EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Issues for the Federal Election
, September 11, 2004
The Prime Minister's election announcement, though widely predicted in the media, was still surprising in light of Labor's clear lead in the opinion polls.
Polls published in mid-August showed that the Coalition was well behind Labor on a two-party preferred basis. The margin was a large six per cent: 53 per cent for Labor, 47 for the Coalition. A later Newspoll, published on August 31, showed that the margin had narrowed to 52:48 in favour of Labor.
There has been a recent increase in the Green vote, now showing 11 per cent (Age
poll) or six per cent (Newspoll
), while the Democrats' vote is now as low as one per cent nationally.
It is probable that John Howard's decision was influenced by two factors: the desire to separate the Australian election from the US Presidential Election, to be held on November 2; and Mr Howard's concerns about the global economy, reflected in the sharp rise in oil prices and the economic slowdown underway in China, both of which could have a negative effect on the Australian economy in the months ahead.
September is the month of football finals in Australia, with the AFL Grand Final on September 25 and the NRL Grand Final on October 2. The elections will therefore be held in the shadow of the football finals, except in the last week or two of the campaign.Party vote
Published opinion polls show a dramatic fall in support for the National Party (NP), which seems to reflect the loss of support in northern NSW (dairy, sugar and banana growing areas) and the Queensland "sugar" seats. Polls suggest the party's support has fallen from 5.7 per cent in the last poll to three per cent currently.
There are, however, a raft of local issues which could determine the election outcome: in Victoria, widespread hostility to the State Labor Government in the Eastern suburbs in Melbourne over the introduction of a metropolitan tollway could lead to a swing towards the Coalition, while Liberal MP Ross Cameron in NSW could well lose his seat of Parramatta, after admitting to marital infidelity.
Interestingly, the polls suggest that neither the Federal Budget, which was generous to taxpayers and families, nor the Free Trade Agreement with the US, had any impact on voters' intentions.
Conduct of the election will clearly be an American-style Presidential campaign, with both the Coalition and Labor focussing on their leaders. This will probably favour the Coalition, as John Howard is significantly more popular than Mark Latham, and is the preferred Prime Minister.
However, the key issues relate to the direction which the next government will take over key social and economic issues.
In the course of the next month, people should examine these policies of government and opposition. These issues will also be examined in the columns of News Weekly
First, we should look at the parties' stances on the institution of marriage, and recognition of homosexual relationships. In an effort to appease the homosexual lobby over its support for recent amendments to the Marriage Act, Labor has promised to remove all legislation which gives preference to married couples, and examine legalisation of "civil unions" for homosexual couples, as foreshadowed by Labour parties in the UK and New Zealand.
Another area of importance is health policy. While most of the public attention will be focussed on the funding of Medicare, hospitals and aged care, the next Federal Government will have on its agenda human cloning, IVF, euthanasia and abortion.
On education, the controversies over funding of primary, secondary and tertiary education should not obscure the fundamental issue relating to the preservation of the independence of non-government schools.
In relation to the media, there is widespread disquiet over the lack of action by both government and opposition on Internet porn and the weakness in Australia's system of film classification, which is allowing films depicting ultra-violence and sexual depravity into the country.
In the field of economic policy, voters are entitled to hear what the Coalition and Labor will do to reverse the misguided policies which have caused the decline of both agricultural and secondary industries in this country over the past 20 years, particularly National Competition Policy.
It is significant that since 1983, Australia's net foreign debt has risen from about $23 billion to $393.5 billion, due largely to deregulation of the financial system (which allows uncontrolled capital inflows) and government policies which have encouraged imports in place of domestic manufacture and production.
Neither Labor nor the Coalition has said anything about this problem. Commenting on the "worst ever" balance of payments deficit recently, the Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, repeated the Treasury mantra that Australia's trade fortunes would improve.
In the meantime, the decline of Australian manufacturing industries and of rural Australia continues unabated. Voters are entitled to expect something better.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council.