Bob Brown is the current and inaugural Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Greens, and has been the Senator for Tasmania since 1996. A doctor by training, Brown worked as a general practitioner before becoming involved in Tasmania’s environmentalist movement in the early 1970s. After joining the United Tasmania Group, Australia’s first ‘green’ party, in 1972, he became the first Green to be elected to the Tasmania State Parliament when voted in as the member for Denison in 1983. Brown represented Denison for the next ten years and was strongly involved in the foundation of the Australian Greens in 1992.
Under Brown’s leadership, the Australian Greens have witnessed a period of growth that has seen them move from being a party on Australia’s political sidelines to one which currently polls at between 10 and 15 percent. Commentators have observed that one of the reasons for this increase in popularity has been that the Greens offer a real choice on a number of policy areas when compared to Australia’s mainstream parties. The Greens’ preference deal with the Labor Party almost certainly ensures that they will take the balance of power in the next Senate. Brown disagreed with the deal however, telling voters to preference whomever they wished.
The first openly gay member of the Australian Parliament, Brown is also notable for having been jailed for his involvement in the protest against the Franklin Dam and for having been suspended from the Parliament for interjecting during a speech by George Bush. Vocal about his position on a number of issues, Brown supports the original mining super profits tax, opposes the offshore processing of asylum claims and has pledged that a carbon price would be the Greens’ first priority if they win the balance of power in the Senate. Brown is also known for being pro-republic and supporting both euthanasia and Tibetan self-determination.
Welsh-born Julia Gillard is the 27th and current Prime Minister of Australia, having come to power in June 2010 after Kevin Rudd stood down. Gillard has been MP for Labor since 1998. After Labor was defeated in the 2001 election, Gillard was elected to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Population and Immigration, with the portfolios of Reconciliation and Indigenous Affairs added to her responsibilities in 2003. Later that year, she was promoted to Shadow Health Minister and in 2006 elected Deputy Leader of the Opposition. After Kevin Rudd’s 2007 election victory Gillard was made Deputy Prime Minister, taking on the Ministerial brief of Employment, Workplace Relations and Education.
A one-time president of the Australian Union of Students in 1983, Gillard first became involved in Labor student politics while at university in Adelaide and then Melbourne. Moving into politics from a career in law, Gillard began as chief of staff to Victoria’s then opposition leader John Brumby before winning a seat in parliament. During her time in Kevin Rudd’s Cabinet, Gillard replaced the WorkChoices industrial relations regime with the Fair Work Bill and oversaw a generous spending programme for schools. Gillard is considered on the left of her party, although the support she needs from Labor’s more conservative factions makes it unlikely she’ll attempt to bring it further left.
As well as being the first female prime minister and the first who has never been married, it is the first time since 1923 that Australia has had a prime minister born overseas. Gillard claimed that the Labor Party had ‘lost its way’ under her predecessor and since taking office she has reversed the Party’s poor poll ratings, gaining a narrow lead over the rival Liberal Party. Announcing the election Gillard said: ‘Today I seek a mandate from the Australian people to move Australia forward. Moving forward means moving forward with budget surpluses and a stronger economy.’ Gillard stated her priorities were creating jobs, boosting education, improving health care, fighting climate change and strengthening border protection.
Tony Abbott has been leader of the opposition since 2009 and has represented the seat of Warringah since 1994. Abbott held various Ministerial positions in the Howard Government, including Employment Services (1998-2001), Employment and Workplace Relations (2001-2003), and Health and Ageing (2003-2007). After the 2007 election defeat of the Howard Government, Abbott was Shadow Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs until he resigned in 2009 in protest over the Liberal Party’s position on the Emission Trading Scheme. The following month, Abbott defeated Malcolm Turnbull in the Liberal Party leadership contest.
After studying at the University of Sydney and Oxford University, Abbott began work as a journalist, becoming well known for his strong criticism of trade unions and left-wing politics. A socially conservative Catholic, Abbott is a supporter of traditional family values and the constitutional monarchy. During his time as an MP, Abbott has overseen the establishment of the Green Corps, was responsible for the Work for Dole scheme, and opposed the Republic Referendum in 1999. As Health Minister he introduced the Medicare Safety Net to cap the annual out-of-pocket costs of Medicare cardholders.
In the polls under Abbott’s leadership, the Opposition Coalition improved its ratings during 2010. In his first Budget reply speech as Opposition Leader, Abbott sought to portray the Rudd Government’s third budget as the ‘tax and spend’ budget and promised to fight the election on the new mining ‘super-profits’ tax proposed by Rudd. He has been a strong critic of Labor’s decision to soften the mandatory detention of ‘boatpeople’ in Pacific and Indian Ocean camps. Abbott has said his Government would ‘end the waste, repay the debt, stop new taxes and stop the boats.’
Warren Truss has been leader of the National Party since being elected in 2007 and has been the Member of Parliament for Wide Bay since 1990. Truss was a member of the Opposition Shadow Ministry 1994-96 and was Deputy Leader of the House 1997-98. He was a minister in the Howard Coalition Government from 1997 to 2007, with briefs including Community Services (1998-99), Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry (1999-2005), and Trade (2006-2007). Truss was appointed Shadow Minister for Trade, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government by Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull in 2008, a position he continues to hold under Tony Abbott.
A farmer by trade before entering politics, Warren Truss has been Chair of the Fraser Coast-South Burnett Regional Tourism Board was a Kingaroy Shire Councillor from 1976 to 1990. Regional policy is a priority for Truss, who is committed to bridging the gap between metropolitan and regional Australia. He has called the upcoming election an opportunity for Australia’s regions to ‘get their fair share of federal funding and attention’ and has criticised Julia Gillard for spending just a few hours in regional Australia since becoming prime minister.
Truss has pledged to get government spending under control and to avoid heavy taxes on regional businesses. He has been an outspoken opponent of the incumbent Government’s mining tax and emissions trading tax. Truss has been critical of the Government for overseeing the creation of a $41 billion budget deficit in 2010 from a $20 billion surplus in 2007. He has argued that Labor intends to ‘move forward into more debt, more reckless spending and higher taxes’. Truss has also questioned Labor’s competence, saying the party couldn’t manage its programmes, citing the botched home insulation rollout as an example.