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Aussies go to polls on May 18

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Canberra, April 11: The speculation is over. Aussies go to polls on May 18. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has asked Governor General Peter Cosgrove to dissolve parliament to allow Australians to elect their parliamentarians for the next term on Saturday, May 18.

Although Coalition is facing an uphill task, Scott Morrison had no choice but to call the election for May 18.

“To secure your future, the road ahead depends on a strong economy and that’s why there is so much at stake at this election,”, Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra, vying for a third straight term.

If things do not change dramatically between now and May 18, Bill Shorten will be Australia’s next prime minister.

Led by Scott Morrison, the coalition is the underdog in this election. Infighting within the Liberal party  changing leaders and leaks have tainted party’s image badly. Its partners the Nationals suffered their own ignominy with its leader Barnaby Joyce fathering a child with a staffer. He then left his wife and four daughters, but could not keep the leadership. Not a good look and well exploited by the Labor, Coalition in this election may suffer from its own deeds.

Although Morrison-Frydenberg combo delivered nation’s first budget surplus in more than a decade, Labor is still seen as party which can provide stability and leadership.

The five-week campaign will be present some clear policy differences between Labor and Coalition. The differences will cover areas of cutting taxes (Liberal domain), boosting wages (Labor domain) and reducing emissions (the Greens domain).

Since the 2016 federal election, the government has lost its majority in the lower house. That makes it harder for the government to win another term. Since replacing Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister, Morrison has struggled to close Labor’s lead in the polls. Readers would remember Morrison was not even in the race. Peter Dutton was the only challenger with Morrison coming out of shadows to surprise Australia. That fact will no doubt be exploited by Labor who are leading in the opinion polls.

Some policy issues:

Coalition shall try to sell:

  • Flattening tax brackets resulting in more than 90 percent of Australians shall pay 30 percent or less income tax.
  • Fast-tracking cuts for small and medium-sized companies.
  • Safeguarding Australia’s borders.

Labor’s sales pitch is focused on:

  • Income tax cuts for the lowest paid, earning less than A$48,000 a year.
  • Living wage (replacing the national minimum wage)
  • Scaling back tax perks for property investors

Labor’s policies, particularly the “living wage” and “scaling back of tax breaks” to investors gives the government something to attack Labor.

“… there is a view that a number of those measures will be negative for the economy at a time when clearly growth is disappointing and underwhelming,”  said Su-Lin Ong, head of Australian economic and fixed-income strategy at Royal Bank of Canada in Sydney. Su-Lin Ong is a former Australian Treasury official.

Some experts believe wage growth isn’t being linked to productivity gains by Labor. That can be irresponsible.

The biggest gap between the two options for voters is around energy and climate change. Amid an incompetent and bungled transition from fossil fuel to renewables over the past decade, Australian consumers and manufacturers are facing escalating electricity bills. It is hurting.

On Coalition side, Scott Morrison has championed coal, rejected legislating emissions cuts and said the sole focus of energy policy is to lower voters’ electricity bills through strengthening the power grid.

On the other hand, Labor has pledged to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gases by 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. It also wants to toughen emissions caps and has promised a A$10 billion funding boost for renewable energy projects.

 “Labor offers stability and unity and a vision for the nation,” Shorten told parliament last week when he was outlining his vision for the nation.

But Morrison and Shorten both face a real threat from the growing influence of populist, single-issue parties. Gone are the days when Australia enjoyed a genuine two party system of parliament – Coalition of Libs and Nats on one side and the Labor on the other.

With rising support minor parties  neither Labor nor the coalition is likely to gain control of both houses of parliament. As a result, they will have to negotiate with smaller parties to pass legislation through the parliament.

Shorten’s fate can be compared to pre-Tampa Kim Beazley‘s in 2001. Nothing was on the horizon which seemed stopping Kim Beazley from becoming Prime Minister of Australia. Then Tampa happened, and the rest is history. A day in politics is a long time. So close to the Lodge, Shorten will be ill advised to call in the removalists before May 19!

-R. VenuGopal

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