Election debate: focus on super

The second Election 2016 debate took place last night, with Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten attempting to assure Australians of who would be the better person to run the country for the next three years and possibly beyond. How did they fare?

As to be expected, the debate commenced with the ‘big sell’ from each leader. Mr Turnbull pushed his ‘jobs and growth’ economic agenda while Mr Shorten stuck to his mantra of hospitals, education and ‘a fair go’ for all Australians.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was Bill Shorten who opened the mud-slinging, accusing Mr Turnbull of continuing the style of Government for which his predecessor, Tony Abbott, was notorious.

“When Malcolm Turnbull got elected eight to 10 months ago, I thought my job would become harder. But I thought the politics would go to a better place in this country. I thought we would dispense with the Tony Abbott three-word slogans and I thought we would see a more elevated debate about ideas. But on each issue, I see this government shrinking into a Tony Abbott style government of three-word slogans and scare campaigns and I do not expect the next five weeks of this election campaign to be any different,” said Mr Shorten.

Mr Turnbull expertly evaded the first question aimed at him and it set the tone for the rest of the debate. When Laura Tingle of the Australian Financial Review asked what he thought of Australian voters feeling they had been let down because he had abandoned the political stance that had given them hope for politics, Mr Turnbull referred to his time in business and his relationship. When told he had not answered the question, he moved on to his stance on climate change.

When asked if Australians could trust the new leader based on the fact that they’d both deposed previous sitting leaders, Mr Turnbull again evaded the question, claiming that he is a “well-known entity”, whereas Mr Shorten stated that Labor has learned from its past mistakes – referring specifically to his role in dispatching then leader Julia Gillard.

The two lost little time in trading barbs, with Mr Turnbull saying that Labor is “the same old Labor – wanting to spend” and Mr Shorten stating that the Coalition is “same old Liberals – giving money to the top end whilst the rest of us struggle”. From there, the debate spiralled into political rhetoric and party lines. But the main question most older Australians want answered is how both parties plan to treat the future of superannuation.

Mr Turnbull maintains that his changes to super make it a fairer system. “People with very high incomes will not get as big a tax concession as they have in the past, but it will still be a generous system for everyone,” he said.

He went on to say that super should not be used as a vehicle for wealth accumulation for the very rich. He added that the super changes announced in Budget 2016/17 would help people on low incomes and hailed his ‘catch up super for women’ proposal, as well as the fact that those over 65 will be able to continue to contribute to super. In all, he claims he has created a fairer system for all Australians and once his plans are in place they will stay that way.

Mr Shorten, on the other hand, preached how Labor introduced super and that “Labor is the party of superannuation”. But as far as guaranteeing that super will not change in the next term?

“I can give this guarantee tonight. No changes that the Labor party has ever contemplated are retrospective. One of the quite shocking developments from the Budget, was that Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison have now created real uncertainty about the whole superannuation system, because they’re proposing retrospective changes. Now Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison say the changes aren’t retrospective, but just ask one of the many people who are affected by these changes. Every person in the superannuation system is now undermined, because if Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison, with no warning, with no electoral mandate, can introduce changes which retrospectively penalise investors in superannuation, how do we know they won’t do it again?”

On the defensive, Mr Turnbull replied, “Can I just say that the changes we are proposing are not retrospective at all. It is perfectly clear that they only operate, in one case from the night of the budget, and the rest from the 1st of July next year.”

“That’s simply not right,” Mr Shorten responded. “And people don’t have to take my word for it, take the word of experts. From the Institute of Public Affairs through to the CPA, Australians know that this Government, is now saying that people who made investments based on old laws are now having to recalculate amounts based on decisions they made in good faith. If we believe in the rule of law, retrospective changes are poison to confidence in superannuation.”

The rest of the debate was an exchange of party lines and rhetoric about the economy, climate change and our refugee crisis, but not much more information was divulged other than what we see in political adverts and party jingles.

Watch the debate on Sky News

Opinion: No clear winner

The one thing we all learned from the Election 2016 debate last night was that there was no clear winner. The spouting of party rhetoric and expert evasion of difficult questions left Australians none the wiser as to whom is the better person for the top job.

Australians hoping for some clear indication of the future of the country would have been disappointed, as both leaders seemed a little too well rehearsed for the debate to have been enlightening. Most of us may have learned just as much from each party’s political advertisements.

As for the reaction of older Australians, well, we’ll let you decide. Mr Turnbull claiming that his changes to superannuation are not retrospective may have a few retirees scratching their heads, especially the ones who have planned for their future based on past legislation.

The efficacy of Mr Turnbull’s plan to cut company taxes is also under suspicion. How can he guarantee that the money, which he has already planned to spend, will actually go back into our economy and not into the pockets of foreign investors? The short answer is: he can’t.

If we Australians, as Bill Shorten believes, are to have a clear choice for leader by the end of the election campaign, there was no indication of it based on this debate. It was hailed by The Guardian as “top hats versus hard hats” and that may be the only difference between the two. But at least they had matching ties.

What did you think of the debate? Who do you feel came out on top? Do you have a better idea of how you’ll vote as a result of this debate?

Related articles:
Over 65s distrustful of politics
Budget 2016/17: are super changes fair?
Over 80,000 pensions to be cut

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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