Australian Elections: What you need to know

Tomorrow, almost 16 million Australians will head to the polls to decide the future direction of their country. But why have these elections been called early, what do the parties stand for, and who is likely to come out the victor?

BACKGROUND

Australia have been through four different Prime Ministers in just five years, with Australian politics having a recent culture of backstabbing. At the last election in 2013, Tony Abbott was elected for the Liberal/National coalition, defeating the Labor government led by Kevin Rudd (who had toppled Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard). However, Abbott’s approval ratings plummeted due to policy U-turns and gaffes in public, leading to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull resigning and challenging Abbott in a leadership contest. Abbott was defeated 54-44, leading to Turnbull becoming leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister.

Less than a year on, in March this year, Turnbull attempted to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission for the third time, adding that if the Senate rejected the bill again he would call upon the Governor-General to dissolve both houses of Parliament (a ‘double dissolution’) and call an election for the 2nd July. In April, the Senate again rejected the bill to bring back the ABCC, and an election was called on the 9th May.

This has led to the second-longest campaigning period in Australia’s history – a staggering 55 days! This extremely long period has led to some commentators dubbing this ‘the most boring election ever’.

WHAT PARTIES ARE RUNNING AND WHAT ARE THEIR POLICIES?

There are two main factions in Australian politics; the Liberal Party and the National Party, who form a Liberal/National Coalition but fight elections as separate entities, and the Labor Party. Other smaller parties also exist, with the Green Party being the most popular of these.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Liberal/National Coalition is led by the current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull, who has been in the role since September last year, has been in Australian politics since the 1990s and was well-known for being the chairman of the Australian Republican Movement. However, he resigned from the post in 2000 after an unsuccessful campaign in a referendum on becoming a republic the previous year. The Liberal/National Coalition hold the most seats in the House of Representatives (with 90 of the 150 seats) but are currently short of a majority in the Senate (with 33 of 76 seats).

Policies:

  • Cut company tax rate to 27.5% for companies earning $10m per year, dropping to 25% for all businesses by 2026-27
  • A 28% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030
  • Hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage
  • Turn back boats with asylum seekers and keep controversial regional processing centres open
  • Plans to cut university funding by 20% and possibly increase student fee contributions
  • Freeze indexation of Medicare rebates for another two years – saving almost $1bn, and restore $2.9bn in health funding (after $57bn under Abbott’s administration)

Labor Party

The Labor Party is led by Bill Shorten, who had served in the Australian Army Reserve for a short time in the mid-1980s. Shorten entered political life in 2001 as the National Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union and going on to become a member of the House of Representatives in 2007. More recently, he served briefly as Minister for Education under the three-month long Rudd administration, before Labor were defeated in the 2013 Australian election. He won the leadership of the party in the same year. Labor are the current opposition party, with 55 seats in the House of Representatives and 25 in the Senate.

Policies:

  • Cut the company tax rate to 27.5% for businesses turning over up to $2m a year, but maintaining existing rates for larger firms
  • Introduce two emissions trading schemes (one for electricity sector, the other for other large emitters), and cut emissions by 45% by 2030
  • Introduce a bill on same-sex marriage within 100 days in office
  • Turn back boats of asylum seekers when safe to do so, increase oversight of regional processing centres and increase humanitarian intake to 27,000 by 2025
  • Opposes deregulation, spend $4bn to lift course subsidies by $2,500 per student and restrict vocational education loans to crack down on dodgy private colleges
  • Will lift freeze on Medicare rebates, restoring indexed increases to account for inflation from January 2017, and promise to fund hospitals to a far greater extent than current administration

Green Party

The Green Party, the largest of the smaller parties with 1 seat in the House of Representatives and 10 in the Senate, are led by Richard Di Natale. Born in Melbourne to Italian parents, Di Natale was a general practitioner before entering politics in 2004 and being elected as a Senator for the Greens in 2011. He was elected unopposed as leader of the party last year.

Policies:

  • Will not support any cuts to the corporate tax rate
  • Put a price on carbon and a levy on coal exports, have no new coal-fired power stations or coal mines, and have no Australian greenhouse gas emissions within a decade
  • Legislate through Parliament immediately for same-sex marriage
  • Raise humanitarian quota for asylum seekers to 50,000 a year, close regional processing centres and bring detainees to Australia for processing
  • Free university education for students and increase per-student funding for public universities
  • Oppose decision to freeze Medicare rebates

WHO’S GOING TO WIN?

Polls have suggested that the election will be down to the wire, with a 50/50 split between the Coalition and Labor in the two-party preferred vote. However, a poll released yesterday suggests a Coalition win with 50.5% of the vote. To win, Labor will require a uniform swing of roughly 4%, and although pundits have suggested a wing from the LNP to Labor, it is unlikely to be enough to become the governing party.

One seat to keep an eye on is Higgins. Although it will not be a deciding seat in the race to The Lodge, it is expected that this seat, held by the Liberals for almost seven decades, could go Green for the first time. A political earthquake if what was once considered impossible takes place.

We will have a clear idea of who has won by roughly 1400 BST.

 

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