1 July 2016

5 things you need to understand about Saturday’s Australian election


As Australia’s federal election approaches this weekend, the country is entering its final countdown to what is tipped to be a close race between the current Liberal coalition and the opposition Labor Party. It is time to bring a conclusion to almost a decade of unprecedented political instability that has seen Australia go through five prime ministers since 2007. But who are the main players and what are their policies?

Key Players:

The current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, from the Liberal Party, is Australia’s fifth prime minister since 2007.  He gained the leadership of the party in 2008 before being ousted by his socially conservative rival, Tony Abbott just before 2013 election. Mr Abbott led the Liberal Party back to government on a platform of controversial policies, such as proposing a major cut to university funding and charging extra for every visit to the doctor. As a result his party plummeted in opinion polls. Mr Turnbull then ousted Abbott and took over as Prime Minister in a party coup last year. Within the conservative coalition government, Mr Turnbull is known for his progressive views on climate change and same-sex marriage, and his support for Australia forming its own republic separate from the UK. During the government’s re-election campaign, Mr Turnbull has offered a vision to transition the country from the mining boom to a new phase of economic growth. However, public support for him has declined following  poorly handled debates about reforms.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten took over the Labor Party leadership in the wake of a turbulent period and a defeat at the 2013 election. He is campaigning for education, healthcare and climate change as key concerns in the election. He is regarded as having run a strong campaign and Labor appears poised to win seats, but polls indicate he may fall short of the numbers required to form a majority.

Labour Market:

Australia is heading to elections this Saturday to determine which party will steer the economy out of a declining mining boom and a deterioration of public finances.The fatal combination of global supply glut and faltering Chinese demand has resulted in Western Australia losing its AAA credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service in 2014. Moreover, slumping iron ore prices have decimated the state’s revenues. As such the mining industry will lose 50,000 jobs as the resources boom continues to deteriorate. Turnbull says he’s the best fit to drive new growth through innovation and stimulate rising Chinese demand for Australian services. Turnbull is pledging company tax cuts and adjustments to the nation’s retirement savings system. However, the public continues to swing more towards the Labor party with the decline of the economy. Mr Shorten promised  to “invest in people, in productivity, in infrastructure and in technology” on the basis that “we need jobs and to bring the economy up. We need change”.

Gay marriage:

Australia has been criticized by international human rights groups over its slowness to act on same-sex marriage. The legalisation of gay marriage has been a huge issue in the lead-up to Saturday’s federal election. Mr Turnbull has said he hoped to hold a plebiscite before the end of 2016, if re-elected on Saturday. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, meanwhile, has vowed to make gay marriage his first piece of legislative business if he wins. The Labor opposition will skip a public vote and introduce a bill to parliament within 100 days. “The first piece of legislation I introduce into the 45th Parliament will be a bill to amend the marriage act, a simple change. The words ‘a man and a woman’ are replaced with ‘two people’, no $160 million plebiscite, no hurtful, hateful government-sponsored advertising campaign for us,” he has said.


The shock decision for UK to leave the EU has accelerated the need for Australia to elect a government that can deliver stability and unity, to avoid a similar type of political animosity as that seen as a result of Brexit. The current political instability in the UK is something Australia should steer clear of, especially since the country has experienced two leadership spills in the span of five years. “Its political and economic lesson cannot and should not be ignored,” said Mr Shorten. He sharpened his personal attack on Mr Turnbull, describing him as “weak” and vulnerable to post-election disunity by forces loyal to former prime minister Tony Abbott. “I’ve seen first-hand what disunity can do to a government, and I know that Australians should not take the risk of re-electing a Liberal government,” Shorten said. In response, Turnbull has emphasised his promise to deliver stability and strong economic policy in the wake of global turmoil sparked by Britain’s Brexit vote, as he campaigned ahead of this weekend’s election. Mr Turnbull has advised Australians to avoid another political stumble by sticking with the current coalition. “Any vote for Labor, Greens or independent is a vote for the chaos and dysfunction of a parliament in disarray.”


Paid parental leave and childcare are key areas of policy difference between the major parties ahead of Saturday’s federal election. The coalition plans to introduce a $3 billion childcare package in order to maximise the affordability of childcare for Australian families. The package was also designed to encourage more women to get back to work. However, the government says it had to defer the start of its childcare package by a year, to 1 July 2018, because the Family Tax Benefit changes required to fund it have not been passed by the Senate. In addition, the Coalition’s policies will only benefit families on higher incomes, as they will be using childcare full time with benefits capped at $6000. In contrast, Labor has promised to increase the childcare rebate cap from $7500 to $10000 a year and increase the child care benefit by 15%. Labor has pledged to increase childcare assistance immediately – not in two years’ time, “because we know that families have waited long enough,” says Labor’s education spokeswoman Kate Ellis.

Three years after the last federal election, that resulted in messy leadership spills and political instability, Australians will be given the power to choose who their next leader is. What remains to be seen is how the distribution of preferences fall on election day.

Ilma Amin is a Mannkal Foundation scholar based in Australia.