The major parties are often dismissed as being too similar, but if you’re wondering how to decide who to vote for in the 2022 Australian election, here are seven key issues where there are real policy differences between the two major political parties in Australia.
Labor has promised registered nurses will be on site 24/7 in every residential aged care facility in the country. It will also mandate that every resident receives an average of 215 minutes of care per day, as recommended by the damning aged care royal commission.
Labor has also pledged to back aged care workers’ case for a 25% pay rise in the Fair Work Commission and has promised to fund the outcome of the case.
It has promised to improve the food delivered to residents of aged care facilities by developing and implementing mandatory nutrition standards, and will push for greater transparency and accountability in the sector by making providers report publicly what they are spending government money on.
Since the royal commission, the Coalition has announced a five-year $19.1bn aged care plan, which includes a major boost to home care of 40,000 new home care packages. The package also includes a boost to respite services, 7,000 new personal care workers, and 48,000 new training places.
Like Labor, it has pledged to support aged care workers in their bid for higher pay, but has stopped short of committing to fund the pay rise.
The Coalition is also delivering bonuses of up to $800 for aged care staff and is spending $345m to embed pharmacy services in aged care facilities.
Federal integrity commission
The Coalition has already broken a 2019 promise to establish a federal anti-corruption commission.
The model it proposed was widely condemned as weak, toothless and an effective shield for politicians. It allows no public hearings for government corruption, cannot take public tip-offs, has a widely criticised definition of corruption, is not retrospective, and cannot make findings of corruption. It requires suspicion that a criminal offence has occurred before commencing an investigation, a threshold which critics say is hugely prohibitive.
The Coalition released an exposure draft but never tabled its legislation in parliament, blaming a lack of support from Labor.
Labor, meanwhile, has promised to establish an integrity commission by the end of the year. It has not released a detailed blueprint of how its model would work, but its two-page statement of principles indicates it would have the “independence, resources and powers of a standing royal commission”. Labor’s model would be able to hold public hearings, take public tip-offs, investigate MPs and ministers with broad discretion, act retrospectively, and make findings of corruption.
The Coalition’s childcare policy leans primarily on past action. In the 2021 budget, the government increased the subsidy for the second and subsequent children in care, and removed the annual cap that limited the subsidy a family earning over $190,000 could receive. These restrictions had acted as a disincentive for many women to return to work. The changes took effect in March this year. Analysts say the changes reduce, but don’t remove, those workforce disincentives.
Labor’s policy goes further, increasing the maximum subsidies for the first and subsequent children in care and softening the income taper so households can earn more while receiving higher subsidies. The party also pledges to get the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to work out a way to regulate childcare prices, and the Productivity Commission to review the sector “with the aim of implementing a universal 90% subsidy for all families”.
According to Grattan Institute analysis, the high cost to the commonwealth for the Labor scheme would likely be more than offset by the broadly increased workforce participation.
Despite significant pressure, the Coalition has not increased the 2030 emissions reduction target (26-28% compared with 2005 levels) it set in 2015. It opposes requiring anyone to cut emissions. Instead, it says it will spend $22bn on low-emissions technology by 2030, focusing on six priority areas.
More than half this funding just tops up the budgets of existing clean energy agencies. Budget papers suggested the annual allocation of climate spending is expected to decrease over the next four years and the $22bn includes support for gas, a fossil fuel.
The Coalition has promised to reach net zero emissions by 2050, but the plan does not explain how the goal will be reached. It assumes new technology will become commercial at some point after 2030 and be adopted.
Labor has a 2030 plan and a more ambitious emissions target for that date – a 43% cut. Scientists say it is significantly better than the Coalition, but less than what is needed.
The ALP says it would create a $20bn “rewiring the nation corporation” to accelerate the roll out of major transmission links – poles and wires, in simple terms – to connect new solar and wind farms and batteries to the grid. Its modelling suggests 82% of grid electricity would be from renewables by 2030.
It is promising to work with industry to gradually reduce its emissions using an existing Coalition policy known as the safeguard mechanism. It says it would exempt electric vehicles from some taxes, spend more on EV charging stations than the Coalition and attempt to help build global action by bidding to co-host the annual UN climate summit with Pacific countries in 2024.
Both parties would allow fossil fuel exports to continue while there is a market for Australian coal and gas.
The Coalition left it until late in the campaign to drop its main housing policy, which appears to offer one of the bigger differences with Labor.
Buyers would be able to tap their superannuation for as much as $50,000, or 40%, to assist with the purchase of a first home, provided they later repay their retirement fund. Over-55s would also be able to access a scheme now open to 65s-plus to tip as much as $600,000 into their super to encourage downsizing and add market supply.
Critics, though, note younger buyers typically have little super and extra demand would nudge prices higher. Few people had taken up the downsizing plan that’s been in place since 2018.
By contrast, Labor’s schemes are means-tested and include the “help to buy” plan that would see the government chip in as much as 40% of the price for a new home (30% for existing ones) for buyers with at least a 2% deposit.
To the extent it pushes up prices, the policy has a sting, but with the program capped at 10,000 a year (compared with about 100,000 first homers entering the market) the issue may be its limited scope.
A separate plan to create a $10bn Housing Australia Future Fund sounds grand but the 30,000 new social and affordable housing properties over five years is also modest.
Senior Coalition MPs, including the prime minister, have said they do not support the key reform proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is to enshrine a voice to parliament in the constitution. The minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, has been attempting to develop a consensus position that could be progressed toward referendum, but any deviation from enshrining a voice has been roundly criticised by those supportive of the Uluru statement. He’s also attempted to progress a version of the voice under ordinary legislation, which has also been criticised as not conforming to the central demands of the Uluru dialogues. There are some outliers within the party.
Labor has committed to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, including progressing a referendum to enshrine a voice to parliament in the constitution. It has also committed to establishing a Makarrata Commission, which it says will develop a national framework for treaty-making and support and fund local truth-telling efforts, in partnership with First Nations groups and local communities. There isn’t a lot of detail around this model but it may look to Victoria’s Yoorrook Justice Commission.
Few significant reforms to health have been announced by either of the major parties, despite rising out-of-pocket health costs and pressure on emergency services and hospitals.
Anthony Albanese has said he is prepared to sit down and work “constructively” with state premiers on the need for more hospital funding, but has ruled out making any grand funding promises before the election.
Labor will fund 50 bulk-billed urgent care clinics, but some experts say this is too few and a short-term fix to a struggling health system.
Ahead of the final week of the election campaign, Labor revealed the most significant health commitment made by either party to date; promising a $970m investment in primary health and a boost for infrastructure upgrades in GP practices.
The Coalition announced a package to boost regional, rural and remote health, since matched by the opposition. Both parties will reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment to bring down the cost of medicines.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president, Dr Karen Price, said until the opposition’s announcement, “we had not seen a commitment by either major party to meaningfully invest in general practice patient care”. But she said the Medicare rebate issue was still pressing.
The health economist Prof Stephen Duckett said the health election policies of both parties had failed to mention “the elephant in the room – the continuing Covid pandemic”, saying funding for the pandemic’s ongoing impact was lacking.