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«7. Making Policy and Winning Votes: Election promises and political strategies in the 2013 campaign Nicholas Reece This chapter examines the ...»

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important issue to voters in 2013 compared to 2010 as well as being far more important relative to other issues in 2013. Asylum seeker and refugee policy was the second most important issue in 2013 while it was only seventh in 2010.

Health and education issues both slipped in importance compared to 2010.

The issues on which an election is fought are a key consideration for the parties in formulating their campaign strategy. This is because different parties are seen as being best able to handle certain issues. In general, debates about health and education will deliver more benefits to centre-left parties like the Labor Party.

Debates about border security, taxation and to a lesser extent the economy benefit centre-right parties like the Coalition (McAllister 2011). This is part of the ‘brand essence’ of these parties. The changes in the issue landscape between 2010 and 2013 benefited the Coalition at the expense of Labor as the issues which the Coalition was seen as being best able to handle had greater salience for voters than in 2010.

The major policies announced in 2013 Set out below are the major policy announcements made by the major parties during the campaign. This list has been determined using a mixed methodology that takes into account the following factors: a review of all the policy documents released; the campaign launch speech by the party leaders; media mentions of specific policies; the level of expenditure committed to a policy initiative; and policies which featured in party advertising.

The major policies announced by Tony Abbott and the Coalition

• Scrap the carbon tax and abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation;

• ‘Stop the boats’ through ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, including boat buybacks and towing back the boats;

• Abolish the mining tax;

• $17 billion in budget savings including a reduction of 12,000 public servants;

• Build the roads of the 21st century: the WestConnex in Sydney, the East West Link in Melbourne, the Gateway Upgrade in Brisbane, the North South Road in Adelaide and the Swan Bypass in Perth;

• Cut the company tax rate by 1.5 per cent;

• Cut red tape by $1 billion a year;

• Move the workplace relations pendulum ‘back to the sensible centre’: restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), introduce new penalties for ‘dodgy’ union officials;

• Reinstate the fringe benefits tax exemption on company cars that are salary packaged at a cost of $1.8 billion;

Abbott’s Gambit: The 2013 Australian Federal Election

• Build a National Broadband Network (NBN) that is slower but cheaper;

• Introduce a standing Green Army, growing to some 15,000 individuals;

• Deliver on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS);

• Abolish the School Kids Bonus;

• Abolish the low-income super offset funded by the mining tax;

• Delay the Superannuation Guarantee Levy increase;

• Stop the scheduled increase in the humanitarian migrant intake;

• Support the ‘Gonski funding reforms’ for three years;

• A Paid Parental Leave (PPL) scheme, paid to working women at their actual wage up to $150,000;

• Index eligibility thresholds for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card;

• Commit an additional $200 million to dementia research;

• Give apprentices access to a $20,000 loan, similar to that enjoyed by university students;

• A more functional Federation where the states are sovereign in their own sphere;

• Public schools and hospitals will have local boards and more autonomy;

• By the end of the first term, the budget will be on track to a believable surplus;

• Within a decade, the budget surplus will be one per cent of GDP, defence spending will be two per cent of GDP, and each year government will compromise a progressively smaller percentage of the national economy;

• Restore the Private Health Insurance Rebate within a decade; and,

• Recognise indigenous people in the Constitution, and Tony Abbott as prime minister will spend a week a year in a remote indigenous community.

The major policies announced by Kevin Rudd and the ALP

• Abolish the carbon tax by bringing forward an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by one year;

• The ‘PNG solution’ to provide offshore processing and settlement for irregular maritime arrivals in Papua New Guinea;

• Reform of the ALP, including direct election of the Party leader;

• Introduce legislation in the first 100 days to support same-sex marriage;

• Build an NBN using the best broadband technologies;

• The Northern Australia Plan including a special tax zone in Australia’s north;

• Maintain Australia’s low debt and deficit levels;

• The Small Business Tax Boost: an upfront tax deduction on the purchase of new equipment;

7. Making Policy and Winning Votes

• All projects worth $300 million or more to adopt Australian Industry Participation Plans;

• Increase the ‘Tools for Your Trade’ payment to apprentices to $6,000;

• Require state governments to maintain and grow their funding of TAFE;

failing this, a Commonwealth takeover of the TAFE sector;

• A new Jobs, Training and Apprenticeships Guarantee (JTAG) and a new institution called Jobs and Training Australia to bring together the employment services and training systems;

• Implement the Better Schools Plan with $15 billion of additional investment;

• Build the health and hospital system for the future with an additional $19 billion investment;

• Build a Clean Energy Future and keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation;

• Maintain the School Kids Bonus;

• Keep the FairWork Australia industrial relations system to protect penalty rates and overtime;

• Keep the current Paid Paternity Leave scheme based on the minimum wage;

• Relocate the naval base at Garden Island in Sydney to northern Australia;

• Reject any review of the GST; and,

• Reject the alleged $70 billion in cuts to be made by the Opposition.

Those policies the public never got to see One of the great unknowns and imponderables of the 2013 federal election is the slate of policies that the public never got to see. Interviews for this chapter have confirmed that much of the policy work that was done by ministers and senior advisers in the Gillard Government in the months leading up to the June leadership change were not adopted by new prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Meanwhile, the Coalition did not release many of the policies it had drafted because it had a commanding lead in the polls and opted for a small target strategy. This involved holding back policy so as to avoid attack from their opponents on policy detail. The tight fiscal environment also significantly curtailed the more ambitious policy ideas of both major parties.

The tactical use of policy to deliver campaign strategy Most election policies announced by political parties involve a calculated combination of good policy and good politics. This section focuses on the political objectives of policies developed for the campaign rather than their Abbott’s Gambit: The 2013 Australian Federal Election policy objectives. This process may be thought of as something like a chess game in which each side moves its pieces—in this case, policies—to achieve a strategic campaign objective. While there is scholarly consensus about the increased importance of policy and issue voting in modern election campaigns, much less is understood about the way political parties use policies in a tactical way to achieve their broader campaign strategy. The following section helps fill this knowledge gap by outlining how election policies were used by the major parties during the 2013 election to deliver on political campaign objectives.

Demonstrate a vision for the future One of the key ingredients for electoral success is to demonstrate a vision for the future. This is usually done by outlining a narrative of what the future looks like, supported by the policies that ‘build the bridge’ toward it. One of the more interesting ways the Coalition did this was through the publication of its 52-page Real Solutions Plan in early 2013. Over five million copies of a 16-page condensed version were circulated to households across Australia.

Coalition strategists knew that the document would not be widely read. But they believed that its presence in millions of households sent a strong message about the Coalition having a plan for the future and being ready for government. The print distribution was also supplemented by electronic advertising promoting the Plan from early 2013 through to mid-2013 (Loughnane 2013). For the Coalition, the plan to ‘build the roads of the 21st century’ was also a key policy to help achieve this objective.

One of the shortcomings of Labor’s campaign was its failure to build an agenda for the future. Labor’s policies to tackle climate change and build the NBN had been central to its ‘future vision’ since 2007. However, by the 2013 campaign these policies had become tarnished by implementation challenges and political debate. The Northern Australia Plan was part of a future vision but attracted significant media scepticism, especially as Labor had earlier severely criticised a similar set of proposals emanating from the Coalition. The campaign launch contained some very significant new initiatives on training and apprenticeships but these came too late to have a major impact.

Policy as values and policy to characterise the leader For well over a decade, conservative and progressive American academics and campaign consultants have been highlighting the importance of ‘values’ in framing political issues (Lakoff 2004; 2006; Luntz 2007). Accordingly, policy is marketed to the public not just in terms of its underlying benefit to society but also as a way of communicating the values and character of the party and its leader.

7. Making Policy and Winning Votes Tony Abbott’s promise to spend one week a year as prime minister in a remote indigenous community was used to promote his commitment to addressing Indigenous issues and his personal empathy for those facing disadvantage.

The Coalition also worked to keep the carbon tax policy debate on the agenda during the election campaign. This debate in fact helped the Coalition in other debates about economics and cost of living, both of which were critical issues amongst target voters. The carbon tax debate also fuelled a values debate about broken promises and trust. This is because Julia Gillard and Labor were viewed by many as having broken a promise not to introduce a carbon tax.

For Labor, Kevin Rudd’s reforms to the ALP helped meet the political objective of improving the tarnished brand of the Party. It also demonstrated Rudd’s strength as leader and allowed him to talk about his values, including ‘sticking up for the little guy’ and giving ordinary people a say.

Policy to win support from targeted constituencies Democratically elected politicians have always searched for policies that they believe will win over certain constituencies. However, recent advances in data analysis have allowed many of these policy decisions to be data-driven and to reflect micro-targeting approaches. The Coalition’s policy to suspend fishing restrictions around marine national parks was a direct play to fishing groups and Australia’s five million recreational fishers. The Coalition also released an Economic Growth Plan for Tasmania. Tasmania was the only state to be the beneficiary of such a plan. It is also the state where the Coalition did not win a single House of Representative seat in 2010 and stood to make significant electoral gains in 2013. The Coalition’s very generous PPL scheme attracted criticism from Labor and others. However, the Coalition was happy to have this debate as the PPL was a key policy offer to working mums, a key voter group with which the Coalition had underperformed in 2010.

Labor’s policy on gay marriage helped portray Rudd as a modern leader and to mobilise the Party’s activist base which is critical for its campaign volunteer efforts. Kevin Rudd’s policy of bringing forward a floating carbon price by one year and portraying this as ‘axing the tax’ was aimed squarely at ALP voters who had abandoned the Party since the last election. Both parties offered significant inducements to trade apprentices, well-known as an important target voter group in elections. The Coalition offered apprentices a $20,000 HECS-type loan while Labor offered a $6,000 grant for tools.

Abbott’s Gambit: The 2013 Australian Federal Election

Policy to move the election debate onto preferred territory As previously outlined, defining the issue territory on which an election is fought is a key campaign strategy for the parties and each party attempts to move the debate onto issues where it is seen to have an advantage over its competitors.

For the Coalition, the incremental announcement of border security policies— such as Operation Sovereign Borders, the boats buy-back scheme and the ‘tow back of boats’—was part of a strategy to keep the debate in an area it is seen as being best able to manage. For Labor the centrepiece policy of its campaign launch was a series of major announcements on TAFE education and training, including the possible takeover of the TAFE sector by the Commonwealth. This was an attempt to move the policy debate to an issue that voters believe the ALP handles best.

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