On The Hill - Campaign Watch, 27 August
The Coalition’s Campaign Launch
On Sunday Tony Abbott formally launched the Coalition’s campaign at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane. The location was symbolic, as the site of the Coalition’s last three launches and Prime Minister Rudd’s hometown–where Labor must pick up seats to remain in government.
The tone was pitched to emphasise competence, calm and responsibility – signalling the kind of government Mr Abbott would like to lead. Julie Bishop, Campbell Newman and Warren Truss all spoke before Mr Abbott, underscoring a number of Labor’s failures since taking the helm. Highlighting the Queensland experience, Campbell Newman emphasised that Liberal Governments know how to manage budgets and make tough decisions. This suggests that Labor’s attack on ‘cuts, cuts, cuts’ is not having the desired effect.
The launch kept the momentum in Mr Abbott’s favour by showing the public a steady, competent and authentic man ready to govern. Introduced by daughters Frances and Bridget Abbott, Mr Abbott kept big spending policies to a minimum, referred only briefly to Labor’s record and focussed on the principles underpinning a Coalition Government.
Mr Abbott described the government he hopes to lead as “a no surprises, no excuses government”. Indeed, the Coalition’s messages have been consistent for more than three years now – stopping the boats, fixing the deficit, removing the carbon tax . This consistency has worked well in contrast to the erratic policy changes of the Labor Government.
Acknowledging the scale of the task confronting whoever is elected on September 7, Mr Abbott also used the opportunity to increase the length of time in which the public could expect to see the restoration of Howard- era policy settings – within a decade the budget surplus will return to 1% of GDP, defence spending will be 2% of GDP, the private health insurance rebate will be reinstated and relative government spending will be reduced year on year.
Mr Abbott also used his speech to announce three new election commitments:
- The establishment of HECS style Trade Support Loans for apprentices, valued at up to $20,000
- The indexation of the income thresholds for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
- A further $200 million over five years to Australian scientists and researchers working to find a cure for dementia.
Tony Abbott’s speech to the launch can be found here.
The Coalition’s Policy to Boost Dementia Research can be found here.
The Coalition’s Policy to Index the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card can be found here.
The Coalition’s Policy for Better Support of Australian Apprentices can be found here.
Negative Campaigning Set to Increase
Negative tactics in elections are nothing new. In fact, they have long been a feature of political campaigns.
Negative messaging has been particularly prevalent in this campaign at every level; between the leaders, across advertising campaigns and at the individual electorate level. With Labor behind in the polls and less than two weeks until the election, the negativity is likely set to increase.
Despite Mr Rudd’s early pledge to campaign on a positive note, Labor has aggressively pursued negative attacks on Mr Abbott and the Coalition. The first of this could be seen in Labor’s claims that the Coalition would be increasing GST. Labor has just released a new TV advert claiming the Coalition’s policy initiatives will mean job cuts.
The difference in approaches has been evident in the tone of those at the head of each campaign. In both leaders’ debates, the Prime Minister relentlessly pursued the line that a Coalition government would ‘slash and burn’ public services. In return Mr Abbott attempted to keep his cool, labelling Mr Rudd’s approach as nothing more than scare tactics.
Advertising campaigns are also big business. The ACTU has amassed an ad war chest of $4 million for use in the election, from a levy on its members. The CFMEU, likewise, has launched a $1 million campaign, attacking the Coalition on the issue of 457 visas. Other unions, such as the Teachers Federation, are also undertaking negative advertisements.
On a lighter note, advertising has also ranged from the tongue-in-cheek to spoofs. GetUp! have launched a spoof of the popular lifestyle show Grand Designs called ‘Bad Designs’, focussing on immigration detention policy. Meanwhile Labor is looking a little desperate with a spoof campaign of spruikers worldwide selling a fake product called ‘Abbott’s internet’.
Key Seats – Robertson, NSW
Location: Lower Central Coast NSW including Gosford, Terrigal and rural hinterland
Held by: Deborah O’Neill (ALP) by 1%
Liberal Candidate: Lucy Wicks
The NSW Central Coast has become a hotly contested political battleground in recent years, with Robertson a key contest at this election. While current polling and Labor scandals would indicate that the seat should fall at this election, the rise of independents and a strong Labor support base in the area are likely to create a tougher battle than people may think.
When John Howard swept to power in 1996, the seat of Robertson fell to the Liberal candidate, Jim Lloyd, on the back of a 9.12% swing. Lloyd was the first Liberal to hold Robertson since 1969. Lloyd held the seat throughout the Howard Government until 2007 when the seat returned to Labor’s Belinda Neal with a 6.98% turnaround.
On the pendulum, Robertson would be expected to fall soon after the polls close if the Coalition wins government. At the last election, however, Robertson was one of the few seats in NSW where the Coalition went backwards. This was despite the Labor Party replacing their MP, Belinda Neal, with current Labor member, Deborah O’Neill.
At this election the Liberals are pinning their hopes on Lucy Wicks to be able to claim the seat from Labor. Wicks, grew up locally on the Central Coast where she worked as a school teacher in Narara. She now lives with her husband Chris and two young children in the local area. Prior to running as the Liberal candidate, Lucy worked in Corporate Affairs for Telstra. She has been politically active within the Liberal Party over many years where she was a Vice-President of the Party in NSW, the President of the NSW Women’s Council and a Vice-President of the Young Liberal Movement.
Despite having a strong candidate with high local recognition, the Coalition will have to fight to win the seat. Labor has invested heavily in defending the seat and the union movement has strong connections on the central coast, most of which will be focussed on retaining Robertson now that Dobell is out of reach for Labor.
At this election there is a new dynamic at play with the emergence of “Team Central Coast”, running high-profile Gosford Mayor and former Central Coast Mariners coach, Lawrie McKinna. The Mayor is being financially bankrolled by John Singleton, who has indicated that they will allocate preferences to whoever provides the better deal for the Central Coast.
Assessment: Despite the entrance of a high-profile independent candidate and a swing against the trend to Labor at the last election, it is likely that the Liberal Party’s Lucy Wicks will be able to claim the seat.
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