EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
2007 Federal Election contest enters final round
, November 24, 2007
Voters should be alarmed that many of the key issues facing Australia have not been mentioned by either party.With the official launch of the parties' campaigns, the 2007 election is moving into its final stage, with Labor maintaining the lead it has held in all the opinion polls throughout the year.
Despite the recent changes to its WorkChoices IR laws, including the Fairness Test to protect employees' rights, this remains an issue where there is a fundamental difference between the Coalition and Labor, and many erstwhile Liberal voters have indicated that, on this issue alone, they will swing to Labor.
There is always an element of uncertainty about election outcomes, if only because the polls do not properly reflect the fact that many people have not yet determined how they would vote.
In his election speech, the Prime Minister Mr John Howard offered a range of incentives targeted to the "Howard battlers", particularly young families struggling to buy a home and educate their children.
His plans included $6.3 billion over four years in tax rebates for school expenses, tax-free home savings accounts for first-home buyers and young people, and $650 million to pay the childcare tax rebate up front to child-care centres, to bring down child-care costs.Child-care centres
In relation to child care, as we have repeatedly pointed out, child-care payments should go to parents, not to child-care centres, so that parents can choose the type of child care they wish to provide their children.
The Coalition policy amounts to a substantial further subsidy to the child-care industry, when the available research shows that young children are better off being cared for by their parents or other family members.
And while the idea of making home savings accounts tax-free has great merit, savings accounts should always have been tax-exempt, to encourage a saving rather than a debt culture.
Further, Coalition policy does not address the concerns about its workplace policies which have been repeatedly stressed by voters.
At the time of writing, Mr Kevin Rudd had not launched his policy speech, but if recent history is anything to go on, he will continue his "small target" strategy of minimising the differences between Labor and the Coalition - a characteristic of his campaign which contradicts his claim to be offering Australia "new leadership".
Some people have rightly warned of Mr Rudd's and other Labor politicians' position on moral issues, such as embryonic stem-cell research, so-called "reproductive rights" in the Third World (a euphemism for abortion), euthanasia, homosexual and lesbian rights, and other issues.
While the party has neutralised criticism by offering conscience votes on moral issues, in practice a majority of Labor MPs and senators have supported these causes, along with a minority of Liberal and National MPs.
If Labor wins a majority in the House of Representatives, the opportunities for further social engineering, usually under the mantra of "law reform", will undoubtedly increase.
Of further concern is that if the Greens secure the balance of power in the Senate - a real possibility given the preference deals they have negotiated with the Australian Democrats and Labor - they will have unprecedented opportunities to shape Labor policy on a range of socio-moral and environmental issues, including forestry, water policy, agriculture and climate change.
ALP spokesmen will undoubtedly argue that the deal will maximise Labor's prospects in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and therefore its chances of forming a government.
However, by directing preferences to the Greens, Labor will make it possible for the Greens to win the final seat in several states, securing the balance of power in the Senate.
If the Greens have their way, Australia's timber industry will be crippled by being refused access to state forests, Murray River irrigators will find that their already diminished water allocations are cut further to provide for environmental flows, live sheep and cattle exports will be banned, and industry will be taxed on the basis of their CO2 emissions.
What is most alarming is that many of the key issues facing Australia have not been mentioned by either party, as they engage in an auction for votes.
Surely the Coalition and Labor, which have promised $40 billion worth of tax cuts over the next three years, could have devoted the resources to infrastructure - such as reservoirs, railways and ports - which would have a multiplier effect on employment, and help domestic manufacturing.
The country's net foreign debt continues to soar into the stratosphere. It is now $544 billion, almost exactly three times as large as it was when the Coalition took office in 1996.
Associated with this, Australian manufacturing industry has declined to the proportion of countries such as Greece and Turkey, our highly efficient agricultural industries are struggling for survival, families are struggling to buy a home, and the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" has widened substantially.
Whoever wins the election, the battle for Australia's future security and prosperity has only just begun.- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.