Australian election

Discipline marks long 'boring' campaign for Australia election

Australian Prime Minister Mr Turnbull taking a wefie with supporters and young netball players during a visit to the H.E. Parker Netball Complex in Melbourne last Saturday. Opposition leader Mr Shorten (centre) with supporters during a visit to the M
Australian Prime Minister Mr Turnbull taking a wefie with supporters and young netball players during a visit to the H.E. Parker Netball Complex in Melbourne last Saturday. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Australian Prime Minister Mr Turnbull taking a wefie with supporters and young netball players during a visit to the H.E. Parker Netball Complex in Melbourne last Saturday. Opposition leader Mr Shorten (centre) with supporters during a visit to the M
Opposition leader Mr Shorten (centre) with supporters during a visit to the Midland Centrepoint Shopping Centre in Perth last Wednesday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Rival leaders steer clear of gaffes and missteps that had dominated previous campaigns

With less than two weeks until polling day in Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's risky move to hold one of the country's longest election campaigns appears to be paying off.

It has been labelled the nation's "most boring" campaign by some analysts, but this is probably just the way Mr Turnbull wants it.

The drawn-out, eight-week winter campaign appears to have blunted the public's interest and prevented Labor leader Bill Shorten from dominating the national agenda.

Veteran political commentator Michelle Grattan said last week that the campaign's slow pace has left many voters with "a feeling of 'Why change?'". She said that Mr Shorten had been struggling since admitting two weeks ago that Labor would have a higher budget deficit in the coming years.

"Bill Shorten needs a lot of momentum all through this campaign," she told The Conversation website. "He had that momentum early. When you had that economic argument about Labor's costings… things started to go wrong somewhat."

  • PROMISES

  • Key promises ahead of the Australian election

  • TAXES

    Coalition: Cut tax rates for small businesses to 27.5 per cent, from 28.5  per cent, and lower the rates for all companies from 30 to 25 per cent by 2026, at a total cost of A$48.5 billion (S$48.5 billion). No changes to property taxes.

    Labor: Cut taxes for small businesses only and provide them with A$20,000 tax breaks to employ struggling workers. Curb tax breaks for property investors.

  • EDUCATION

    Coalition: A$1.2 billion extra for schools over three years; will consider proposals to partially deregulate university fees.

    Labor: A$37.3 billion extra for schools over 10 years, minimum university funding of A$10,800 per student per year and no fee deregulation.

  • CLIMATE CHANGE

    Coalition: Carbon emissions cuts of 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, pay companies to reduce emissions.

    Labor: Cut emissions by 45 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, create emissions trading schemes for polluters.

    OPINION POLL STANDINGS

  • LATEST NEWSPOLL YESTERDAY  

    Coalition: 50 per cent

    Labor: 50 per cent

  • PREFERRED PRIME MINISTER

    Mr Malcolm Turnbull: 46 per cent

    Mr Bill Shorten: 31 per cent

    Uncommitted: 23 per cent

Both sides have remained disciplined and there have been few of the gaffes, stumbles and media leaks that have dominated previous campaigns.

Notably, former coalition prime minister Tony Abbott, who was ousted by Mr Turnbull last September, has kept a low profile and avoided disrupting the campaign. Reports surfaced last week that Mr Abbott wants to return to Cabinet as defence minister - a proposal dismissed by Mr Turnbull.

A self-made millionaire and former investment banker, the Prime Minister has been able to keep the focus on the economy and on his slogan of "jobs and growth". He is widely expected to win on July 2, despite opinion polls indicating that the contest is neck and neck.

Mr Shorten, a former union boss, has campaigned on "fairness", with pledges to boost spending on education and health.

Labor has tried to paint Mr Turnbull as out of touch and uncaring, while the ruling coalition says Mr Shorten is weak and untrustworthy on the economy.

Mr Tony Mitchelmore, a political researcher who interviewed voters who could swing either way, said that the public is "not really confident in either leader".

"No one is tuning in at the moment," he told ABC Television. "There is not a lot of conviction either way… People just don't seem to believe either side and there is a lot of cynicism either way."

The issues that have tended to dominate the campaign have been Mr Turnbull's plan for company tax cuts and Mr Shorten's plan to curb tax breaks for property investors. Both issues have exposed the ideological divide between the rivals.

Mr Shorten has attacked the business tax cuts as too expensive, repeatedly describing them as a "A$50 billion (S$50.1 billion) tax giveaway for large businesses".

"If we take A$50 billion in tax cuts, which is what it is for businesses above A$2 million over the next 10 years, that puts a burden on everyone else," he told ABC News last week.

Mr Turnbull, who has sought to present a bright outlook for Australia's future, has insisted that the tax cuts will help to create jobs and boost the economy. He has warned that cuts to property tax concessions will reduce investment in the sector and could lead to falls in home prices.

"If you cut company tax, what you do is you improve the return on investment," he said during the third leaders' debate last Friday.

"(It is a) very competitive world out there. You get more investment, you get more employment."

Other significant issues include Mr Shorten's plans to boost spending on a fibre-optic national broadband network and his proposal to legalise same-sex marriage.

Mr Turnbull, who personally supports same-sex marriage, proposes to hold a national plebiscite, which would cost about A$160 million.

Despite big differences in climate change policy, both leaders appear to want to keep it a relatively quiet issue.

Mr Shorten has proposed a carbon emissions trading scheme despite the former Labor government's carbon tax - which the coalition rescinded - proving unpopular. Mr Turnbull has abandoned his own long-held preference for such a scheme and instead backed his party's preference for a plan to pay big polluters to reduce emissions.

In recent days, Mr Shorten has shifted the campaign to warn voters that Mr Turnbull plans to privatise Medicare, the national health scheme. Mr Turnbull has denied he wants to and accused Labor of an "outrageous" attempt to frighten older voters.

But he was forced on Sunday to publicly admit that he had abandoned plans to consider outsourcing Medicare's payments system.

Most analysts suggest that Mr Shorten's Medicare scare campaign is a sign of desperation.

Opinion polls suggest Labor is slightly ahead nationwide but is behind in most of the marginal seats, which it needs to win from the Coalition to secure a majority in the Lower House.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'Discipline marks long, 'boring' campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe