in Australia. Their policy, which provided 18 weeks leave at the minimum wage for one parent and 2 weeks paid leave for the other parent, is still their current policy.
Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s support for marriage equality, in order to appease the conservatives in his party he is sticking with the plan to hold a public vote (a plebiscite) on same-sex marriage. This is not binding and there is doubt as to whether some in the Coalition would vote in favour of the change even if the public do.
Holding a plebiscite will cost $160 million dollars and there are fears that it will provoke homophobic attitudes to come to the fore and be damaging to the LGBTI community.
- Pass bill within 100 days
Labor oppose the plebiscite and say they will change the law to allow same-sex marriage in the first 100 days in office.
Asylum Seekers and Refugees
- Offshore detention, TPVS and Boat Turn-backs
Despite seeking asylum in Australia by any means, including by boat, if you have a genuine fear of persecution being completely legal and the world being in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II with the brutal Syrian Civil War and the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, the Coalition Government continues to have policies which are in breach of the UN Convention Against Torture.
The Coalition’s policy consists of mandatory off-shore detention on Manus Island and Nauru and boat turn backs.
They also reintroduced Temporary Protection Visas, which means that any refugees who have been accepted into Australia can be sent home if the Government determines they are no longer in danger.
There is a lack of transparency when it comes to the Coalition’s policies on asylum seekers, which are classified as “on water matters” and mean journalists can be imprisoned for up to ten years for reporting on classified operations.
Doctors and social workers who speak out about abuses in the detention camps can similarly be prosecuted.
- Regional Processing, Offshore detention, increased asylum seeker intake, greater transparency and boat turn-backs
A Labor Government will coordinate regional processing of asylum seekers with the UNHCR and they have promised to take a leading role in building a regional humanitarian framework within South East Asia.
While still supporting off-shore processing, Labor have committed to pursuing a regional solution that would enable faster processing of asylum seekers and will provide the UNHCR with $450 million over three years.
They have committed to independent oversight of off-shore facilities and will allow greater transparency of what occurs in the facilities. They have promised to re-store whistle-blower protections for those who speak out about abuses and say they will legislate to impose mandatory reporting of child abuse in all detention facilities.
Labor have also said they will allow journalists access to the facilities.
In addition, Labor intends to increase Australia’s intake of asylum seekers to 27,000 by 2025, which is double the current intake, after being reduced by the Abbott Government to 13,750.
Labor will also reinstate references to the UN Refugees Convention in the Migration Act, which the Coaliton removed, and abolish temporary protection visas.
However, they will not re-settle any asylum seeker who comes to Australia by boat and will continue with the Coalition’s policy of turning back boats that arrive.
Labor’s slightly more compassionate approach is actually cheaper and will save the budget $2.8 billion.