The election is now over.
The Liberal Party’s sensible centrism has won. The ALP lost the unlosable election.
Moreover, with the loss of some of the more remarkable characters from previous parliament (Abbott, Turnbull, Bishop, Pyne et al), there is a bit of a feel of a new government. Quite an achievement for a party starting its third term.
We are already 10% through a three year term.
In the early sittings of Parliament, the government has got through things to please their core vote – tax cuts (over three and a half parliaments), foreign fighter exclusions and the drought future fund. They have also recommitted to their border protection policies.
There are now some themes that are emerging that will give shape to the remainder of the term, which we will explore in the next two posts.
Theme 1 – Managing Continuation Gillard/Rudd/Turnbull
As he said to Sky News just after the election:
So we start this term I think, full of full of juice, full of energy, with a refreshed mandate for the Australian people. We said what we’re going to do in the Budget, we laid it out all. That’s what we’re going to do, people know what we’re going to do.
So we’re just going to get about it and everyone else can get back to work and go back to the footy or go back to their families and focus on what’s important to them. I’ll make sure I’m looking after the things that are important to them from the government.
The Government has committed to continuing most of the Turnbull Government agenda including honouring commitments given to immediately place all recommended drugs onto the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as well as fully funding the Gonski reforms, the NBN and the NDIS.
This could be a challenge in a slowing economy.
Theme 2 – Continuation Abbott (with a little bit of Turnbull) – climate change
The Liberal version of a climate change policy appears to have formed, with a commitment $2 billion Climate Solutions Fund (in the absence of a market mechanism, largely continuation Abbott), as well as Snowy 2.0 (pumped hydro power) and the ‘Battery of the Nation’ (definitely continuation Turnbull), as well as recommitting to the current emissions reduction target of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030.
It will be interesting to see if this resolve remains given the international trend of declaring climate emergencies.
One sleeper issue is a proposed independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999, promised in the Liberal Party election documentation with the intention of ensuring:
… environmental laws provide the high levels of protection expected by the community, while minimising the regulatory burden on businesses so they can continue to grow the economy…..to……. ensure we strike the right balance with our environmental laws – continuing to protect the environment while allowing for sustainable development.
The types of amendments (if any) picked up by the Government may define how committed to the environment the Government is.
Theme 3 – population and infrastructure
The Government took to the election a commitment to cap immigration at 160,000 per year for the next four years – a reduction of 120,000 places over previous projections.
There is some dispute as to whether a review by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration will lead to a further reduction in migration levels, given congestion concerns (but noting a slowing economy and the stimulus that immigration growth is said to bring). This will be an area of debate in the next little while.
The promised ‘congestion busting’ infrastructure will be needed to support the growing population.
The Opposition has noted that According to the Government’s own Budget Papers, more than 70 per cent of the “new” funding announced in the Budget will not flow for at least another four years, whilst the NSW Treasurer has said:
… federal ministers are saying their priority is to fund traffic lights, car parks and roundabouts. They need to be reminded they are federal ministers not local councillors.
It was telling that whilst the head of the Reserve Bank of Australia has called for greater infrastructure spending, there are signs the Government may prioritise a balanced budget over immediate increases in the infrastructure spend.
A major issue for the next election will therefore be whether electors think congestion has actually been busted.
Theme 4 – Balancing the socially conservative and liberal tendencies of the Liberal Party internal coalition
As illustrated by the abortion debate in NSW and the gay marriage issue dealt with in the last term of federal parliament, there is clear and remaining tension between the two wings of the Liberal Party around social issues.
A driving issue of many on the Liberal left is some form of recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Constitution as a way to encourage ‘reconciliation’, something that is an election commitment.
This was a debate that flamed in the weeks that immediately followed the election, but has subsequently quietened. However, putting ‘recognition’ in a constitutional form satisfying both wings could remain a challenge that destabilise government.
The Isreal Folau debate around how and when religious views can be expressed.
The Government has issued an exposure draft of legislation that aims to provide a ‘shield’ to permit the expression of religious views in most contexts, whilst stopping short of creating some form of generally enforceable positive ‘Bill of Rights’ type provision.
Again, we will see if this trade off will be enough to mollify the two disparate wings.
One interesting addition to the mix was a speech delivered by the Prime Minister’s Assistant Minister Ben Morton in which, as The Conversation indicated:
What is the beef? In a nutshell, that some big businesses have taken up “activist” issues, and that the coporates aren’t doing sufficient heavy lifting in selling (government) policies. Also, that big business is not relating enough to the “quiet Australians”.
It will be interesting to see if this is a theme that is developed some more over the life of the Parliament or a temporary mollification of the base.
A few more themes will be explored in the next article.