The Coalition kicked off 2016 with a strong lead over Labor, nabbing 53 per cent of the vote on a two-party preferred basis in the year’s first Newspoll. By the time the election was called in May, the Coalition’s lead had withered away, with Labor holding a one per cent advantage. Fast forward one month and the latest Newspoll results reveal the race is exactly neck and neck.
Nonetheless, Malcolm Turnbull has consistently remained voters’ clear preference for Prime Minister. Interestingly though, his lead over Bill Shorten has dropped steadily from 39 per cent in February to just 15 per cent this week.
Turnbull remains unfazed, however, reiterating on 7.30 last night that he doesn’t take any notice of opinion polls.
While plenty of pork has already been barrelled, the differences between Labor and Liberal campaign strategies are vast.
“Jobs and Growth”
The Turnbull Government has so far followed the small target route by announcing smaller grants for community organisations in marginal seats, including in the key Victorian seats of Dunkley and Corangamite.
Many promises on key agenda issues have been made, however, these have included few major funding announcements, suggesting there will plenty in reserve for the final weeks of the campaign.
Innovation, a familiar theme for the Turnbull Government, gets a boost with $15 million to support start-up companies and $4.6 million has been devoted to upskilling students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“Putting people first”
Labor made its bang as big as possible early, with big spending initiatives aimed at middle and lower class Australian families including the previously announced Better Schools proposal, a $3 billion child care support package and a pledge for cheaper prescription medicines.
Indigenous health, education and leadership will also receive a boost with a Shorten Government. So too will the struggling Great Barrier Reef. The Opposition Leader also made key infrastructure promises for Adelaide and Perth where Labor is hopeful of picking up seats.
The Herald Sun estimates the Coalition has pledged $966 million so far, with Labor promising $13 billion with 23 days to go.
At least five major party candidates have bowed out so far.
Labor candidates in Fremantle and Moore have been disendorsed after one failed to disclose criminal convictions and the other referred to immigration detention centres as “gulags”. Labor’s candidate in Gippsland has also withdrawn because she couldn’t afford to leave her day job.
On the Liberal-National side, the candidate for Fremantle’s impersonation of his former boss did him no favours, while the candidate running for the new seat of Whitlam quit after complaining she felt like a “general with no troops”.
With the official close of nominations today, we are expecting the research units in both campaign teams will be preparing dirt sheets for journalists, in order to have candidates removed from the ballot.
So far, both leaders have travelled far and wide, including to each of the states and territories. Visits to marginal seats in particular are likely to intensify as Election Day nears.
We can also expect more campaign policies, reports and plans. This week the Coalition released its mid-campaign report, while Labor’s economic plan was released yesterday. Labor campaign spokesperson Penny Wong said it took the Liberals 25 pages before their achievements were listed on a single page, while the Liberals hit back, claiming Labor’s economic plan “contains less words and more photos than Taylor Swift’s latest album”.
With three and a half weeks to go, expect a gear change as both parties begin their sprint to the finish and the public starts to tune in.