A Brief Guide to the 2016 Australian Election

Tomorrow, as Australia heads to the polls, the federal election will take place, against the backdrop of much larger distractions elsewhere.

In all honesty, the commotion playing out across global markets may come as a boon to both the ALP and Labor. If you ask us, distracted minds are ideal for uninformed voting.

What about the Greens, we hear you ask?

Well, what about them? While doing their level best to become an influential voice in the political landscape, the Greens will remain the third wheel for a while yet. Even if, as we’ll see, their policies give the Big Two a run for their money.

But, dear reader, we’d be lying if we said we knew what we were voting for — or why our vote even matters. Past experiences with false dawns and broken promises have made us slightly jaded.

Yet, like all good law abiding citizens, we’ll do it anyway. Because, when we stand in that line outside our local kindergarten, scoffing at the foot soldiers waving their pamphlets at us, we feel a sense of pride. A surge of self-importance, which invariably drains the moment we cast our ballot.

But with one sleep to go until Election Day, we’ve scrambled for any cheat sheet we can find to help guide our way. It’s either that, or we ignore it altogether and risk a $200 fine. In an age of fiscal austerity, market tumult, and low wage growth, we’d prefer to hang on to our ‘hard-earned’, thank you very much.

So, with policymaking from both the left and right continuing to converge into a singularity, what can you make of tomorrow’s election? Don’t despair, we’re here to help. We’ve combed through a selection of the biggest selling points, to see what, if any, sensible (don’t laugh) reforms the contesting parties are promising this time around.

And, to make things more interesting, we’ve decided to rank them by category, tallying up points to pick an eventual ‘winner’. Keep in mind that the opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not represent views held by Port Phillip Publishing.

So, with that, let’s begin.

Same-sex Marriage Policy

On the issue of same-sex marriage, there is scant difference in policies across the three parties.

The Greens are in favour of legalising same-sex marriage. They want it to go to a parliamentary vote. Labor too would hold a parliamentary vote within three months, if elected. Meanwhile, the Coalition would hold a plebiscite, letting the public at large decide.

The issue of same-sex marriage doesn’t affect the majority of Australians in the way that tax reforms might, for instance. Some may argue that in itself precludes the majority from having a say on it. We’d argue that’s exactly the reason why they should have a say.

By no means are we against same-sex marriage. We’re for choice. But we’re also for letting the entire electorate decide on decisions of national importance.

The winner: The Coalition.

Climate Change Policy

Next up is climate change.

By 2030, the Coalition has vowed to cut emissions by 28%. Labor wants to cut emissions by 45% in the same timeframe. The Greens, not surprisingly, want renewables to account for 90% of Australia’s energy production. They’d also increase clean energy funding to $30 billion over 10 years.

Gee-whiz, it’s a toss-up, isn’t it?

We’re thinking of forming a party too. We haven’t thought of a name yet. But we’d pledge to cut emissions by 99% — nay, 100% — by 2030. Because, after all, why not? Any party that sets 14-year timeframes for three-year terms deserves to be taken seriously, doesn’t it?

The winner: No one.

Refugee Policy

Next up is the issue of what to do with refugees.

Coalition and Labor policies are both in favour of maintaining the status quo. The Greens, meanwhile, want to increase refugee intake by 50,000 annually. They also want to shut down the concentr…ahem, detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island.

The way we see it, Australia is built on immigration. It owes much of what it has achieved to the hard working people who have settled here from abroad. But we’re not naïve enough to think that the public will happily accept 50,000 new refugees (different to migrants, remember) every year. For that reason, we’re taking the politically incorrect option on this one.

The winner: Anyone but the Greens.

Australia’s Housing Market

Next up is something many of our readers take an inordinate amount of interest in — the housing market.

Specifically, the issue of housing affordability continues to split the electorate.

The Coalition has vowed to keep negative gearing and the capital gains tax (CGT) discount in place. Labor will aim to limit negative gearing to new housing from 1 July 2017. And it wants to cut the CGT discount from 50% to 25% after 1 July 2017. The Greens, meanwhile, want to abolish negative gearing and the CGT discount.

Labor’s plan would save $32 billion over 10 years. The Greens plan would improve the budget to the tune of $119 billion over 10 years.

Looks like a home run for the Greens, right? Well, not quite. In a nation as obsessed with property as Australia — one that has a vast amount of wealth tied up in real estate — there is only one obvious winner here. Drum roll…

The winner: The Coalition.

Health Policy

Health is up next.

The Coalition has promised to restore $2.9 billion in health funding by 2019. But this comes in the wake of the Abbott government’s decisions to cut $57 billion in hospital funding.

Labor, meanwhile, is merely paying lip service to healthcare. It has promised that it would do more than the Coalition to fund hospitals, but it has no plans to reverse the $57 billion cuts. In other words, Labor is sitting on the fence on this one.

In contrast to Labor, the Greens would overturn the $57 billion funding cut if elected.

The winner: On this one, we’re giving it to the Greens, however fiscally irresponsible that may be.

Retirement and Superannuation

Superannuation is next.

If elected, the Greens aim to reform super taxation to benefit low income earners. Their idea involves scrapping the flat 15% super tax rate, opting for a system based on the marginal tax rate instead. It is estimated this measure would generate some $10 billion in revenues.

Labor, on the other hand, would push for a system in which future earnings on asset supporting income streams would be tax-free up to $75,000 a year for individuals from 1 July 2017. Its reforms would hit 60,000 Aussies with super balances larger than $1.5 million. Those earning above $75,000 a year would be taxed at 15%, as is the case in the accumulation phase now.

Meanwhile, the Coalition is targeting support from both extremities of the superannuation scale. There would be a tax offset for people earning less than $37,000. At the other end, they’re proposing a $500,000 lifetime limit on post-tax contributions to replace the current limit of $180,000.

The winner: Hard to say. The losers: Potentially all of us

Tax Policy

And, finally, we come to the minefield of taxation.

This might be the most contentious issue at the upcoming election. Or it might not be. We don’t know. Your guess is as good as ours.

The Coalition has a number of reforms up its sleeve, including:

  • Cutting the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25% by 2026–27;
  • Cutting tax rate for small businesses from 28.5% to 25% by 2026–27; and
  • Raising 37% tax rate threshold up to $87,000, which would mean that those earnings above $80,000 would receive a tax cut.

Labor’s strategy, meanwhile, largely takes aim at the existing Coalition policy. It supports tax cuts for small — but not big — businesses. And it won’t support any Coalition plan to define small businesses as those with turnover of up to $1 billion a year.

The Greens, meanwhile, would target those earnings above $300,000 a year. They’d seek to limit deductions high income earners receive.

The winner: The Greens. The Big Two plan to either put off major reforms until well beyond the next three-year term, or they do little to change the status quo.

Who to Vote For?

So, that’s our lot.

If we tally up the results from our brief and, admittedly, half-baked election overview, we get the following: Coalition on three points. The Greens on two points. And Labor in third place, with just one point.

Does that mean you should vote for Turnbull’s cohorts tomorrow? Not in the slightest. We’re not endorsing any party. What we do know, however, and with a good degree of certainty, is that we’ll get much the same regardless of who’s in power. The lines between left and right wings continue to blur; as such, you’re best off finding one or two issues that make a difference to your life, and then voting for the party that does as little as possible to annoy you on those matters.

Happy voting…

Mat Spasic,

Contributor, Markets and Money

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not reflect those of Port Phillip Publishing.

Markets and Money offers an independent and critical perspective on the Australian and global investment markets. Slightly offbeat and far from institutional, Markets and Money delivers you straight-forward, humorous, and useful investment insights from a world wide network of analysts, contrarians, and successful investors.

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