How the major parties’ Indigenous health election commitments stack up



File 20190430 136807 4nqv25.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Government policies on Indigenous health have so far largely failed in closing the gap.
From shutterstock.com

David Coombs, UNSW and Diana Perche, UNSW

Eleven years after Australia adopted the Closing the Gap strategy, many pressing First Nations health issues remain unresolved.

The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy, currently 10.8 years for men and 10.6 years for women, is actually widening.

Similarly, the target to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous child mortality has not been met. The Indigenous rate of 164 deaths per 100,000 children aged 0-4 years is still 2.4 times the non-Indigenous rate of 68 deaths per 100,000 in this age group.




Read more:
Indigenous health programs require more than just good ideas


The causes of Indigenous health inequality are complex. They stem from social determinants such as employment, education, social inclusion, and access to traditional land, rather than strictly biomedical causes.

Government policies have a critical role to play here. But funding cuts, policy incoherence, and governments retaining control over resources and decision-making explain why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health outcomes are not closing.

Regardless of who wins the federal election on May 18, these enduring health issues affecting Indigenous Australians will require sustained and concerted policy attention.

A look at the major parties’ policy promises reveals some signs of hope, but also plenty of room for improvement.




Read more:
Three reasons why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aren’t closing


The Coalition’s commitments

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups criticised the lack of Indigenous-specific health measures in the Morrison government’s first budget detailed in April.

The budget did include A$35 million for First Nations solutions to family violence, and A$10 million for the Lowitja Institute for health research.

Indigenous youth suicide remains an urgent policy concern, with Indigenous children five times more likely to die in this way than non-Indigenous children. A coronial inquest recently identified complex causes including intergenerational trauma, poverty, and problems stemming from the home environment.




Read more:
Indigenous health leaders helped give us a plan to close the gap, and we must back it


The Coalition’s budget committed A$5 million over four years to address Indigenous youth suicide. This figure has since been increased to A$42 million following criticism from First Nations organisations and advocates.

Meanwhile, the budget directed A$129 million towards the expansion of a cashless welfare card system that operates in a number of Aboriginal communities. The card quarantines 80% of welfare recipients’ income for use in government-approved stores, and on government-approved items, to prevent spending on alcohol, cigarettes and gambling. This decision was taken despite a lack of evidence these cards reduce social harm or public expenditure.

The government also made some pre-budget commitments around Indigenous health. These included:

The Coalition also honoured a previous commitment of A$550 million for remote housing in the Northern Territory.

The Morrison government deserves some credit for its part in reaching an agreement between the Council of Australian Governments and a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations in December 2018.

This agreement commits governments and Indigenous peak bodies to shared decision-making and joint accountability in devising and working towards new Closing the Gap targets.




Read more:
Budget 2019 boosts aged care and mental health, and modernises Medicare: health experts respond


Labor’s commitments

In keeping with its election campaign emphasis on health spending, Labor recently announced a A$115 million Indigenous health package.

The package includes almost A$30 million to reduce Indigenous youth suicide and mental ill-health.

It also offers A$33 million to address rheumatic heart disease, a preventable condition that disproportionately affects Indigenous children. The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) highlighted rheumatic heart disease as one of ten Indigenous health priorities for this election.

Labor has also promised A$20 million for sexual health promotion in northern Australia, A$13 million to combat vision loss, and A$16.5 million for the “Deadly Choices” initiative, which aims to prevent chronic disease through education.

Further, the opposition has announced a compensation scheme and healing fund for surviving members of the Stolen Generations and their families. This could help manage the effects of intergenerational trauma.

What’s lacking

Both parties’ funding commitments must be assessed in the context of the 2014 budget cut of more than A$500 million dollars to Indigenous affairs by the then Coalition government, which only the Greens have committed to restoring.

Impacts have been severe for specific programs, especially those run at the community level. These include youth services in Maningrida (NT) and employment and training programs in Inala (Queensland).

Funding for crucial Indigenous health infrastructure and capital works is also lacking, with the current shortfall estimated at A$500 million. Many Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are run from old buildings in desperate need of upgrades to accommodate increasing patient numbers and rising demand for services. The Coalition recently announced an incremental increase to infrastructure funding, but much more is needed.




Read more:
Antibiotic shortages are putting Aboriginal kids at risk


Neither the Coalition nor Labor has made any substantial commitment to a national Indigenous housing strategy. Inadequate, insecure and poor quality housing worsens physical and mental health through overcrowding, inadequate heating and cooling, injury hazards, and stress.

Similarly, both parties have been silent on reducing poverty in Indigenous communities. Poverty is another social determinant that contributes to Indigenous physical and mental ill-health, as well as high incarceration levels.

What about self-determination?

Labor has stated it will prioritise Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as the vehicles for delivering much needed health services.

As the Close the Gap steering committee’s shadow report emphasised, “when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in the design of the services they need, we are far more likely to achieve success”.

The Coalition has been silent on the issue of community control, and funding reforms under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and the Indigenous Australians’ Health Programme have destabilised the position of Aboriginal organisations.




Read more:
The Coalition’s report card on health includes some passes and quite a few fails


Community control is threatened by the government’s focus on competitive tendering, where First Nations organisations compete with “mainstream” service providers trying to secure contracts to deliver Indigenous health services.

Neither the Coalition nor Labor has outlined a response to these structural issues.

A final verdict

It’s difficult to identify major differences between the two parties’ Indigenous health promises. The likely impact of these polices is also hard to gauge given the significant role played by state and territory governments in service delivery.

Labor has promised to support Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations but specific details have not been announced. Labor’s significant funding pledge for rheumatic heart disease, though, makes their Indigenous health offering perhaps slightly more likely to achieve health gains than the Coalition’s.




Read more:
Why are Aboriginal children still dying from rheumatic heart disease?


The Conversation


David Coombs, PhD candidate in Nura Gili Indigenous Studies, UNSW and Diana Perche, Senior Lecturer and Academic Coordinator, Nura Gili Indigenous Programs Unit, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Facebook videos, targeted texts and Clive Palmer memes: how digital advertising is shaping this election campaign


Andrew Hughes, Australian National University

This year’s election will be the first in Australia where the parties will be advertising more on social and digital platforms than traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers and magazines).

There are a few key reasons for this. First, cost-wise, social media is far cheaper, sometimes as low as a few cents per click. Unlike heritage media, digital and social is extremely targeted, and can be done in the “dark,” so your opponents may not even be aware of the message you are pushing out.

Digital and social advertising can also be shared or even created by users themselves, further increasing the reach of a party’s messaging. This gets around the Australian Electoral Commission rules on advertising – technically they are not ads since no party is paying for them to be shared on people’s feeds.

Throw into the mix laws on political advertising – which allow parties to advertise up to and on election day on social media, but not traditional media – and we are likely seeing the first largely digitally driven election campaign in Australian political history.




Read more:
Election explainer: what are the rules governing political advertising?


Here are a few ways the parties are using advertising in the campaign so far and what makes this election unique:

What you can do with A$30 million

Among all the candidates running this year, perhaps no one has used political advertising as prolifically as Clive Palmer. This shows what money can buy.

The most recent Nielsen figures put the cost of Palmer’s ads since September at around A$30 million, though Palmer says himself he’s spent at least A$50 million. This compares to just A$16 million spent in total advertising during the last federal election, with Labor and the Coalition accounting for more than 90% of that.

From a campaign perspective, Palmer is ticking many of the right boxes: a mix of different platforms on digital and social; heritage media ads for mass market awareness featuring candidates selected from the middle; the use of memes and user-generated content; and even text messaging.

This United Australia Party ad has over 2.4 million views on YouTube thus far, making it the most viewed election ad on the platform.

Despite the ubiquity of his ads, though, Palmer is still struggling to connect with most voters. This demonstrates a very important aspect to any advertising campaign: the actual brand still needs to be seen as offering real value to voters.

The UAP has used text messaging like this one below, for example, to try to change its negative perception with voters by delivering positive campaign promises.

UAP text message advertisement.
ABC

The ‘Grim Reaper’ strategy and micro-targeting

One of the most effective ads ever done in Australia was the “Grim Reaper” AIDS awareness campaign in 1987, which showed how well “scare campaigns” and negative messaging can work, given the right context and framing. The ad’s micro-messaging was another aspect that worked so well: it personalised the issue and made it tangible to anyone sexually active.

Basically, negative messaging works on the theory that what you fear, you will avoid – or the “fight or flight response”. Negative political ads highlight the level of risk and consequence of a certain party’s policies – and then emphasise how to avoid this by not voting for them.




Read more:
Why scare campaigns like ‘Mediscare’ work – even if voters hate them


Trouble is, most ads on TV are losing their potency. As attitudes towards political messaging and brands become increasingly negative, voters are less likely to watch ads in their entirety. Many people also don’t see them as being personally relevant.

Social media, though, provides an excellent delivery mechanism for these types of messages. Digital ads can be personalised and focused on issues that voters have already expressed an interest in and therefore find relevant to their lives.

Personalised messaging from the LNP on Facebook, targeting voters in the seat of Ryan in western Brisbane.
Facebook Ad Library

Social media ads can also be altered to be even more targeted as the campaign goes on, based on voter responses. And their speed of production – only taking a matter of hours to produce and place online – allows digital advertising to do what heritage no longer can and provide a more fluid, grassroots dynamic to campaigning.

This ad by Labor featuring Prime Minister Scott Morrison in bed with Palmer, for example, was released on social media within 24 hours of the preference deal struck between the Coalition and Palmer’s UAP.

Labor’s Facebook ad depicting Scott Morrison in bed with the UAP’s Clive Palmer over their preference dealing.
Facebook/Click here to watch the video

That said, even on social media, negative advertising is not as effective if it just comes from the party itself. But when combined with information from third-party sources, such as from the media, this can increase the effectiveness. For example, the Liberal Party used the 10 Network image in this ad to support its claims on Labor’s tax policies.


Facebook Ad Library

Youth engagement

Youth voter enrolment is at an all-time high in Australia, driven, in part, by engagement and participation in the marriage equality plebiscite in 2017.

The major parties are aware of this and are creating ads specifically targeting this demographic on Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram. Some of these are “dark social” ads (meaning they can only be seen by the target market) or are user-made so not to be subject to disclosure rules.

For more general audiences, Labor has created ads like this one on Facebook that highlight issues young voters are concerned about, such as wage increases and penalty rates. Ads like this also attempt to engage with these voters by asking them to sign petitions – a form of experiential marketing that’s proved highly effective with young audiences, as seen through platforms such as Change.org.

Labor Facebook ad inviting voters to sign a petition demanding a higher wage.
Facebook Ad Library

Groups like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition are tapping into experiential marketing by combining online advertising with a call for offline action on issues that appeal to young voters, such as climate change. Part-rock concert, part-protest, these events might remind some of the rallies that proved so popular during the Gough Whitlam era.

The AYCC is using a combination of online and offline strategies to engage with young voters.
Facebook Ad Library

The increasing influence of lobbying groups

One of the more interesting developments of this election so far is the increasing sophistication, knowledge and strategies of political lobbying groups, or Australia’s equivalent to America’s PACs.

GetUp! is one such group, collecting A$12.8 million in donations in the last 12 months alone. Among the group’s tactics are direct phone calls to voters, partly achieved through “phone parties” where volunteers freely offer their time, phones and other resources to call people in targeted electorates. GetUp! has a goal of making 1 million phone calls in the lead-up to the election.

A GetUp! video ad encouraging voters to host ‘calling parties’

Other well-funded groups, such as the right-aligned Advance Australia, are also seeking to influence the narrative in the election, particularly in electorates like Warringah, where it has released ads against Tony Abbott’s challenger, Zali Steggall.

In part to counter the influence of lobbying groups, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has launched its own advertising campaign featuring working Australians describing how hard it is to make ends meet.

The ACTU’s “Change the Government, Change the Rules” campaign.

The rise of these groups in Australian politics opens a Pandora’s Box on just who can influence elections without even standing a single candidate – an issue that’s becoming part of politics now in many Western democracies. As many in politics would know, where there is money, there is power, and where there is power, there are those who are seeking to influence it.The Conversation

Andrew Hughes, Lecturer, Research School of Management, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Victorian Liberal candidates find social media footprints lethal


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Whether or not it’s some sort of record, the Liberals’ loss of two Victorian candidates in a single day is way beyond what Oscar Wilde would have dubbed carelessness.

Already struggling in that state, the Victorian Liberals managed to select one candidate who, judged on his words, was an appalling Islamophobe and another who was an out-and-out homophobe.

The comments that have brought them down weren’t made in the distant past – they date from last year.

Jeremy Hearn was disendorsed as the party’s candidate for the Labor seat of Isaacs, after it came to light that he had written, among other things, that a Muslim was someone who subscribed to an ideology requiring “killing or enslavement of the citizens of Australia if they do not become Muslim”. This was posted in February 2018.

Peter Killin, who was standing in Wills, withdrew over a comment (in reply to another commenter) he posted in December that included suggesting Liberal MP Tim Wilson should not have been preselected because he’s gay.

Scott Morrison rather quaintly explained the unfortunate choice of Killin by saying “he was a very recent candidate who came in because we weren’t able to continue with the other candidate because of section 44 issues”.

Oops and oops again. First the Victorian Liberals pick someone who didn’t qualify legally and then they replaced that candidate with one who didn’t qualify under any reasonable test of community standards.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Tim Colebatch on the battle in Victoria – and the Senate


It’s not just the Liberals with problems of candidates with unacceptable views, or bad behaviour.

Labor’s Northern Territory number 2 Senate candidate Wayne Kurnoth, who shared anti-Semitic material on social media, recently stood down. Bill Shorten embarrassed himself on Wednesday by saying he hadn’t met the man, despite having been filmed with him.

Then there’s the case of Luke Creasey, the Labor candidate running in Melbourne, which is held by Greens Adam Bandt, who shared rape jokes and pornographic material on social media. He has done a mea culpa, saying his actions happened “a number of years ago” and “in no way reflect the views I hold today”. Creasey still has his endorsement. Labor Senate leader Penny Wong has defended him, including by distinguishing between a “mistake” and “prejudice”.

It should be remembered that, given the post-nomination timing, these latest candidates unloaded by their parties have not lost their spots or their party designations on the ballot paper.

As Antony Green wrote when a NSW Liberal candidate had to withdraw during the state election (after a previous association with an online forum which reportedly engaged in unsavoury jokes) “the election goes ahead as if nothing had happened”.

It won’t occur this time, but recall the Pauline Hanson experience. In 1996, the Liberals disendorsed Hanson for racist remarks but she remained on the ballot paper with the party moniker. She was duly elected – and no doubt quite a few voters had thought she was the official Liberal candidate.

What goes around comes around – sort of.

This week Hanson’s number 2 Queensland Senate candidate, Steve Dickson, quit all his party positions after footage emerged of his groping and denigrating language at a Washington strip club. But Dickson is still on the Senate ballot paper.

While the latest major party candidates have been dumped for their views, this election has produced a large number of candidates who clearly appear to be legally ineligible to sit in parliament.

Their presence is despite the fact that, after the horrors of the constitution’s section 44 during the last parliament, candidates now have to provide extensive details for the Australian Electoral Commission about their eligibility.

Although the AEC does not have any role of enforcing eligibility, the availability of this data makes it easier in many cases to spot candidates who have legal question marks.

Most of the legally-dubious candidates have come from minor parties, and these parties, especially One Nation, Palmer’s United Australia Party and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party are getting close media attention.

When the major parties discovered prospective candidates who would hit a section 44 hurdle – and there have been several – they quickly replaced them.

But the minor parties don’t seem too worried about eligibility. While most of these people wouldn’t have a hope in hell of being elected, on one legal view there is a danger of a High Court challenge if someone was elected on the preferences of an ineligible candidate.

The section 44 problems reinforce the need to properly fix the constitution, as I have argued before. It will be a miracle if it doesn’t cause issues in the next parliament, because in more obscure cases a problem may not be easy to spot.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Section 44 remains a constitutional trip wire that should be addressed


But what of those with beyond-the-pale views?

At one level the fate of the two Victorian Liberal candidates carries the obvious lesson for aspirants: be careful what you post on social media, and delete old posts.

That’s the expedient point. These candidates were caught out by what they put, and left, online.

But there is a deeper issue. Surely vetting of candidates standing for major parties must properly require a very thorough examination of their views and character.

Admittedly sometimes decisions will not be easy – judgements have to be made, including a certain allowance in the case of things said or done a long time before (not applicable with the two in question).

But whether it is the factional nature of the Victorian division to blame for allowing these candidates to get through, or the inattention of the party’s powers-that-be (or likely a combination of both) it’s obvious that something went badly wrong.

That they were in unwinnable seats (despite Isaacs being on a small margin) should be irrelevant. All those who carry the Liberal banner should be espousing values in line with their party, which does after all claim to put “values” at the heart of its philosophy. The same, of course, goes for Labor.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vital Signs: the ‘ball-tampering’ budget trick they don’t want you to know about



File 20190418 28103 iz9jvq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Just not cricket: Politicians make promises but obfuscate how those promises will be paid for.
Shutterstock

Richard Holden, UNSW

The first week of the federal election campaign has been dominated by heated disputes about the numbers behind both government and opposition policies.

Both sides are under pressure. Notably, the cost of Labor’s 45% emissions-reduction target has been rightly questioned.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s answer to reporters that “our 45% reduction, including international offsets, has the same economic impact as the Liberals’ 26%” didn’t exactly engender confidence.

But the folly of Labor’s environmental plans is another tale for another column.

Our focus here is on how the Coalition is going to cut personal income tax by A$158 billion and balance the budget.

Wild assumptions

Earlier this week the Grattan Institute pointed out the Coalition’s budget assumption that expenditure will fall from 24.9% of GDP in 2018-19 to 23.6% during the next decade amounts to cutting spending by more than A$40 billion a year in 2029-30.

This raised the natural question of exactly where those cuts will come from. According to the government, it’s from things such as lower welfare payments and lower interest payments on government debt.




Read more:
Your income tax questions answered in three easy charts: Labor and Coalition proposals side by side


The Grattan Institute’s Danielle Wood described these assumptions as “heroic”. Yup.

Now, you might wonder why the Coalition’s plan to cut personal income tax doesn’t fully kick in until 2025. Or, for that matter, why its “enterprise tax plan” on corporate tax is scheduled to be phased in over a decade.

Playing outside the rules

The short answer is that for the four years following a budget – the so-called “forward-estimates period” – there are rules about banking spending cuts.

During those four years, cuts need to be specified, or economic parameters need to be varied. And with good reason. That way the actual assumptions the government is making, however fanciful they may be, are plain for all to see.

But beyond the four-year period no such discipline applies. This allows governments of all stripes to make very specific claims about, for example, tax cuts they plan to deliver without having to be at all specific about how they are going to pay for them.

This is all just a conjuring trick. Politicians try to get us to focus on the tangible, specific thing we want – tax cuts, more money for hospital or schools, free cancer treatment – while obfuscating how they are going to pay for it.

It’s dirty pool. It’s not cricket. It’s the kind of thing a mob accountant does. Pick your favourite metaphor.

Bipartisan failure

Of course, treasurer Josh Frydenberg and finance minister Mathias Cormann didn’t invent this unscrupulous practice. Wayne Swan and Penny Wong, as treasurer and finance minister respectively, were guilty of these kind of shenanigans too.

The specifics of the current round can’t even be debated properly, because ten-year “guesses” don’t lay out specific assumptions that can be checked for internal consistency and plausibility.

Sadly, it seems futile to hope for cultural change among politicians and a shift to integrity.

To some extent, we need to be the change we want.

The fact both sides of politics so brazenly play us for suckers is as much our fault as it is theirs. If politicians thought there were real consequences at the ballot box for this sort of behaviour, they would think twice.

But there aren’t. When both sides are guilty it’s understandable that voters become so cynical that they just factor it in and look to other issues.

If more voters were willing to make “cooking the books” a decisive issue, that might change.

Need for incentives

Politicians respond to incentives. My favourite illustration of that is how United Nations officials used to be exempt from parking tickets in New York City. As economists Ray Fisman and Ted Miguel showed, when norms alone governed behaviour, officials from corrupt countries basically parked wherever they wanted. Once city authorities got the ability to confiscate diplomatic licence plates of violators, things improved radically.

So as long as the mainstream media refuses to issue our politicians with the moral equivalent of parking tickets for cooking the books of public debate, politicians are going to keep doing it.

Now, many commentators do exactly that – and some of them are brilliant and fearless. But other folks, on the right and on the left, seem to have the attitude that both sides play fast and loose with the facts so it’s fine for them to call out whichever side they personally like the least.

Actually, scratch “seem to have the attitude”. They’ll tell you that to your face.

When Australian cricket captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner got caught in a ball-tampering racket, there were consequences.

When our elected representative do something similar, but with our nation’s finances –with consequences for growth, employment, welfare benefits, retirement incomes, and climate change – they get a pass.

That’s got to stop; and we’ve all got our part to play.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Business-as-usual record on transport leaves next government plenty of room to improve


Marion Terrill, Grattan Institute

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Election season means transport season: just as the recent New South Wales and Victorian elections gave us massive new transport promises, so too is the federal government relying on the enduring popularity of new roads and rail. But look beyond the rhetoric and the past three years have been largely business as usual. That leaves plenty of room for the next government, of whatever colour, to take a fresh look at how transport promises are made – and plenty of room to improve.

Last week’s federal budget committed to transport expenditure of A$7.4 billion in 2019-20, and A$33 billion over the four-year forward estimates period.




Read more:
Budget transport spending is about par for the course, but the pattern is unusual


The government claims it’s spending a record A$100 billion over a decade. Yet the opposition claims: “Across the four years of this budget, Commonwealth investment in infrastructure actually falls, from A$8 billion to A$4.5 billion.” And Infrastructure Partnerships Australia says recent budgets are down on the long-term average by about A$11 billion over the forward estimates.

How much is the government actually spending?

With such polarised views, who are we to believe?

In reality, the expenditure for 2019-20 is absolutely normal. At 0.37% of GDP, it’s close to the midpoint of spending on transport under treasurers Scott Morrison, Joe Hockey and Wayne Swan. In each of the past ten budgets, annual transport spending in the year following the budget has been 0.26-0.53% of GDP.

What is different is the extent of promises that lie beyond the forward estimates period. The move to a ten-year pipeline of promises might be fine in theory, but an interested elector can rely only on what’s in the budget papers. And from that they would conclude there’s nothing unusual to see here.




Read more:
$500m for station car parks? Other transport solutions could do much more for the money


A new enthusiasm for equity investments

All these figures concern grants to state governments, which are responsible for transport networks. But, in addition to these grants, the federal government has developed an enthusiasm for funding projects “off-budget”. In the past two years, the Commonwealth made equity investments of A$9.3 billion in Inland Rail and A$5.3 billion in Western Sydney Airport.

The Charter of Budget Honesty states that an investment can be treated as an off-budget equity injection only if the government has a “reasonable expectation” of recovering the investment. In other words, the entity must be expected to make a positive return over time.

But this gives governments a lot of latitude. A positive rate of return is not the same as a commercial one. And there seems little likelihood of commercial returns in either case.

For Inland Rail, it’s no secret that the Australian Rail Track Corporation will never be asked to repay the A$9.3 billion, even when project revenues start to flow in 2025. Let’s hope the finance minister is right to insist there’s no prospect the project will need even more taxpayer support, despite the risks identified in the budget papers themselves and by the Commonwealth Auditor-General. With no expectation of repayment, there is no practical difference between this “equity investment” and a grant.

For Western Sydney Airport, the government decided to build the airport itself after Sydney Airport Corporation declined its right to build it. The airport operator said the offer as it stood was “deeply uneconomic”. It cited operational, traffic, financial and political risks.

So it’s hard to share the confidence of the then treasurer (and now prime minister), Scott Morrison, when he said the new airport will “generate an income stream that’s going to pay for itself”.

In both cases, if a future government ends up writing down the fair value of these assets, this will appear on the balance sheet as a change to “other economic flows”. It won’t be separately identified. Nor will the write-down show up in the underlying cash balance figure that the media spotlight highlights on budget night.

The unavoidable conclusion is that pushing transport spending off-budget seriously diminishes not only the discipline that comes from competing for funds through the budget process, but also transparency in how public money is being spent.




Read more:
A closer look at business cases raises questions about ‘priority’ national infrastructure projects


A foray into road pricing is stillborn

In November 2016 the government took an unusually bold step: it committed to holding an inquiry into road-user charging. The then minister for urban infrastructure, Paul Fletcher, was in good company. His commitment to commission a review led by an eminent Australian was in response to a 2016 recommendation from Infrastructure Australia, which invoked a similar recommendation in the 2015 Harper Review of competition policy, which in turn referred to a 2014 Productivity Commission recommendation. And the backdrop to all these reports was a recommendation of the 2010 Henry Tax Review.

But time passed and no eminent person was appointed. More time passed, ministers moved portfolio, and no eminent person was appointed. Finally, in October 2018, current minister Michael McCormack declined to commit to the inquiry.

An inquiry is no more than an inquiry, but a non-inquiry is a commitment to the status quo. Roads funding and roads investment are serious topics, and many commentators have argued that they are the laggards of regulatory reform.

A change to how road use is funded could significantly alter which roads are funded, what maintenance is done, and how networks are managed. It appears to have been all too much for this government. This task awaits a future government.




Read more:
Delay in changing direction on how we tax drivers will cost us all


The alternative government’s most important promises aren’t the sexy ones about electric vehicles. They are Labor’s promises that Infrastructure Australia should assess projects before the decision to invest, and to release assessed business cases. These promises may sound worthy and a little dull, but in reality they are big and welcome commitments.

Less obvious is how to square them with federal Labor’s promise to advance high-speed rail, or the promise to work with the Victorian premier “to deliver the visionary Melbourne Suburban Rail Loop”. Both of these are massively expensive projects with nothing approaching an assessed and publicly available business case.

It would be a significant improvement if whichever party wins government next month were to commit to, and follow through on, careful assessment of transport gaps and problems, consideration of the various feasible solutions, and rigorous evaluation of the preferred approach. And it’s not enough just to do this; it should be done in public.

Let’s hope.




Read more:
Missing evidence base for big calls on infrastructure costs us all


The Conversation


Marion Terrill, Transport and Cities Program Director, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Labor’s Newspoll lead falls to 51-49 on dubious assumptions as Palmer and Coalition do a deal



File 20190429 194633 1mrxn05.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Three weeks before the election, the UAP has been included in the party readout for the first time.
AAP/Glenn Hunt

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With 19 days to go until election day, this week’s Newspoll, conducted April 26-28 from a sample of 2,140, gave Labor just a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (down one), 37% Labor (down two), 9% Greens (steady), 5% for Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) and 4% One Nation (steady).

Three weeks before the election, the UAP has been included in the party readout for the first time. Prior to this change, the tables show that the UAP had 2% support in the post-budget Newspoll and 3% last fortnight – they were previously published as Others. According to pollster David Briggs (paywalled), both UAP and One Nation preferences are assumed to flow at 60% to the Coalition.

Given results at the WA and Queensland 2017 elections and at the Longman 2018 federal byelection, where One Nation preferences flowed at over 60% to the Coalition, this assumption is justified for One Nation, and was the standard assumption from early 2018.

However, the UAP has no electoral record. At the 2013 election that Palmer contested under the Palmer United Party, PUP preferences split 53.7-46.3 to the Coalition. At that election, PUP recommended preferences to the Coalition in all House seats, the same situation as now, and the Labor government was on the nose.

45% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (steady) and 46% were dissatisfied (up two), for a net approval of -1. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up two points to -12, his best net approval since May 2016. Morrison led Shorten by 45-37 as better PM (46-35 last fortnight).

Morrison was trusted to keep campaign promises over Shorten by 41-38. In some evidence for UAP preferences splitting to the Coalition, UAP voters favoured Morrison on this question by 53-13, though this is from a subsample of about 100 UAP voters.

The change in party readout and the preference assumptions for UAP explain the narrowing in this poll from 52-48 to 51-49. But there has been a clear overall narrowing trend this year from the last three Newspolls of 2018, which were all 55-45 to Labor. Morrison’s relatively good ratings and greater distance from the events of last August are assisting the Coalition.

The Poll Bludger’s BludgerTrack currently has Labor winning 87 of the 151 seats on a 52.4-47.6 two party vote. The Coalition’s primary vote in Newspoll is 4% down from 2016, but preference changes since 2016 could assist the Coalition, and that is reflected in Newspoll. However, Ipsos polls have shown no difference between last election and respondent allocated preferences since Morrison became PM.




Read more:
Post-budget poll wrap: Coalition gets a bounce in Newspoll, but not in Ipsos or Essential


In economic news, the ABS reported on April 24 that there was zero inflation in the March quarter. While this was bad for the overall economy, it is good for consumers worried about the cost of living. Lower oil prices in late 2018 meant petrol prices fell in January, but have since increased.

YouGov Galaxy poll: 52-48 to Labor

A YouGov Galaxy poll for the Sunday News Ltd tabloids, conducted April 23-25 from a sample of 1,012, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since late March. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (up two), 37% Labor (steady), 9% Greens (down one), 4% One Nation (down four), 4% UAP (steady) and 9% for all Others (up three). YouGov Galaxy also conducts Newspoll.

Voters were asked if they were impressed or unimpressed with the campaign performances of six party leaders, and all performed poorly. Morrison was the best with a 54-38 unimpressed score, Shorten had a 60-31 rating, Nationals leader Michael McCormack a 38-8 rating, Greens leader Richard Di Natale had a 44-13 unimpressed score, Pauline Hanson a 67-20 rating and Clive Palmer a horrible 69-17 unimpressed rating.

The many don’t knows for Di Natale and McCormack reflect that most people don’t know very much about them. While ratings for Morrison and Shorten would be based to some extent on their campaign performance, those for Hanson and Palmer are much more likely based on voters’ opinions of them before the campaign.

Palmer’s preference deal with the Coalition

Under a preference deal between Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) and the Coalition, Palmer would direct preferences to the Coalition in House seats in return for Coalition preferences in the Senate. It is important to note that voters make the choices in both houses now, and can ignore preference recommendations.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: All is forgiven in the Liberal embrace of Palmer


In 2013, Palmer recommended preferences to the Coalition in all seats, and they flowed to the Coalition by a 53.7-46.3 margin; his party won 5.5% of the national vote in the House. While this split was not more pro-Coalition, analyst Peter Brent suggests that Palmer voters were more inclined to preference Labor, and the preference recommendations had some impact.

If the UAP won 4% of the national vote and their preference recommendations convinced 10% of their voters who would otherwise preference Labor to preference the Coalition, the Coalition’s national two party vote would by 0.4% higher than otherwise.

However, this analysis ignores the risk of doing a deal with someone as disliked by the general public as Palmer. In a January Herbert seat Newspoll, 65% had a negative view of Palmer, and just 24% a positive view.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Coalition gains in first Newspoll of 2019, but big swings to Labor in Victorian seats; NSW is tied


So while a preference deal with Palmer could earn the Coalition some more preferences, it could also damage their overall primary vote, hurting them more than helping. Labor will attack Palmer over the sacked Queensland Nickel workers, and that could impact the Coalition’s support among people with a lower level of educational attainment.

Does early voting make a difference to the results?

Pre-poll voting booths for the election are open from today. Under Australia’s compulsory voting, people are required to vote, and those who vote early are unlikely to have voted differently if they voted on election day unless there was a dramatic late-campaign development. So there is likely to be little overall impact of early voting on the results. In voluntary voting systems like the US, early voting gives people who need to work on election day a greater opportunity to vote.




Read more:
Three weeks of early voting has a significant effect on democracy. Here’s why


If one party was trending up in the polls as election day approached, early voters will decide their vote earlier, and so the trend will also be reflected in early votes.

While early voting overall has little impact, the types of people who vote early can differ markedly from the election day vote. Big pre-poll booths will not report until very late on election night, and the results could change significantly depending on those booths – as happened in the October Wentworth byelection.




Read more:
Wentworth byelection called too early for Phelps as Liberals recover in late counting


The Conversation


Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s childcare plan: parents, children, and educators stand to benefit, but questions remain


File 20190428 194616 rzox.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Hundreds of thousands of Australians parents would be in work if childcare was more affordable.
from shutterstock.com

Jen Jackson, Victoria University

Labor’s proposed A$4 billion reform to the childcare subsidy on Sunday confirms that early childhood is a key policy issue this election. This is on top of Labor’s previous announcement of 15 hours of funded preschool for every Australian three-year-old.

The latest announcement will no doubt be welcomed by families balancing the costs of childcare against the benefits of participation in paid work. In 2015, the Productivity Commission estimated around 165,000 Australian parents would like to work more, but were prevented due to poor accessibility or affordability of suitable childcare.




Read more:
Shorten promises $4 billion for child care, benefitting 887,000 families


Under Labor’s proposal, families on incomes up to A$174,000 with children under five would be better off on average by A$26 a week, or A$1,200 a year per child. Most families earning up to A$69,000 would get their childcare free. Currently, they receive a subsidy of 85%. Labor’s proposal would save them up to A$2,100 annually per child.

The current subsidy gradually tapers down as earnings increase. The lowest subsidy available is 20% for the highest-earning families, before it cuts out at A$351,258.
Families on incomes above A$174,000, under Labor’s plan, would continue to receive the same level of support as under current arrangements.

The current subsidy was introduced as part of the Coalition’s major childcare reforms (worth A$3.5 billion) in 2018, which included a means-tested subsidy and removal of annual caps. The reforms benefitted an estimated one million lower-income families – but also left around 280,000 families worse off, including families with neither parent in work.

ANU modelling had predicted that while the reforms would benefit low-income families, the activity test would mean families not working or studying would be at risk of missing out.




Read more:
Childcare funding changes leave disadvantaged children with fewer hours of early education


This is where early childhood policy gets complicated. Policies can be motivated by different goals. The Coalition reforms were aimed at encouraging parental workforce participation. Labor’s proposal for the childcare subsidy seem similarly motivated.

But parents are not the only beneficiaries of childcare subsidies. Quality childcare also benefits children’s learning. Many childcare programs for four-year- olds (and increasingly, three-year-olds), incorporate preschool. For children of all ages, Australian childcare providers must provide a play-based learning program, guided by the national framework.

That’s why childcare and preschool services are all known as early childhood education and care: whenever children are being cared for, they are also learning. Even a nappy change offers opportunities to support children’s learning, as skilled educators use playful, caring interactions to help young children develop skills like communication, trust and well-being.

Educators can also help families recognise these opportunities, so learning continues at home. Children in low-income households often have fewer opportunities to learn, due to factors such as stress and limited resources for investment.

By supporting access to quality early childhood services, governments can help families learn everyday ways to enhance their children’s learning.




Read more:
Both major parties are finally talking about the importance of preschool – here’s why it matters


To maximise benefits for children, all early childhood services need skilled, professional staff. Labor’s promised wage increase of 20% over eight years for early childhood educators addresses an issue that has been in the too-hard basket for too long.

Research has shown many Australian early childhood educators are paid so little they are financially dependent on others in their households — ironically while enabling financial independence for other working women.

Low wages place downward pressure on the quality of early childhood programs. Educators’ qualifications are lowest in low-income communities, where families cannot afford to meet the costs of higher wages. Government subsidies can help to break the link between educators’ wages and families’ ability to pay fees, so the best educators can reach the children who most need them.

Of course, the devil is in the detail when it comes to policy implementation. Labor has not specified how the wage increases will be delivered, instead committing to further consultation with the sector. Big questions remain about how government subsidies – to parents or educators – will be absorbed into a sector with for-profit and not-for-profit providers.

Close monitoring of the impact on childcare costs will be essential. Labor’s plan includes asking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate “excessive” childcare fees. But can support for families be increased without stimulating an increase in fees? Can educators be supported to earn a fair wage, while keeping prices fair for families?

There is much to be gained by engaging with these questions. When parents are working, the economy benefits. When children are learning, everyone benefits, as the impact of early learning lasts throughout school and beyond. Countries like Sweden and Finland show what may be possible when parents’ and children’s needs are prioritised equally.

We owe it to Australia’s children to keep these issues on the election agenda.The Conversation

Jen Jackson, Education Policy Lead, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Election tightens in Newspoll – Labor lead narrows to 51-49%


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Coalition has made up ground in Newspoll, now trailing Labor by just 49-51%, compared with 48-52% a fortnight ago.

The tightening of the May 18 race, coming after Scott Morrison was seen to out-campaign Bill Shorten early on, will boost Coalition morale as pre-polling begins on Monday.

But both sides have lost support on their primary votes in the Newspoll, published in the Australian, while Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party is polling 5%, becoming the leading minor party behind the Greens.

Labor is down 2 points to 37%; the Coalition has fallen a point to 38%. The Greens remain on 9% and One Nation is static on 4%.

Shorten’s personal ratings are encouraging for him – he has had a 2 point rise to 39% in his satisfaction rating and reduced the gap on the better prime minister measure.

While Morrison still has a substantial lead as better PM, Shorten has increased his rating by 2 points to 37% and Morrison has fallen a point to 45%.

Morrison’s approval stayed on 45% while his disapproval was 46%, up 2 points, in the poll of 2136 voters taken Friday to Sunday.

Morrison and Shorten have arrived in Perth for Monday evening’s debate, their first face-to-face encounter of the campaign, which has under three weeks to run.

In a day of mega spending, Shorten on Sunday promised A$4 billion over three years to provide 887,000 families with relief on their child care costs; $2.4 billion over the forward estimates for a pensioner and seniors dental plan, and $537 million over the forward estimates to lift the pay of child care workers.




Read more:
Shorten promises $4 billion for child care, benefitting 887,000 families


Under Labor’s dental plan, age pensioners and those holding a Commonwealth seniors’ health card would be entitled to up to $1000 worth of free essential dental care every two years. Some three million people would be eligible under the plan, which would expand Medicare.

Shorten told a rally of volunteers in Melbourne: “Under a Labor government, after May 18 if you’re a pensioner or a seniors health care card holder your dental work will be backed by Medicare for the rest of your life. This is the fair go in action”.

Shorten said an ALP government over the next eight years would boost the average wage of child care workers by about $11,300. This would be on top of any rise in the award rate.

It would be “a 20% pay rise for the early educators because we value early education,” he said.

“This is an investment in quality early education, for good jobs and a strong economy of the future.

“And this is an investment in pay equity for a female-dominated industry. A fair reward for a workforce that has about 96% women, has been undervalued and underpaid for too long.”

Labor says the pay rise would not increase child care fees because the government would fully fund it.

In an initiative on cyber security the government is announcing it would to invest $156 million “to protect older Australians, small businesses and national security assets from the risk of cyber-attacks”.

A range of measures to combat cyber crime would include developing “a comprehensive online cyber security training program providing practical cyber advice for small businesses, older Australians and Australian families”.

The government says cybercrime costs the economy more than $1 billion a year.

In the vulnerable state of Victoria, the government is sandbagging the Liberal heartland seats of Higgins and Kooyong with a promise of $260 million to eliminate a level crossing on busy Glenferrie road in the suburb of Kooyong.

The project would take the train line under the road. The crossing is technically in Higgins but right on the border of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s seat of Kooyong. Frydenberg is being targeted by GetUp and various candidates especially on climate change.

In another Victorian seat, Flinders, Health Minister Greg Hunt has been dealt a blow by the decision of Liberal defector Julia Banks to preference Labor ahead of him.

Coalition campaign spokesman Simon Birmingham on Sunday accused her of walking away from her principles. “You’ve really got to wonder about the various positions of Julia Banks, who was until not that long ago urging people to vote Liberal and now is suggesting she will preference Labor. […] I think it shows gross inconsistency on her part”.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Palmer flypaper sticky for both sides


Clive Palmer on Monday is due to formally announce his preference deal with the Liberal party.

The debate about the debates has continued with Morrison wanting the third debate to be hosted by the ABC next week, on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday nights.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shorten promises $4 billion for child care, benefitting 887,000 families


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In a big hit announcement before the start of pre-polling, Bill Shorten on Sunday will pledge a A$4 billion boost for child care, making it cheaper for every family earning up to $174,000.

From July 2020, 887,000 families would benefit from the ALP plan, with some being up to $2,100 better off.

Under the initiative:

  • families with children under five on incomes up to $174,000 would be better off on average by $26 a week – $1,200 a year – per child

  • the majority of families earning up to $69,000 would get their child care free. This would save them up to $2,100 annually per child.

Families on incomes above $174,000 would continue to receive the same level of support as under current arrangements.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Palmer flypaper sticky for both sides


The plan is central to Labor’s campaign on cost of living, with Shorten describing it as “massive cost of living relief for nearly one million families struggling with the costs of child care”.

“Under the Liberals, the costs of child care has gone up 28%, costing families using long day care $3,000 more a year.

“Labor will increase the subsidy families receive, we will kick start the process to limit out-of-control child care price increases, and we will review the impact of the system on vulnerable and very low-income families,” Shorten says.

“This is a $4 billion investment in early education, in working parents and in helping families with the rising cost of living. Labor can pay for cheaper child care for working families because unlike Scott Morrison and the Liberals, we aren’t giving bigger handouts to the top end of town,” Shorten says. The $4 billion cost is over three years.


Source: ALP

The main elements of Labor’s plan include:

More child care fee support

The subsidy rate would be increased from 85% to 100% up to the hourly fee cap (currently $11.77 per hour for long day care) for families earning up to $69,000 who meet the activity test. This would make child care free, or almost free, for up to 372,000 families.

The present tapered reduction would be updated to reflect the higher subsidy rate.

Families earning between $69,000 and $100,000 would receive a subsidy rate between 100% and 85%, up to the hourly fee cap.

Families earning between $100,000 and $174,000 would receive a subsidy rate between 85% and 60% up to the cap – an effective increase of 10%.

Families accessing approved Centre Based Child Care, Family Day Care and Outside School Hours Care, including holiday care, would all benefit from the higher subsidy.




Read more:
Lies, obfuscation and fake news make for a dispiriting – and dangerous – election campaign


Cracking down on excessive fee increases

Labor would give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a new role of investigating excessive fee increases and unscrupulous child care providers. Findings would be made public through mychildcarefinder.

The ACCC would also look at mechanisms to ensure greater controls on child care fee increases to keep child care affordable.

Reviewing the system for vulnerable children

Labor says that in the nine months of the current subsidy system, the number of vulnerable and very low-income families using it has fallen.

“Reports suggest the numbers accessing the Childcare Safety Net have fallen by almost half, from 35,000 to 21,000.

“Labor will urgently review the new system to make sure that vulnerable and low-income families and children aren’t falling through the cracks,” Shorten says.

Labor has already committed to every three-year-old child being able to receive 15 hours of subsidised preschool. It has also said it would extend the current arrangement for four-year olds.

Shorten says this would create “a two-year program to support the most important years of a child’s development and ensuring our kids don’t fall behind the rest of the world”. For many children this would be free or nearly free.




Read more:
Labor’s crackdown on temporary visa requirements won’t much help Australian workers


Labor is also set to make an announcement on boosting the wages of child care workers, who are among the low paid.

The first votes will be cast at pre-polling stations on Monday, as the campaign ramps up in its final three weeks. Scott Morrison and Shorten will meet in Perth late Monday for their first face-to-face debate.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison brings immigration centre stage with freeze on refugee intake


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will seek to bring the debate over immigration and refugees to the centre of the election campaign, with an announcement that a Coalition government would freeze the humanitarian intake.

He will contrast this with Labor plans for an increase in the humanitarian component, claiming this would cost many billions of dollars and challenging Bill Shorten to produce more detail about the consequences.

So far immigration has not had a prominent place in the campaign. The border security issue went quiet when the expected large number of applications for transfer from Nauru and Manus after the medevac legislation failed to materialise.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Palmer flypaper sticky for both sides


Morrison on Sunday will announce that the number of migrants coming to Australia as refugees will be frozen at 18,750.

He will appear at a rally with John Howard, who as prime minister was strongly associated with a tough border policy.

The government has already announced a cap on the migration program of 160,000. The previous cap was 190,000, although the actual intake had fallen to about 160,000.

It will contrast its freeze on the humanitarian intake with Labor’s plan to increase it to 32,000 by 2025-26.

Morrison will also outline the proposed makeup of the humanitarian program for the first time. This will include an overall target of 60% of the offshore component allocated to women. Women made up 50.8% in 2017-18.

The Coalition’s Women at Risk program, as a proportion of the offshore component, would be increased from 14% in 2017-18 to 20% (3,500) in 2019-20.




Read more:
Labor’s crackdown on temporary visa requirements won’t much help Australian workers


The government also plans to try to boost the number of refugees and humanitarian entrants settled in regional areas from a target of 30% to 40% in 2019-20. But it stresses that people would not be forced to areas that did not want them.

Some 27% of the humanitarian program will be reserved for Women at Risk and the Community Support Program, which is private sponsorship from church and community groups.

In comments ahead of the Sunday announcement, Morrision said: “We’ve got our borders and the budget under control. We make decisions about who comes here based on what’s in Australia’s interests.

“Australia isn’t just about growing our population – it’s about quality of life. We’re capping and freezing our immigration growth so our government’s record A$100 billion congestion busting program for roads and rail can catch up and take the pressure off our cities.”




Read more:
State of the states: Palmer’s preference deal and watergate woes


Morrison said the government had been upfront that it was reducing the migration intake cap and capping the number Australia let in under its humanitarian program – that was one of the most generous in the world.

“We are telling where we’ll be taking migrants from, who they will be, the skills we want them to have, and working with regions to settle people in towns that want and need more workers, skills and students.

“It’s time for Bill Shorten and Labor to front up and tell Australians about their $6 billion plan to massively increase immigration and where they’re going to house thousands of extra people.

“Labor’s immigration bill is going to go through the roof and the only way they can pay for it is taking $387 billion in higher taxes from Australians.”

The government some time ago put a costing of $6 billion over the medium term on increasing the government-funded humanitarian intake from 17,750 to 27,000 by 2025-26.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.