Coalition targets marginal seats with almost $3bn in election spending promises
The Coalition has made almost $3bn in spending promises across 10 marginal seats ahead of the election, including a surprising $300m to try to flip the Labor seat of McEwen in Melbourne’s outer north.
The knife-edge seats of Bass in Tasmania and Gilmore on the New South Wales south coast have attracted the most pork-barrelling commitments from the Liberal party, with more than $500m committed to projects in Bass, held by Liberal MP Bridget Archer on a 0.4% margin, and $430m in Gilmore, held by Labor on a 2.6% margin.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, returned to Bass on Thursday to make a $45m mental health funding announcement, but also to pledge $180,000 for a local lawn bowls club upgrade at Beauty Point, north of Launceston.
As part of the marginal seat campaign where hyper-local announcements are used to try to shore up support, the Coalition has promised about $300m for each of the marginal seats of Hunter and Leichhardt, $250m in Lindsay and $200m in Lingiari.
The promises range from those in the tens of thousands, such as $100,000 for a playground upgrade in Kiola in Gilmore, to those in the hundreds of millions, such as the $336m regional road package targeting marginal seats in northern Tasmania.
Labor, for its part, has pledged close to $1bn for its top ten marginals, with McEwen leading the list of commitments at $150m, as it seeks to fend off the challenge from the Liberals, followed by the Labor-held seats of Corangamite and Moreton.
The government-held seats Labor has promised the most trying to win include Herbert, Leichhardt and Flynn in Queensland, Swan in Western Australia and Braddon in Tasmania.
The commitments cover grants for local playgroups, sporting clubs and ethnic groups, along with larger infrastructure and education announcements.
The largest of the local spending pledges in these seats is $50m for a new Central Queensland University campus in Cairns and a $40m upgrade to marine infrastructure in the Torres Strait, both in the seat of Leichhardt.
Leichhardt is held by the Liberals’ Warren Entsch on a 4.2% margin and has been won by the popular local MP in eight of the past nine elections.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, returned to Queensland on Thursday to campaign in marginal government-held seats, buoyed up by polling which suggests Labor is on track for a modest majority government.
While the Coalition is understood to be holding its ground in Queensland, Morrison’s standing has collapsed in inner-city seats, fuelling concern it could lose a swathe of electorates in Sydney and Melbourne.
But McEwen, held by Labor’s Rob Mitchell on a 5.3% margin, has become an unlikely target seat for the Liberal party based on its belief that the unpopularity of the Andrews state government might help drive a swing against the Labor party that could help it snare the seat.
In a boost to its chances, the Liberals have secured preferences from the United Australia Party which is expected to poll well in the seat.
The biggest commitment in the seat is $280m by the Coalition for a freight terminal in Beveridge along with highway upgrades, which Labor has partly matched with a $150m pledge.
The Liberal candidate, Richard Welch, has also promised a range of other spending, including $8m for the Greenhill Sports Precinct, $15m in funding for the Macedon Ranges Regional Sports Precinct, $345,000 for a youth mental health project, and $895,000 for a suicide prevention program.
Mitchell has pledged $50,000 for a new school playground at Hazel Glen college, and $15,000 for the Doreen Mernda Nepalese Association’s new year’s celebrations.
Speaking in Bass on Thursday, Morrison was pressed on the government’s decision to fund an artificial turf upgrade for the bowling club.
“If you don’t understand the importance of places like this and why you need to support them then you’re not just not doing the job,” he said.