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Labor and the Coalition’s key election policy promises explained

side by side shots of scott morrison and anthony albanese

Politicians make pledges, promises and all sorts of persuasive offers in election campaigns.

But it is not easy to keep track of the drip-feed of announcements from the major parties.

Before heading to your local polling booth, catch up on the major promises – or lack thereof – on five key issues.

Child care

Relief from childcare fees during the COVID pandemic put the issue front of mind for many families. The prospect of easing the financial burden for parents, as well as encouraging primary carers to return to work, has seen the major parties offer significant changes.

Earlier this year, the Coalition increased childcare subsidies by 30 per cent for families with two or more children (to a maximum of 95 per cent) and promised to scrap the annual cap at the end of the year. The policy costs $1.7 billion over three years.

Labor matched that commitment and offered to extend the subsidy boost to families with just one child in child care, but at a cap of 90 per cent. Labor is also offering to extend subsidies to more well-off families.

The major parties are offering significant changes to childcare subsidies. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

Currently, subsidies are means-tested and cut off when parents earn a combined $354,305 a year, but that would be raised to $530,000 under a Labor government. It is one of Labor’s most expensive promises, costing $5.4 billion over 4 years.

The Greens want to make child care free and universal, providing up to 100 hours a fortnight of fully subsidised care, at a cost of $19 billion over 4 years.

Healthcare

After two years of life dominated by the ravages of a global pandemic, health has not been the electoral contest that might have been expected.

The Coalition and Labor have duelled on lowering the cost of medicines.

The Coalition’s promise to lower the cost of prescription medicines by $10 a script was met and raised by Labor with a promise to cut them by $12.50. The Coalition has a few other policies to lower the cost of prescription medicines for older Australians and those who need a lot of medication.

Labor promised to create 50 Urgent Care Clinics by giving existing medical facilities more funding to extend their hours and range of treatments in an effort to keep patients with minor injuries and illness out of emergency departments. That promise is worth $135 million over 4 years.

But neither major party promised to tackle what state premiers – both Labor and Liberal – desperately want, which is permanent, equal sharing of public hospital costs.

The Greens’ Adam Bandt will launch a policy to get dental services into Medicare. (ABC News: Nicholas Haggarty)

Currently, the Commonwealth pays 45 per cent of the annual increase in the cost of providing services in public hospitals, capped at 6.5 per cent a year.

But with health costs rising much higher than the cap each year, the states are left paying for an ever-larger portion of the costs.

They have called for the Commonwealth to remove the annual cap and split the costs equally. But Scott Morrison rejected their call and Anthony Albanese has only offered to sit down and negotiate on the issue.

Debt and deficit

Economic management has been central to this election campaign, as it has at every national poll. But for all the rhetorical questioning about who can be best trusted to manage the economy, the Coalition and Labor have broadly the same approach to reducing Australia’s trillion-dollar debt.

Both eschew spending cuts, other than variations on tightening public service expenditure (the Coalition increasing the ‘efficiency dividend’ for government departments and Labor vowing to reduce the use of consultants in the public sector).

Both also shun raising taxes or adopting new ones, with the limited exception of Labor’s promise to close loopholes that multinational corporations exploit to avoid paying tax.

The three main parties have different approaches to managing the government’s workforce. (Ezra Bailey/Getty Images)

Instead, both parties promise to improve economic growth to the point that revenue gradually exceeds expenditure so that the budget eventually returns to balance and debt is paid down over time.

But the Greens are proposing a tax increase, or rather, seeking to reverse a planned tax cut. The so-called ‘Stage 3’ income tax cuts have already been legislated by the Coalition and accepted by Labor. These are changes that will remove the 37 per cent income tax bracket entirely, which benefits Australians earning more than $120,000 a year.

Climate change

The contest of climate policy has been characterised by both internal disputes and partisan debates. But the major parties settled their climate policies well in advance of the official election campaign and have been content to focus on other issues.

Both the Coalition and Labor support a target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, while the Greens want that milestone reached by 2035.

The Coalition is not budging from its Abbott-era target of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, despite projecting it will surpass that comfortably.

Labor’s target of 43 per cent by 2030 has been backed by business groups, but not by environmentalists, who say it should be in the realm of 60 to 75 per cent.

But it’s not just a matter of how quickly emissions should be reduced: how to do it is just as contested. Labor’s approach centres on a $20 billion government intervention to fast-track upgrades to the national electricity grid to accommodate the influx of renewable energy, which has different requirements from a system dominated by coal-fired power. 

It also intends to make better use of the “safeguard mechanism”, to gradually tighten limits on pollution by the biggest industrial emitters.

Both the Coalition and Labor support a target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, while the Greens want that milestone reached by 2035. (ABC News)

The Coalition’s ‘technology, not taxes’ approach involves funding the development of low-emissions technologies – ranging from carbon capture and storage to ultra-low-cost solar energy – on the basis that affordable alternatives need to be developed in order to achieve a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Greens are vowing to use any leverage they have in the next parliament to push for a more rapid transition to renewable energy generation and for an immediate halt to new coal, oil and gas developments. 

They have also proposed re-nationalising the electricity grid and 10-year wage subsidies for coal workers leaving the industry to dampen the economic and social impacts of de-carbonising the economy quickly.

Housing and home ownership

Affordability for buyers and availability for renters are twin crises across the country. While the Coalition and Labor vow to address both, the struggle to purchase a home has received more attention in this election campaign.

The Coalition is encouraging older Australians to downsize by offering them more tax breaks, in order to boost the supply of family sized homes on the market. More controversially, it would also allow Australians to use up to $50,000 of their superannuation savings to bolster their loan deposits.

Labor’s emphasis is on its ‘shared equity’ proposal, which would see the Commonwealth purchase up to 40 per cent of a home.

Both major parties support an expansion of existing guarantee schemes, where people only need to have a 5 or 2 per cent deposit to avoid lender’s mortgage insurance.

Without initiatives to boost supply, some economists have suggested many of these policies will see further inflation of house prices. But that comes down to planning and regulation, requiring complementary action from state and local governments.

For renters, immediate relief is not in sight. Labor has promised to build 20,000 social housing properties over five years through a Housing Australia Future Fund.

The Coalition is promoting the continuation of the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation, which underwrites loans for community housing organisations. While increasing housing stock in future years is vital, it will not help families struggling to find affordable rentals right now.

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