On The Hill - Campaign Watch, 30 August
The Third Debate
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott faced off in Western Sydney for the third Leaders Debate. The debate, held at Rooty Hill RSL, may have been the last opportunity the electorate had to see the leaders spar before the election on 7 September.
The debate covered a number of topics ranging from small business, education and dental care to foreign investment, jobs and economic growth. Notably, the issue of border protection, seen as important to voters in Western Sydney, was not raised.
Mr Rudd got off to a rocky start, after being thrown off by a question on how he destabilised Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership. The Prime Minister, however, was soon back on the offensive, unrelentingly pursuing the line that a Coalition government would mean huge cuts to public services. In response, Mr Abbott reiterated the Coalition’s promise to ring-fence health and education from cuts.
Mr Abbott was, at one point, backed into a corner when responding to a question on Medicare Locals, stating there would be no cuts where he had earlier not ruled out the possibility. He also faced an attack on the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme.
Mr Abbott seized the moment when both leaders were asked what they would like to ask each other. He turned quickly to the Prime Minister and asked him to give a positive reason for why people should vote for Labor, rather than running “the mother of all scare campaigns”.
When questioned on the Coalition’s policy on foreign investment Mr Abbott stated he was in favour of a lower threshold for review by the Foreign Investment Review Board and a register for foreign interests in agricultural land. Determined not to be outdone, Mr Rudd stressed that he was wary of foreign investment, particularly in agricultural land, preferring joint ventures over outright purchases.
The Prime Minister used his closing remarks to remind the audience that his plan for the future focussed on health, education and reducing cost of living pressures, and that Australians should be weary that the Coalition had yet to release details of proposed cuts to fund their election promises.
Mr Abbott closed by saying the debate was about what Australian’s wanted. He challenged the audience to consider “how can the pair of us, in our own different ways, make your life better?”
With the expectations high for the incumbent Prime Minister, most commentators agree he often failed to deliver his key messages as succinctly as Mr Abbott. Nevertheless, a poll of the Rooty Hill audience gave Mr Rudd the victory, 45 to 38 votes. However, there seems to have been little impact on the polls as a result of the debates.
Key Seats: Eden-Monaro
The seat of Eden-Monaro has traditionally been the nation’s bellwether seat. For the past 40 years, it has always swung to the party that forms government.
The seat covers the South-East corner of NSW, stretching from Merimbula to Batemans Bay on the coast and from parts of urban Queanbeyan to the Snow Mountains in the West. This makes for a diverse electorate. Queanbeyan is a centre for Canberra public servants, so Labor’s claims that a Coalition Government would make drastic cuts to the public service may hold some traction for voters. The remainder of the electorate is rural, where agricultural and primary industries are located and may be more favourable to the Liberal vote.
Gary Nairn claimed the seat for the Liberals in 1996, after 13 years in Labor hands. Nairn retained the seat until 2007 when it was returned to the current Labor MP Mike Kelly.
The Liberals are looking to Peter Hendy to win the seat back in 2013. Hendy, a Queanbeyan local for the last 13 years, is a strong candidate with significant experience in both the private and public sectors. He should also enjoy credibility with small business and agricultural sectors, having been a director of the Australian Made, Australian Grown campaign and a former Executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Sitting MP Mike Kelly has a strong local record, holding the seat on a margin of 4.2%. He is a former Colonel in the Australian Defence Force and currently Minister for Defence Materiel. Kelly has been the de facto spokesperson for retiring Defence Minister Stephen Smith and has been announced as Labor’s next Defence Minister, if the Rudd Government is re-elected.
The change of Queanbeyan from a regional town to a growing suburb of Canberra has jeopardised the seat’s position as a true bellwether. While the Coalition are keen to reclaim Eden Monaro many believe that it is indeed possible to win Government without claiming the seat that stretches from the coast to the Capital.
The National Party has worked hard during this election campaign to take the Coalition’s message to rural and regional Australia.
The Leader of the Nationals, The Hon. Warren Truss MP, yesterday addressed the National Press Club, launching the National Stronger Regions Fund. Building on the Nationals’ very successful Royalties for Regions program, the fund will provide $200 million each year in to local capital works projects.
Investment will be targeted towards communities with poor socio-economic circumstances, particularly those with higher than average unemployment. It aims to create local jobs by improving local facilities and building needed infrastructure.
The program will commence in 2015 with councils and community groups able to apply for grants between $20,000 and $10 million to fund up to half of their respective projects.
On September 7 the Nationals are likely to pick up Lyne and New England and have a strong chance of reclaiming their former strongholds of Page and Richmond. There is also a chance that David Wirrpanda, a former AFL superstar, will be elected to the Senate in WA.
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