Confident Turnbull rules out goodies for votes

Mr Turnbull says Australian voters are "very well attuned" to the country's difficult financial situation.
Mr Turnbull says Australian voters are "very well attuned" to the country's difficult financial situation.

Elections will be held between August and October and there'll be no spending hikes: Aussie PM

MELBOURNE • A confident Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday said elections would be held between August and October but, after a period of political turmoil, warned he would not hand out sweeteners for voters.

The Liberal leader is expected to win the vote, which must be held by late January 2017, and consolidate his power in Canberra after Australia changed prime ministers five times in as many years.

"There will be an election... in August, September, October, in the latter part of the year," the self-made millionaire told 3AW commercial radio.

But Mr Turnbull, who ousted premier Tony Abbott in a September coup calling for better management of Australia's economy, said there would be no spending hikes as the government tackles a booming structural deficit.

"This is not going to be a fistful-of- dollars election campaign," he said.

"My view is that the Australian electorate are very well attuned to the difficult financial situation that the government faces, and the fact that it is in deficit."

"It will certainly be a tight Bud-get," added the former investment banker, whose coalition government enjoys a strong poll lead over the opposition Labor party.

"These are tight financial times and Australians expect me as Prime Minister to manage the Budgetresponsibly to get the most bang for the taxpayers' buck, to manage the government efficiently, and to seek to do so with the least tax burden on them so that they can keep more of what they make in their business, in their job, from their savings," Mr Turnbull said.

He took time out to criticise opposition leader Bill Shorten for his A$36 billion (S$36.3 billion) plan for education reform, a policy announced on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister labelled such an expensive election promise as "reckless".

According to the latest Newspoll, a polling service administered by Galaxy Research, Mr Turnbull leads Mr Shorten as preferred prime minister by 43 percentage points.

The interview came a day after Treasury Secretary John Fraser called for substantial structural savings and warned of the dangers from higher and higher federal spending, which has hit 25.9 per cent of national income.

"I know it's self-evident, but it's important that Australia maintains its top credit rating, which helps contain the costs associated with servicing public debt," Mr Fraser said.

"We should not be complacent about this. I know from personal experience during the financial crisis how important a strong credit rating is to investor confidence."

Australia's resources-driven economy has enjoyed more than two decades of growth, but is struggling as an unprecedented mining investment boom wanes, commodity prices slump and tax receipts drop.

Mr Abbott's Liberal-National coalition swept to power in September 2013, ending years of chaotic Labor rule, only to fail to push hard Bud-get cuts through Parliament and plunge in the polls amid a series of gaffes.

Before him the country was led by Labor's Julia Gillard, who had ousted her own leader Kevin Rudd in a ruthless power grab, before being knifed herself by Mr Rudd ahead of a 2013 vote.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'Confident Turnbull rules out goodies for votes'. Print Edition | Subscribe