What do you see as the key issues the upcoming election will be fought over?
I think there are two things. The first is the general issue of competence to run the Government and the question of who’s the best personality to be prime minister—their general attitudes to the economy and to foreign affairs. There’s a general theme of personality and trust.
Then I think the specific issues are certainly about industrial relations, climate change, economic management and, of course, asylum seekers. In addition, the fifth issue with the way our marginal seats are structured means there are actually many local campaigns and factors at play. So what usually happens in Australian elections is that there’s no such thing as a universal swing across the country. The Government might lose some very safe seats and hold on to some more marginal seats, so usually the swing is very uneven and difficult to predict.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
A big issue over the last few years has been waste, mismanagement and government spending, and certainly the Opposition is presenting an argument that it can be trusted more and is more competent. So it’s not a question of necessarily the Opposition promising to do anything different, but more of the Opposition promising to do things better.
In that regard, the comment has been made that even though we’re only a few days into the election campaign, there actually aren’t many policy differences between the parties. So, to some extent, it’s going to be about who is the leader they trust.
So the question for the current prime minister is, is she trustworthy as there’s the question of how she got to the role—by overthrowing her predecessor. Questions for Tony Abbott are: is he seen to be too Catholic? Is he too conservative? And will these things influence his policies if he wins the election?
There appears to be wide agreement that the budget deficit needs to be tackled. What do you think the next government needs to do about this?
The next government has a couple of challenges. One challenge is that there’s potential for a double-dip economic recession, and this is going to be a threat to the global recovery and to Australia’s recovery. Second, there are inflation pressures, because the resources part of the economy is still relatively strong, so you’re going to have the Reserve Bank contemplating perhaps increasing interest rates in the short term.
No party has promised swingeing cuts in expenditure. What both parties have basically promised is that as the economy grows, the government will grow at a relatively slower rate. But so far most of those promises are reasonably ill-defined, as you’d expect them to be, given that we’re only a few days into the campaign.
So you would expect the size of government to grow, regardless of who comes to power?
I think on every indication the size of government in Australia has grown over the last 50 years and every indication is that it will continue to grow. And related to that is that the federal government will have more and more responsibility for issues that are the responsibility of state governments. There’ll be an increasing centralisation to Canberra.