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1996 Federal Election News: Jan 27-Feb 23

This page contains a complete set of election reports I posted during the 1996 federal election campaign.

The reports tailed off in the final week of the campaign, a reflection of my work commitments at the time.

The reports were posted on the first incarnation of, a personal website with a clunky URL: This site was only decommissioned around 2010. From 1998, the site was known as All content was transferred to in 2001.

The reports were very basic. I have reproduced them unchanged. In retrospect, it is interesting that people began emailing me at the time, asking questions and offering comments.

One night, when I failed to post, an ex-pat emailed me from Sweden to say he was relying on my reports for election news. It highlighted how embryonic were Australian media websites in 1996. Perhaps I was blogging before the word was invented? Looking back, these reports were my first sustained efforts at developing this website.


Saturday 27 January, 1996

Prime Minister Keating announced that the Federal Election will be held on Saturday 2 March. This will involve the dissolution of the House of Representatives and half of the Senate. Keating said the election is about consolidating the reforms undertaken by his government. He said the Opposition has failed to remake itself since the last election and that his government has remade itself so that the average age of the ministry is still 47, as it was when the government was first elected in 1983. Asked about the television debates that are now a part of the campaign, Keating called for one-on-one debates between Kim Beazley and Tim Fischer; Ralph Willis and Peter Costello; and Gareth Evans and Alexander Downer. Conceding that some people think the government has been there too long, Keating said they do not think that it is tired. Keating said the Labor Government has remade Australia into a more outward-looking, competitive nation. He said when Howard had a turn in government he gave the nation double digit inflation and unemployment.

Responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement of the election date, Opposition leader John Howard said that the “13 long years” of the Labor government need to be brought to an end. He said he will not be making a grab bag of promises, but undertook to assist small business and to support Australian families. “I believe passionately in the unity of the Australian people,” Howard said. Regarding Keating’s idea for team debates, Howard welcomed the proposal, calling for debates involving Laurie Brereton, Robert Tickner and Carmen Lawrence. Howard said he was confident, but not smug about gaining the 7 seats he needs to form a government, acknowledging the advantages incumbency gives governments. Howard said he had a 33 day program that would take him to each state twice. Responding to Keating’s allegation that he was bereft of policies, Howard said there would an unveiling of policies over the next 33 days, some of which would be a surprise. Howard said Keating had given the nation record unemployment and foreign debt.

Australian Democrats leader, Cheryl Kernot, said there was a second poll involved, namely for the balance of power in the Senate. She said it was a choice between “Kernot or chaos”. National Party leader, Tim Fischer, said that the ALP’s time was up.

Sunday 28 January, 1996

The ALP’s television advertising campaign began today, featuring “Australians talking about leadership”. The theme of the ads is “It’s got be Keating” and “It couldn’t be Johnnie Howard”. Asked about the ads at a press conference, Prime Minister Keating said the election was about “leadership, commitment, passion and energy.” Andrew Robb, Federal Director of the Liberal Party decried the ads on Channel 7’s “Face to Face” and said the ALP was playing from the bottom of the pack.

Opposition Leader Howard announced some details of his small business policy, promising to cut paperwork by 50%, proposing the formation of a deregulatory task force that would report directly to the Prime Minister and the abolition of the unfair dismissal laws. Deputy Prime Minister, Kim Beazley, said the policy was about making it easier for business to sack workers. Howard also promised to reduce small business taxation, but Keating said this “is not policy, it’s just a technical point in the tax system.”

There will be two televised debates between Keating and Howard on February 11 and 25. Each will run for one hour. No agreement has been reached on a moderator for the debates, the Liberals refusing to countenance Kerry O’Brien, preferring Paul Lyneham instead.

France exploded a sixth nuclear device at Mururoa today. All sides of politics condemned the decision, although Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman, Alexander Downer, said the ALP talked big but went to water on the issue. Democrats leader, Senator Cheryl Kernot, said there were “some bastards you can’t keep honest.”

Monday 29 January, 1996

Prime Minister Keating was in the Melbourne electorate of Dunkley today to launch his “Young Australia” youth policy which promises $37 million to programs for young people. Dunkley, centred on Frankston, has a youth unemployment rate of 30%. Keating promised education, training or employment to all young people aged 15-19 to reduce youth unemployment to 5% by the turn of the century. The policy includes more work placement measures, employment and training measures and help to young business people, including $6m for health education, $6.7m for an anti-drugs campaign and $23m for homeless youth. Keating said that 88,000 young people out of 1.3 million were currently unemployed compared to 158,000 when Howard was Treasurer.

Keating also accused Deputy Opposition Leader, Peter Costello, of threatening the Secretary of the Department of Education, Employment and Training over the distribution of the Young Australia policy. The Secretary, Mr. Volker, denied speaking to Costello. Costello called on Keating to apologise.

Keating gave a commitment to serving a full term “and beyond” as Prime Minister if he wins the election.

In Sydney, visiting the electorate of Lowe, Opposition Leader Howard promised to re-open the third east-west runway at Sydney Airport, to insulate houses under the flight path and to set a limit of 80 take-offs or landing per hour. He said the policy was one for all the people of Sydney, especially those Labor voters in ALP seats. Keating accused Howard of shoring up support for his own seat of Bennelong and Transport Minister, Laurie Brereton, said three runways was a dangerous policy.

The major parties have agreed to Channel 9’s Ray Martin hosting the first debate between the leaders on February 11.

Gary Punch, 38, Minister for Defence Personnel and Member for Barton, announced that he was retiring from Parliament. He was first elected in 1983. Barton requires a swing of about 9% to go to the Liberals.

The fraud trial of former Liberal Party President, John Elliott, began in Melbourne today.

Tuesday 30 January, 1996

Much of today’s campaigning was devoted to argument about the proposed televised debates between Keating and Howard. A question mark now hangs over the future of the debates, including the possibility of team debates between ministers and shadow ministers. The Prime Minister claimed Howard was running away from a debate next Sunday 4 February, whereas Howard claimed he had agreed to debates on 11 and 18 February. Keating said Howard was an “outrage” who was trying to roll himself up into as small a target as possible and was avoiding debate or questioning over his policies. Keating said Howard did not believe in his accountability to the electorate and was afraid to be seen with Fischer and Downer. Howard, visiting Dr. Michael Wooldridge’s marginal Melbourne electorate of Chisholm (covering eastern suburbs from Box Hill through to Clayton), came under pressure from journalists to hold more press conferences. Howard visited the Garry and Warren Smith GMH dealership in Oakleigh to promote his small business policy.

The Liberal Party revealed its campaign slogans today: “For All Of Us” and “Enough Is Enough”. The positive and negative slogans are designed to present a complementary picture of an Opposition that is opposed to governing for sectional interests and of a government that has had its chance. A song accompanies the slogans.

Treasurer, Ralph Willis, and Shadow Treasurer, Peter Costello, debated each other on television and radio today. Willis, whilst arguing that the overall tax burden would not be increased under a Labor government, refused to rule out new taxes.

Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett appeared to back away from his proposal to legislate to abolish State by-elections where a government has a majority of at least 6 seats. The proposal, widely condemned in the media as an attack on democracy, created much publicity yesterday, leading to more discussion of the possibility of a “Kennett factor” in the election.

A large crowd farewelled the outgoing N.S.W. Governor, Peter Sinclair, today. The crowd protested against last week’s announcement by Premier Bob Carr that the new Governor would be part-time, would live at home and that Government House would be made more accessible to the public. Some Liberal and National Party members have claimed that this issue will cost Labor votes in N.S.W. Prime Minister Keating has dismissed the debate as an argument about where the Governor “puts his head” in the evening.

Campaigning continues in the Townsville-based seat of Mundingburra for Saturday’s by-election, the result of which will decide the fate of the 6-year-old Goss Labor government. A large anti-Labor swing would deepen pessimism in the ALP about its prospects in the Federal election. Opinion polls continue to show the Federal ALP well behind the coalition.

Wednesday 31 January, 1996

Opposition Leader Howard, visiting the marginal outer Melbourne electorate of La Trobe, announced the coalition’s Environment policy today. The policy proposes the establishment of a $1 billion fund to restore the national estate, including programs to arrest soil degradation. The $1 billion will come from the privatisation of one third of Telstra, a previously announced policy. The Environment policy was warmly received by the environmental lobby, with the Australian Conservation Foundation saying it represented the most important environment statement ever made by the coalition. Environment lobby preferences have been crucial to ALP victories in recent elections, especially in 1990.

Democrats leader, Cheryl Kernot, questioned the policy, indicating that the Democrats would oppose the privatisation of Telstra, denying the coalition the funds it will need. Kernot said that if the policy is deemed to be so important then alternative sources of funding should be planned for. In Bendigo, Prime Minister Keating said there was no guarantee that the policy would be implemented, quoting from a leaked coalition document which suggested that announced policies need not necessarily be put into effect.

Keating today attacked the Opposition’s “Enough is Enough” slogan, saying it was a direct lift from the 1979 campaign of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, whom he described as Howard’s “ideological godmother”. Keating said that Thatcher stood for reduced government spending and reduced provision of government services.

Keating and Howard both appeared separately on Channel 9’s “A Current Affair” tonight, Howard having refused a head-to-head debate. It is not clear whether there has been a resolution to the dispute over the televised debates, although it appears certain that there will be no debate next Sunday 4 February.

With published polls continuing to show the Government trailing the Opposition by significant margins, there is a growing sense of a change of government.

Thursday 1 February, 1996

Prime Minister Keating was in the Melbourne electorate of Bruce today, celebrating the 12th anniversary of the introduction of Medicare. Bruce, once held by the former Liberal leader, Bill Snedden, is notionally a Labor seat following the redistribution which saw Victoria lose one seat in the House of Representatives. Alan Griffin, the ALP member for the abolished seat of Corinella, is contesting Bruce against Julian Beale, who has held the seat since 1990. Keating claimed that Howard was not to believed in his support for the maintenance of Medicare since he is on record over a 13 year period as opposing it. Keating announced that Medicare offices in major suburban areas would soon be permitted to open on Saturday to provide extended service.

Howard hinted in an interview on The 7.30 Report that he may be about to announce tax cuts as part of his election program. During the day he came under pressure from the media to give categorical commitments not to increase taxes, although there is some doubt about his attitude towards automatic Consumer Price Index increases that apply to a wide range of sales and other taxes. In another exchange with Keating, Howard said the Prime Minister was “losing his grip” because of his suggestion that no Asian leader would deal with Howard were he to become Prime Minister. Keating said that Indonesia’s President Suharto would “talk” to Howard, but he wouldn’t “deal” with him.

Keating appeared on morning radio in Melbourne today, pushing his theme that Howard was afraid to debate him and was avoiding the public at every opportunity, abdicating his responsibility to hold himself up to accountability to the electorate.

Friday 2 February, 1996

Prime Minister Keating was in Tasmania today, visiting the marginal seat of Bass, which was won by the ALP’s Silvia Smith in the 1993 election by only 40 votes. Keating promised $40 million towards the building of a Bass Strait passenger ferry. Responding to suggestions that it was a case of “pork”, Keating said “this isn’t pork, it’s a great big lump of money”!

Opposition Leader Howard was in Queensland today. He is coming under increasing pressure over the proposed trade-off between the sale of part of Telstra and the funding of his environment policy. In Tasmania, Keating referred to green protesters as the “pro Telstra sale” group. Keating has said that Telstra is a national icon that should stay in public ownership, but today Howard produced a quote from former Cabinet minister Graham Richardson’s book, “Whatever It Takes”, that says Keating wanted to sell Telstra/Telecom six years ago.

Democrats leader, Cheryl Kernot, is continuing to criticise Howard’s proposed sale of Telstra. Today she was also promoting her policies on home ownership, arguing for Australians to be allowed to use part of their superannuation savings to make home deposits.

There have been no new polls today, although tomorrow’s newspapers will contain fresh polling from this week.

All attention will be on the Queensland election tomorrow in Mundingburra. Polls suggest the ALP is marginally ahead (one showing 51.5% two-party-preferred). If the ALP were to win the by-election, it would secure the Goss Government in office and give Federal Labor an important psychological boost. Anything other than a narrow loss would be interpreted as showing the ALP in deep trouble in the north.

Opposition Senator Amanda Vanstone opened the campaign rooms of Liberal member for Ballarat, Michael Ronaldson, last night. Ronaldson is in hospital following an operation for kidney cancer on Monday. Ballarat is a seat the ALP will probably need to win to stay in government. At the last election it was won by the Liberals with 52.20% of the two-party-preferred vote.

Saturday 3 February, 1996

At the close of counting tonight the Labor Party appeared to have lost the Mundingburra by-election in Queensland. The Liberal candidate, Frank Tanti, had 7764 votes; the Labor candidate, Tony Mooney, 6951 votes; and the former Labor member, now Independent, Ken Davies, 686. Whilst there is a large number of pre-poll and postal votes still to be counted, it appears that there has been a swing of about 2% to the Liberal candidate. Preferences from Davies will go to the Liberals.

Mundingburra By-Election Results – 3 February 1996
Candidate Party Primary Vote
TANTI, Frank
Australian Women’s Party
TAIT, Billy
BOURNE, Michael
JOCUMSEN, Christian

The result means that Queensland’s single chamber Parliament is now comprised of 44 ALP and 44 National/ Liberal members, with one independent member from Gladstone. The independent has voted with the coalition about 80% of the time since last July’s general election. Assuming that final counting confirms a Liberal win, there are several possibilities arising from the by-election result:

  • Mr. Goss could attempt to continue governing, waiting for Parliament to resume in March after the return of the writs and test his support on the floor of the Legislative Assembly.
  • Mr. Goss could advise the Governor to call a fresh general election on the basis that the Parliament has become unworkable. There is no guarantee that the Governor would agree to this advice.
  • Mr Goss could resign his commission and recommend that the Governor call upon the Opposition Leader, Mr. Borbidge, to form a government.
  • Mr. Goss could resign as ALP leader, or be replaced by the ALP Caucus.

The Mundingburra result will be a psychological blow to the Federal ALP, appearing to confirm its parlous electoral position in Queensland.

Sunday 4 February, 1996

Queensland Premier, Wayne Goss, today criticised the timing of the Federal election, saying it had distracted attention from the State issues in the Mundingburra by-election. The ALP has lost the seat, unless it can secure at least 65% of pre-poll and postal votes, an almost impossible task. The 2% swing to the Liberal Party in Mundingburra has ensured that Queensland will have a hung parliament. The ALP has 44 seats, Nationals 31 and Liberals 13. Gladstone Independent, Liz Cunningham, will announce this week whether she will support the Government or the Opposition on the floor of the house. Goss has indicated that he may recommend a fresh general election to the Governor of Queensland. Opposition leader, Rob Borbidge, said his party felt privileged at the opportunity it had to serve and said he was ready to form a government. Former ALP member for Mundingburra, Ken Davies, who was dumped as the ALP’s candidate shortly after the Court of Disputed Returns overturned the July general election result in the seat, said he was pleased with the result, saying he “wanted to prove we had a fraud as Premier” and had done just that.

In the Blue Mountains today, Prime Minister Keating said that the by-election showed that no-one had a lien on government and that “we have to earn” the right to govern. Keating said that the ALP had to be accountable and “to take our chances in the democratic system.” Claiming that the electorate is now more “conscientious, watchful and discerning”, Keating said “this is not ours of right – we have to earn it.” Keating also said that the by-election was not replete with State issues and that voters were capable of distinguishing between State and Federal elections.

Opposition Leader, John Howard, warned his supporters against smugness and complacency about the result in Mundingburra, whereas National Party leader, Tim Fischer, said the result showed that the nationwide swing was on.

Mr Fischer launched his party’s campaign in the northern NSW electorate of Richmond, currently held by the ALP by a margin of 1.8%. The seat was fomerly held by Larry Anthony senior, National Party leader Doug Anthony and is being contested by Larry Anthony junior, who failed to regain the seat in 1993 following its loss by then National Party leader, Charles Blunt, in 1990. Speaking in Tweed Heads, Fischer announced a package of measures: $27 million for a Rural Health Incentive program to entice doctors to country areas; an easing of the Austudy means test for farmers; appointment of an ambassador to APEC; a rural finance summit; an $850 increase in the Boarding Allowance for country school children; and legislation to protect the Australian flag.

Health will be at the forefront of the election campaign this week. Howard says that he will be providing incentives for people to take out private health insurance. Currently, 34% of people have private health cover, down by half on 1983 figures. Speculation suggests that the tax rebates Howard is expected to offer will cut out at incomes over $40,000. Keating will announce the Government’s health policies tomorrow, but today was critical of Howard’s proposal, saying it would produce a two-tiered health system. He said that in attempting to make a “gold plated” small private health system, the Opposition would only be increasing the incomes of specialists and private hospitals. He was supported in his criticisms by Robert Fitzgerald of the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS).

The Australian Electoral Commission today reminded voters that the electoral rolls close at 8pm tonight.

Monday 5 February, 1996

The ALP candidate in Mundingburra, Tony Mooney, officially conceded defeat today. Facing a hung parliament, Premier Wayne Goss announced that he would be resigning his leadership and opening it up to a caucus ballot on Thursday, saying that if his colleagues wanted him he “was available to serve”. Goss said he owed it to his colleagues to hold a leadership ballot and that he had always said he would do what was best for the ALP. His ministerial colleague, Peter Beattie, the man most spoken of as a leadership rival, pledged his full support to Goss. (!)

Goss also said that he would not be recommending a new general election to the Governor, saying that it was up to the Parliament to decide the fate of the government. Independent member for Gladstone, Liz Cunningham, will announce tomorrow whether she will support the Government or the coalition. She is widely expected to support the coalition parties, although there has also been speculation about the possibility of her becoming Speaker.

Prime Minister Keating was in Perth today, announcing a $370 million Rail Freight package. Opposition Leader Howard was in Adelaide promising tax benefits for self-funded retirees worth $70 million. Both leaders are coming under some criticism for not detailing the funding arrangements for their election promises. Keating said today that the ALP “was not going to be the bunny in the circus – the only ones accountable.” Meanwhile, Democrats leader, Senator Cheryl Kernot, says that people are coming up to her in supermarkets saying “don’t you let them sell Telstra.”

Keating continued to attack the Opposition’s health policy, prior to the release of his own new health plans tomorrow. He said that Howard was not entitled to be believed about his support for Medicare. Keating claimed that Howard favoured the degradation of the publi health system in favour of a “gold-plated” private health system. He said Medicare required “care, maintenance and innovation” and not the “substitution” being proposed by Howard. He also said that $800 million had been put into hospitals by the Federal Government, but $700 million had been taken out by State Liberal governments.

Howard today promised to protect the Australian flag, saying that the “flag belongs to all of us”, not to any one person or government. He said that people were suspicious that Keating planned to do to the Governor-General what NSW Premier, Bob Carr, had done to that state’s Governor. Speaking on a Channel 10 program, “True Colours”, Howard spoke of his small business suburban background, conceding that he might be seen as boring. He distanced himself from conservative state governments by stating that Australia had enough outlets for gambling and that he didn’t like casinos. In Victoria in recent months there has been much talk about the economic and social effects of increased gambling outlets.

The coalition also released its primary industry policy today, although much of it was announced in the environment policy last week and is contingent for funding upon the one-third sale of Telstra. National Party member for Kennedy in Queensland, Bob Katter jnr., expressed displeasure with the proposed deregulation of the sugar industry saying that “the best way to lose an election is to pick a fight with the sugar industry.”

The ANZ bank’s survey of job vacancies showed an increase of 5% in the number of available jobs. Opposition Shadow Treasurer, Peter Costello, said that an unemployment rate of 8.1% was too high and could only be reduced by a change of government, whilst Keating said Australia was enjoying a low inflation, rising employment, high growth economy.

New opinion polls released today show the Government still trailing the Opposition by up to 8-10 points, although there has been some convergence in marginal seats. The polls show most people now expect Howard to win.

Tuesday 6 February, 1996

Prime Minister Keating was in Ringwood in Melbourne today, in the marginal electorate of Deakin, currently held by the Liberal Party. He announced reforms to Medicare in what has been described as a “big gun” in Labor’s electoral armory. The Government proposes to offer a yearly cash rebate of up to $350 for families with one child and $500 for families with two or more children. The rebate will be used to provide 50% of costs of dental, orthodontic, physiotherapy, speech and occupational therapy, psychology, counselling, podiatry, chiropractic, nursing and private hospital charges. In addition, rebates on theatre fees and midwifery, ante-natal, post-natal and private hospital theatre and labour ward fees for birth and pregnancy will also be available. The unspent portion of the $350/$500 can be accumulated for up to 7 years. Moreover, there is an option to use the rebate for private health insurance. It will be means-tested up to a total family income of $63,000, covering 80% of families. Keating also announced that the government would provide $150 million for public hospitals provided the states reduced waiting lists and times.

The Australian Medical Association welcomed the policy. The AMA President, Dr. David Weedon said on commercial television that the AMA supported 90% of the policy, whilst on ABC television he said it supported 80%! In Adelaide, Mr. Howard said that the policy was “catch-up politics” and that Keating had experienced a “Damascus-like conversion on the road to Melbourne.” Speaking on radio 3AW, Keating said that one difference between what the Government and Opposition were offering was that the rebate would be available in cash over the counter at Medicare offices, whereas the Opposition’s rebate would only apply to taxpayers and be paid once a year. Keating said that Howard was not entitled to be believed when he spoke in support of Medicare, quoting Howard in 1987 as saying about Medicare: “I will pull it right apart.” Keating said that Howard “says he won’t kill it, he’s just going to make it dead.” He went on to say that “Jeff Kennett will turn his casino into an Anglican mission before John Howard supports Medicare.” The Prime Minister said that the Government’s aim was to build on Medicare, rather than create an alternative private system. Howard asked why it was that the Labor Party always opposed proposals designed to enable people to look after themselves.

In Adelaide, Howard ran the gauntlet of Telstra supporters demonstrating outside the venue of the business lunch he addressed to launch the coalition’s Industry policy. Referring to Keating’s quip that “this is as good as it gets”, Howard said: “What an arrogant, contemptuous, sniggering, out of touch, bone-stupid, incompetent statement that was.” The Industry policy proposes a $10 million plan to privde incentives for people to buy shares in the company they work for, supports keeping existing industry support, adopting the same tariff reduction timetable as the government, providing easier access to loans for small business and modifying government purchasing policy in favour of small business.

The Australian Democrats released an innovative television commercial today that uses sophisticated computer graphics to depict the major parties and their leaders as fallen angels. The commercial took 500 man-hours to produce. The Democrats have adopted their long-time unofficial slogan of “Keep the Bastards Honest” as their official theme for the election. Howard today criticised the Democrats for supporting 100% public ownership of Telstra over preservation of the environment.

There is still no agreement on the proposed television debates between Howard and Keating. The Liberals are continuing to veto Kerry O’Brien as moderator, whilst Keating said it was extraordinary that they were blackballing the prime current affairs interviewer on the national broadcaster. Howard said that Keating could “whistle dixie” because he was “not budging.” Kernot said she would be happy to have Frontline’s Mike Moore!

An opinion poll in “The Australian” today showed Labor making up some ground on the coalition during last week. The Newspoll showed a two-party preferred vote for the ALP of 46%, compared to 54% to the coalition. However, 42% believed Keating would make a better Prime Minister compared to 38% for Howard, with 20% uncommitted. The poll indicates that the ALP has cut the coalition’s lead from 10 points to 7 in the first week of the campaign. The Managing Director of Newspoll, Mr. Sol Lebovic, stressed yesterday that it was too early to be calling the result. Mr. Lebovic said those commentators already predicting a coalition victory were “off with the pixies”, and had failed to recognise the importance of the campaign. He said the survey results – and an earlier Newspoll on the motivation behind voting preferences – suggested many of those supporting the coalition were simply “parking” their vote and would decide whether to stay during the campaign.

The Morgan Poll, to be published tomorrow in “The Bulletin”, says that 83% of people have already decided how they will vote. It shows two-party-preferred support for the coalition at 54%, up 2%, and the ALP 46%, down 2%. Howard’s approval has risen to 55%, up 8%, whilst Keating’s has dropped to 36%, down 3%.

In Queensland today, Peter Beattie announced that he would not be challenging the leadership of Premier Wayne Goss at Thursday’s caucus meeting. Mr. Goss is now expected to remain leader. He called upon the Governor today. Meanwhile, Opposition leader, Rob Borbidge, demanded that Parliament be recalled before March 5, saying that he would campaign in every marginal seat that Labor holds in Queensland. He said “Labor will bleed if Parliament does not meet.” The new member for Mundingburra, Frank Tanti, received a hero’s welcome at a Liberal party-room meeting today.

As it did yesterday, the decision by the Australian Cricket Board to cancel the visit by the Australian cricket team to Sri Lanka dominated the media today.

Wednesday 7 February, 1996

Health Minister, Dr. Carmen Lawrence, today apologised to Opposition Leader Howard over comments she made alleging he intended to dismantle Medicare. Lawrence quoted from a radio interview Howard gave, saying that he had said “at the moment it is not our intention to reduce Medicare.” Howard had actually said to the interviewer, “just a moment…” The error was attributed to a transcription service used by Lawrence. Howard condemned the incident as an example of the “lies and distortions” the ALP would use during the campaign. He emphasised that the misquote was used by Lawrence who last year appeared before a Royal Commission established by the Western Australian Liberal Government to investigate the Penny Easton affair. Lawrence was heavily criticised by the Royal Commissioner, Mr. Justice Marks, as deceptive and untruthful. The error blunted the ALP’s attack on Howard over health and Medicare following yesterday’s launch by Keating of policies aimed at extending the coverage by Medicare to a range of ancillary services for families with children. Howard today attacked the policy as doing nothing for single or elderly people. Keating responded that this comment came from the man who portrayed himself as the “family man” but who ran away from measures designed to assist families.

The ALP appears to have given up on its insistence that the ABC be the host for the proposed television debates between Howard and Keating. It now appears that the debate next Sunday may go ahead on Channel 9, probably with Ray Martin as host. However, no final agreement has yet been reached between the two parties.

Today’s political news was also dominated by an agreement between the government and the Northern Land Council to declare large areas of the north cape area of Queensland as world heritage sites to be preserved. Aboriginal groups have agreed to forgo land title claims and some mining interests have reached an accommodation with the environmentalists. Green preferences will continue to be of some significant influence in a number of marginal seats in this election. The ALP’s win in the 1990 election is attributed in part to the strong flow of Green and Democrat preferences to the ALP because of its environmental record.

The Bulletin Morgan Poll published today suggests that 83% of people have already committed their vote for this election and that of those still undecided there are more “soft” ALP than coalition voters. The Bulletin’s poll analysis argues that the ALP’s leadership theme, pitting a strong and decisive Keating against a weak Johnnie Howard, is not biting with the electorate. A Reuters average of the major polls indicates that the ALP is trailing the coalition by about 10 points, 3 more than it was behind at this stage in the 1993 election.

In Tasmania, which goes to the polls for a State election on February 24, ALP Opposition Leader, Michael Field, last night committed the ALP to supporting a minority Liberal government after the new election. Field was Premier of Tasmania in the late 1980s and early 1990s, heading a minority government supported by the Greens. Ultimately, the Greens withdrew their support and the last general election saw the election of a majority Liberal Government led by Ray Groom, a former Federal member. Opinion is divided about Field’s extraordinary statement. Greens leader, Christine Milne, said Field was “running for Opposition”. Other suggested Field was admitting that the ALP cannot win the election. Still others say that it is a deliberate tactic to highlight the ALP’s independence from the Greens and to force the responsibility for any new election resulting from a hung parliament onto Groom. The Liberal Party has been expected to lose its majority in the election, especially since the surprise retirement by former Liberal Premier, Robin Gray, late last year. Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark Proportional Representation system which ensures that no government is able to win a large majority in the 35 member House of Assembly.

Thursday 8 February, 1996

The election was dominated today by confusion in the Liberal Party about the state of the Federal budget. Victorian Premier Kennett was interviewed by ABC Radio this morning and referred to a $9-15 billion budget deficit, casting doubt on the ability of the Opposition and the Government to fund their respective campaign promises. Kennett was telephoned by the Shadow Treasurer, Peter Costello, after the interview and told that the coalition was working on a figure of $3-5 billion. Kennett then gave an interview on Radio 3AW, quoting this figure, but referring to it as a deficit, when Costello had meant it as a surplus. Later in the day, Kennett issued a “clarification” statement. This episode comes as the election sees more media discussion of the campaign commitments of both sides, now estimated to total $7 billion. It also draws attention back to the “Kennett factor”. Victoria contains a dozen or more marginal seats which many commentators see as crucial to the overall election result on March 2.

“The Age” today published exclusive details of a promise to be made by the Government whereby Essendon airport in Melbourne would be redeveloped as a film and television studio complex at a cost of $400 million, although not all of this money would be government investment. Premier Kennett said he doubted the Government’s commitment to the proposed project and called for the $400 million to be immediately placed in a trust account until after the election as a guarantee of future construction. The official announcement of the project is expected next week. Meanwhile, Opposition leader Howard announced the coalition’s Arts policy, containing promises totalling $60 million over three years. The policy is heavily biased in favour of regional arts groups, with a $34 million regional arts strategy. Amongst other promises, Howard proposed spending $15.5 million towards the construction of the National Museum of Australia and $3 million for “emerging” artists. Overall, Howard pledged to maintain existing levels of funding to the arts. Communications Minister, Michael Lee, described the policy as a “one minute to midnight conversion”.

Unemployment figures released today showed that the unemployement rate has risen half a per cent to 8.6% in January. Prime Minister Keating said the increase simply reflected “monthly volatility” and stressed that the underlying trends in the vacancies and participation rates were strong. Meanwhile, the Liberals unveiled billboards with a photograph of Keating saying “Go get a job”, a reference to a remark the Prime Minister made to protesting university students last year.

Doubt still exists over the proposed television leaders debates. Keating, campaigning in the marginal Western Australian seat of Cowan today, proposed two debates, one on the ABC with Kerry O’Brien as moderator and one on Channel 9 with Ray Martin as moderator, the order of debates to be decided by the toss of a coin. Keating said: “I’ll even toss his coin. Someone asked me whether I would toss Andrew Robb’s (Federal Liberal Party Director) coin and I said you’ve got to draw the line somewhere!”

Queensland Premier, Wayne Goss, was re-elected unopposed as ALP leader at a Caucus meeting in Brisbane today. Following the meeting, Goss met with Independent member for Gladstone, Liz Cunningham. Cunningham is to announce her decision on Monday about which side she will support in the crucial meeting of the Queensland Legislative Assembly on March 5. One journalist said tonight that the coalition was “comfortably anticipating” the decision.

Friday 9 February, 1996

Economic issues dominated the election campaign today. Prime Minister Keating, campaigning in the Queensland marginal seat of Moreton, currently held by the ALP’s Garrie Gibson, announced that he would be detailing the funding arrangements for Labor’s campaign commitments on Sunday and called on Opposition Leader Howard to do the same. Keating said the Government’s spending commitments would be “at least Budget neutral – better than Budget neutral”. Keating said the statement would cover any further commitments made in the course of the campaign, although the full details of these promises would be announced in the policy speech. Keating said that he was not going to let Howard off the hook of accountability during the election.

Howard, campaigning in the Victorian marginal seat of McEwen, called on the Government to authorise a briefing on the state of the budget by the departments of Treasury and Finance. “Why don’t you throw open the books?” Howard demanded of the Prime Minister. Howard rejected the call for a funding statement on coalition policies, saying “we will release our costings and expenditure as promised at a time of our choosing, not his.” Meanwhile, Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, today defended his gaffe yesterday over the question of whether the Federal budget was in surplus or deficit, saying it was an “easy mistake” to have made.

Treasurer, Ralph Willis, today called on home buyers to put pressure on their banks to cut home loan rates. This followed the announcement by the largest non-bank home lender, Aussie Home Loans, that it was cutting its variable rate to below 9 per cent. Willis predicted a general fall in bank rates during 1996, saying current rates at 10.5% had been “defying gravity”.

Agreement has been reached for a televised debate between Keating and Howard on Channel 9 at 7.30pm on Sunday night. The debate will be chaired by Ray Martin and run for one hour free of commercials and network promotions. The ABC will also televise the debate. The agreement follows the failure of the Government to reach a compromise with the Opposition over a debate on the ABC with Kerry O’Brien. Keating tonight said he had agreed to Howard’s conditions because he was “not letting him off explaining how he would fund his campaign policies.

Howard and his shadow Immigration spokesman, Senator Jim Short, tonight announced the coalition’s immigration policy. In contrast to the policy it took to the 1993 election, the coalition now proposes to maintain the annual immigration intake at its level of about 83,000, plus 15,000 humanitarian places for the “near term”. The policy pledges $60 million to settlement schemes, education and ethnic broadcasting, and aims to make citizenship ceremonies “more meaningful”. The policy porposes more resources for migrant women’s health and for programs to help the newly settled find work, as well as funds to English language programs and to accelerate the extension of SBS television coverage. Immigration Minister, Senator Nick Bolkus, labelled the policy a “bribe” to ethnic communities.

Nominations for the election closed at noon today. In Victoria, 215 candidates will contest the 37 seats in the House of Representatives, whilst 44 candidates have nominated for the 6 positions being contested in the Senate. The electorates of McMillan and Deakin have the most number of candidates, with 9 nominations in each. Corangamite and Wannon have the lowest, with 3 each.

Saturday 10 February, 1996

Election campaigning centred on preparations for the televised debate tomorrow night between Prime Minister Keating and Opposition Leader Howard. Speaking in Cessnock, where he promoted the ALP’s industrial relations agenda, saying only Labor could address workers’ concerns, Keating continued to emphasise the question of the Opposition’s accountability to the electorate. Howard, speaking at a photo opportunity with his wife and children in his Bennelong electorate campaign office, continued to refuse to release Opposition funding arrangements until a later date.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported today the Government is now worried about New South Wales where the ALP holds 33 of the 50 seats in the House of Representatives. The paper reports: “Labor will also begin today a television advertising blitz against the coalition’s industrial relations policy. The ALP hopes that by seizing the initiative on the increasingly damaging issue of ‘where’s the money coming from?’ and by Mr. Keating confronting Mr. Howard directly over credibility it can get the breakthrough it desperately needs to get voters to focus on its warnings about the Howard alternative. The focus of Labor’s concern about the campaign shifted to NSW following grassroots reports which reinforced internal polling done last week. Feedback from ALP candidates in key State seats backed the polling, which showed Labor’s base vote in NSW had fallen into the low 40 per cent range. Officials believe there is a real danger of a swing against Labor of 4 to 5 per cent – which could see it lose eight seats. Some of them are concerned that the electorate’s mood is similar to that during the 1988 State election when the Unsworth Government was swept away by a collapse of its base vote. The ALP’s national campaign headquarters has been given assessments which indicate that NSW voters have been the least responsive to Labor’s campaign messages. The feedback from the rest of Australia – including Queensland, widely regarded as Labor’s more electorally dangerous State – has been encouraging. It indicates that Labor’s main campaign messages, on leadership, Telecom and Medicare, are getting through and getting positive responses. But a senior ALP figure says the NSW feedback has been “very muted” and “quite worrying”. The party is already pouring the largest proportion of its campaign resources into NSW because it was identified as the most vulnerable State before the campaign.”

The Opposition Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, today announced the coalition’s foregn affairs policy. Downer said the main thrust of the policy was to “make closer engagement with Asia our highest priority”. Downer criticised the Government’s policy on East Timor, saying it had been inconsistent, and promised to upgrade Australia’s relationship with China, Japan and South Korea. Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Gareth Evans, said the coalition policy was a “limp, feeble little popgun of a policy, which really isn’t going to do anything to restore the Coalition’s credibility in external relations.” Earlier in the week, Downer, appearing on Channel 9’s “Nightline”, had been unable to name the Thai Prime Minister, whom he claimed he had met with during his last visit to Australia.

Sunday 11 February, 1996

Prime Minister Keating today detailed Labor’s funding plans for its election promises, revealing a plan to crack down on massive tax avoidance amongst some of Australia’s wealthiest people. Flanked by a diagram labelled “High Rollers’ Trust Web”, Keating and the Treasurer, Ralph Willis, claimed they would raise $800 million a year by attacking a tax rort that Willis claimed was the biggest since the Bottom of the Harbour scheme of the early 1980s. Keating said that in the 1993 financial year 80 individuals with a net worth of at least $30 million each had paid individual taxes of less than $20,000 due to a complex web of trusts. These individuals, so far unnamed, had even claimed Medicare exemptions, low income earner rebates, HECS exemptions and the like.

Keating said that the effect of the Government’s instructions to the Tax Office would be to strengthen the budget’s bottom line by $800 million a year. He said that “this must be the first election in Australian Federal history where the government has strengthened the budget during the campaign”. Keating said that the ALP was making campaign commitments of $3.5 billion over a three year period and was proposing to reduce the deficit by $2.4 billion over the same period. In addition to the tax clampdown which would raise $2.4 billion, the government proposed reducing tariff concessions to business, at a value of $1.8 billion, as well as making general savings in government expenditure of $800 million. These savings would come from clamping down on medical over-servicing, government consultancies, travel and other measures.

Opposition Leader Howard, who was briefed by the Tax Commissioner, questioned the timing of the government’s announcement, saying that it was curious that Keating had been going around for 13 years in a hairy-chested fashion saying “I’ve fixed it all up”, only to find massive tax avoidance on the eve of the election. “Isn’t it very convenient,” Howard said, arguing that this money was found at just the time the Prime Minister “needs some dough.” He also demanded to be shown the books on the budget, arguing that if he could be briefed by the Tax Commissioner, then he ought to be briefed by the Secretary of the Treasury as well. Shadow Treasurer, Peter Costello, said the announcement of the tax avoidance clampdown was an “appalling indictment” of the government. Meanwhile, Keating continued his attack on the coalition, saying “they’ll tear the hell out of Social Security spending, out of education and health.” Referring to Howard, Keating said there was only one person hiding in this election. Later, the Liberals announced that they would bring forward the announcement of their own costing and funding arrangements to this week.

Australian Democrats leader, Senator Cheryl Kernot, launched her party’s campaign in Port Melbourne today. The Democrats Victorian ticket is led by Lyn Allison, who replaces the retiring Syd Spindler. Kernot promoted the Democrats as the original Green party and presented a policy based on anti-privatisation and the environment. She said the electorate was tired of the “two men in suits”, tired of their jargon and their promises and wanted something different. She condemned privatisation and said that in 50 years time people would look back on the firesale conducted by Hawke, Keating and Beazley and judge it as one of the greatest acts of vandalism in the nation’s history. She condemned the coalition’s proposal to sell 35% of Telstra to fund its environment policy, saying that if Howard was prepared to do that today, what is to stop him coming back tomorrow and wanting to trade aged pensions or health for Australia Post.

The Victorian Labor Party today called for the dismissal of State Liberal Party Director, Peter Poggioli, after it was revealed in “The Sunday Age” that the Liberal Party had charged $60,000 in election postage costs to the Labor Party. The postage was incurred for a mailout on January 29 from Liberal Senators Jim Short (writing to electors in the marginal seat of McMillan), Judith Troeth (McEwen), Rod Kemp (JagaJaga) and Richard Alston (Dunkley). The Liberal Party claims a clerical error was made and since rectified, but the ALP members and candidates in the seats have called for a police investigation into how secret postal account numbers were given to Mail Management Australia Pty. Ltd., the direct mail firm employed by the Liberal Party.

Keating and Howard met in the studios of Channel 9 tonight for their first head-to-head debate of the election. Standing at podiums with Ray Martin moderating, the debate was relatively restrained and orderly.

Keating was first asked whether he regarded himself as a servant of the people or their boss. He said that he supported the Australian democratic system where the parties have to explain themselves every three years. He said he believed in accountability and had held more press conferences and doorstops than anybody else in political life in recent years.

Howard, asked about the cynicism towards all politicians and to his own recycled leadership, said that his answer to the cynicism was that the government was out of touch, and taking people for granted, as evidenced by the secrecy surrounding the treaty announced late last year with Indonesia. He said the government showed signs of arrogance and remoteness, the nation had a current account deficit of $180 billion, there was high youth unemployment, high real interest rates, unreasonable unfair dismissal laws and the letters LAW were ringing in everyone’s ears from the last election. Howard also said that he had proved himself by “hanging in” over the years.

Keating, asked whether there was truth in Wayne Goss’s assertion that the voters were waiting at the front porch with a baseball bat, said that the most arrogant thing you can do is hide your policies. He said that with 20 days to go to the poll, the Opposition had no health policy and no costings of their promises. He defended the treaty with Indonesia, saying that it was not the kind of treaty that could be negotiated openly with a country where the government had strong ties to a powerful military. He said the first round of the LAW tax cuts had been paid and the second round would be paid into people’s superannuation funds.

Howard demanded a briefing by Treaury officials on the state of the budget, denying that Keating’s announcement today about the funding proposals for Labor’s policies was a killer punch. Keating claimed that Howard was not entitled to be believed on the deficit because his party had used the Senate to block $2.4 billion worth of revenue from the sale of airports. In response to a question from Howard – “what are you hiding?” – Keating said that the government had published a mid-year review of the budget and was the first government to publish three year forward estimates of revenue and expenditure. He developed his theme that Howard could not be believed by arguing that if he suddenly became a supporter of the monarchy after years of opposition, it would be appropriate that he not be believed, yet this was what Howard was asking in relation to his attitudes to Medicare, Industrial Relations and the Environment. Howard said that every time Keating was in trouble he cranked up the republic debate as a diversion. He claimed that he often took stands that were not popular, citing opinion poll opposition to the sale of Telstra as evidence.

Howard said that he had changed his mind on Medicare, but claimed Keating had done the same on the GST. Besides, he claimed, the big problem now was the question of private health insurance. Under questioning from Ray Martin, Howard said that the coalition’s health policy, to be released tomorrow, would cost about $500 million and would provide tax rebates of about $450 per year for families, ranging down to $125 for single people. Keating said that the difference between them was that Howard’s policy would assist about 20% of families and was paid once a year to taxpayers only, whereas Labor’s proposal was a cash payment at Medicare offices to 80% of families. In response to an assurance by Howard that Medicare would stay and that bulk billing would be retained, Keating could be heard saying “..sure.”

On the question of employment, Keating claimed that he had promised 500,000 jobs in 1993, a figure that had been ridiculed at the time, and had delivered 713,000. Howard, acknowledging the figure, said that the government had been in office 13 years, during which time Keating had been either Treasurer or Prime Minister for all but six months, and unemployment now stood at 8.6% with higher youth unemployment. He said that unless there was a plan implemented to assist small business the unemployment level would not decrease. Keating said the difference between now and 1983 was that 8 out of 10 young people were now in education and training, compared to 3 out of 10.

The debate moved to the issue of Industrial Relations, Keating claiming that Howard had opposed all but 2 wage rises since 1978. Howard said he stood for an end to compulsory unionism and for choice in the industrial relations arena, including better pay for better work. Keating claimed Howard had said he would stab the Industrial Relations Commission in the stomach and Howard accused Keating of stabbing it in the back. Keating said that Howard “has these tricky words”, claiming that no-one will be forced off an award, but that since 60% of people change their jobs on average every 5 years, and since young people and new migrants were especially vulnerable, he could not be believed. Keating claimed Howard said he keep the IRC but he won’t let it look at contracts. Howard said the Employment Advocate he will establish would have full statutory power, but Keating ridiculed the idea of an 18-year-old going to such a body. “You’re going to see them cut to pieces,” he said. Howard said that award conditions would be maintained and must apply as the minimum starting point in employer/employee negotiations.

Referring to Keating’s promise in 1993 to support the passage of the GST in the Senate if the coalition won that election, thus highlighting the certainty of a GST under a coalition government, Martin asked if Keating should not consider a similar masterstroke this time by promising to support the sale of Telstra in the Senate should Howard win. Keating denied this, claiming that ALP senators had a national interest to protect, that Telstra was 20 times the size of Telstra and that many ramifications flowed from any sale of the organisation, namely timed local calls and higher costs for rural users. Keating said: “And who’ll be protecting Australia’s interest – Bronwyn Bishop.” Bishop is the shadow minister for privatisation. Howard claimed he was being honest by signalling his intention to sell a third of Telstra in advance, saying he believed he would get it through the Senate because Senators would not sacrifice the best environment policy to protect a third of Telstra. Keating said Howard’s proposed sale of Telstra was not a policy but a tactic.

As the debate drew to a close, a number of smaller issues were raised. Howard, asked about Bob Burgess, the National Party candidate for Leichardt in Northern Queensland, who recently described Australia Day citizenship ceremonies as “dewogging ceremonies” and last week criticised gay groups for promoting homosexuality with AIDS funding, said that Burgess was “not in my party” and that the Liberal candidate would win Leichardt anyway. Keating asked Howard: “why won’t you kick him out like I did with [Graeme] Campbell (MHR for Kalgoorlie)? My party won’t tolerate racism.”

Both leaders were asked about the number of women in their parties. Keating was referred to the success of men in winning preselection for seats previously held by women such as Ros Kelly and Wendy Fatin and Howard was asked where he was hiding Bronwyn Bishop. Keating said the key thing was how the party had responded to issues of relevance to women.

Asked about their personal futures if they lost the election, Howard said that he definitely would not be Opposition Leader after the election and Keating said he would not be ALP leader in Opposition.

In his concluding remarks, Keating said the government had transformed Australia into a modern industrial country, more competitive and open than in 1983. He said that the fire in the crucible might go out if there was a change of government. He asked voters to consider the nature of the alternative team.

Howard, in his concluding remarks, reiterated that the government had been in office for 13 years, was arrogant and remote, that unemployment had risen, there was a widening gap between rich and poor, we had the worst current account deficit in the world and that there was growing social division. He said that Keating talked of leadership, but that you can’t separate leadership from what happens and that on this basis Keating had failed. Howard said that he had a plan and would lead a government that could be trusted.

In response to a final question from Martin, Howard said that he didn’t have anything against Keating personally and Keating could be heard saying “he really loves me.”

Following the debate, Jeff McMullen and Paul Lyneham purported to analyse the performance of the respective leaders and reintroduced “the worm”, an electronic device that a studio audience operated during the debate to record their reactions. The worm showed a good reaction to Keating when he argued that Howard had no policies and was sneaky. It also showed a good reaction when Howard talked about private health insurance and assisting small business. Overall, 51% of the studio audience rated Keating as having won the debate, compared to 49% for Howard.

It appeared during the debate that both leaders agreed to a similar debate in two weeks time.

Monday 12 February, 1996

The Queensland Labor Government led by Premier Wayne Goss is in its last days. The Independent member for Gladstone in the Queensland Parliament, Mrs. Liz Cunningham, announced today that she would support the National/Liberal coalition on motions of confidence and supply. Her support gives the coalition, led Mr. Rob Borbidge, a one-seat majority of 45-44 on the floor of the house. Goss said today that Parliament would sit again on March 5, whilst Borbidge called for it to be recalled earlier. Peter Beattie, the likely leader of the Labor Opposition, said that Borbidge had achieved government by sneaking in through the back door. The Goss Government was elected on December 2, 1989, ending 32 years of National/Liberal rule in Queensland, 18 of those years under the Premiership of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Once it falls, Mr. Bob Carr’s NSW government will be the only Labor government left in the Australian states. Reports today suggested that Federal Labor would prefer Goss to go sooner rather than later. Asked about the Queensland situation, Prime Minister Keating said that he had always regarded it as bad in principle to ever support the National Party on anything, describing the party as pre-Copernican obscurantists.

The coalition health policy was released today. As foreshadowed by Mr. Howard in the television debate last night, cash payments and tax rebates form the centrepiece of the policy. In an attempt to encourage more people to take out private health insurance, the coalition is offering up to $450 to couples with children, $250 to couples without children, and $125 to single people. The payment would be means-tested, cutting out an income of $35,000 for single people and $70,000 for a couple’s combined income. The plan received support from the Australian Medical Association President, Dr. David Weedon, who said the AMA supported 90% of the policy. Prime Minister Keating attacked the policy, saying the ALP’s policy announced last week would offer a rebate to 80% of families. Keating said that Howard was not entitled to be believed when he promised to maintain Medicare in its entirety.

Debate continued today on the Government’s proposed crackdown on tax rorts. Keating said that the coalition now had to state clearly whether it supported tax cheats or not, whilst the Opposition wanted to know why the rorts had not been uncovered over the past 13 years. The Opposition continued to call for Keating to provide a statement on the state of the Federal budget – “show us the books” – whilst Keating continued to push his argument that Howard is pretending to be someone other than who he really is.

Reaction to last night’s televised debate was mixed today. The Melbourne “Herald-Sun” said it was a draw, whilst other polls variously had Howard or Keating as the winner. There seemed to be general agreement amongst commentators that neither man had scored a “knockout” punch and that therefore Howard had probably gained more from the encounter because he had survived it. Various body language experts were paraded on television to discuss Howard’s twitchy shoulder, forced grin and giggly manner and to contrast this with Keating’s smugness. In Melbourne, Premier Jeff Kennett ruled out any debates in the next state election, due by October this year, saying they were fundamentally boring.

Tuesday 13 February, 1996

Opposition Leader Howard was in Queensland today launching his defence policy, which amongst other things calls for the disbanding of the Defence Reserve. Howard was forced on the defensive following another outburst by the National Party candidate for Leichardt, Bob Burgess, who has argued for the return of the White Australia Policy and recently described citizenship ceremonies as “dewogging” ceremonies. Burgess said today that he was an admirer of Graeme Campbell, the former Labor member for Kalgoorlie, Bruce Ruxton and Wilson “Ironbar” Tuckey. Burgess criticised Liberal Party policy to move towards 50% female MPs, claiming that on this and other policy areas he represented a silent majority in the Australian community. Howard said that Burgess was not his candidate and that Burgess would lose the seat to the Liberal candidate.

Prime Minister Keating today announced that the Government was considering recommending the Cape York area of northern Queensland for World Heritage listing. The announcement comes as the Australian Conservation Foundation has withdrawn its support for the coalition’s environment policy, describing it as a “mirage” that can’t be funded because of the Opposition of the Australian Democrats who will most likely continue to hold the balance of power in the Senate after the election. Keating said that major environmental initiatives like the Franklin Dam, Fraser Island, Daintree and others had only occurred because the Labor Government had done them. “Why?” Keating asked. “Because we believe in them, we don’t pretend to believe in them like the coalition.”

Queensland Premier, Wayne Goss, said today that he would recall Parliament next Tuesday, following the return of the Mundingburra writ at the end of this week. His government is certain to be defeated when Parliament sits. It is likely that Goss will surrender his commission to the Governor, Mrs. Forbes, rather than wait for Parliament to vote him out of office. The new Liberal member for Mundingburra, Mr Frank Tanti, met Howard today and was congratulated by the Opposition Leader.

The Morgan Gallup Poll, to be published in “The Bulletin” tomorrow, shows a dramatic turnaround in voting intentions since the beginning of the election campaign. The two-party-preferred figure has the ALP on 49% and the coalition on 51%. Keating has stretched to a 9 point lead over Howard in the most-preferred Prime Minister poll. The extent of the change in voting patterns shown by the poll suggests that caution should be adopted in analysing it.

Friday 23 February, 1996

Opposition Leader Howard was under attack again today over leaked details of the coalition’s savings policy. Using a direct mail letter sent to voters in Namadgi, the new electorate in the Australian Capital Territory, the Government claimed that the policy would cost a further $1.6 billion over the next three years. The policy, which has not yet been officially released, proposes cutting the tax on savings account interest by up to 25 per cent. However, the letter sent to voters does not indicate that the proposal is to be means-tested and available only to people earning less than $35,000 a year. The coalition claims the policy will cost $200 million a year. Prime Minister Keating said today: “I think the Liberals have gone mad. They’ve got $8 billion, $8000 million, in promises out there, which are largely unfunded. Soon we will be at the stage where he will be offering us a free set of steak knives.”

The coalition has promised to restore full employment in Australia. It realeased a policy today called “Pathways to Real Jobs”, but would not put a figure on the full employment target or say when it would achieve it. Opposition Employment spokesman, David Kemp, said the jobs would come from better economic management, taxation reforms and small business reforms to eliminate red tape, including the scrapping of the unfair dismissal laws. The policy proposes modernising the apprenticeship and traineeship system and more support for vocational training in schools. Employment Minister, Simon Crean, said he was “incredulous” that the coalition was now supporting policies it had “bagged” in recent years.

The Australian Greens announced today that they would direct preferences to the ALP in 56 of the 92 seats Greens candidates are contesting in the House of Representatives. In 29 seats, including two Victorian marginals, McEwen and McMillan, and all 5 seats in Tasmania, the Greens are not directing preferences. In another development, the Australian Conservation Foundation ranked the ALP ahead of the coalition on an environment scorecard, but stopped short of recommending a direct allocation of preferences to ALP candidates. Meanwhile, the Wilderness Society says it will campaign to unseat three Labor MPs: Peter Cleeland in McEwen, Silvia Smith in Bass and Dick Adams in Lyons.

Opposition Leader Howard said today that he had often been mobbed at schools, as the Prime Minister was yesterday. He attributed the phenomenon to the presence of television cameras. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, said he had been hurt by not being invited to Labor’s campaign launch but that he was a “big boy” and still prepared “to do what I can to help”. He said the tide seemed to be turning Labor’s way and it was possible for the Government to be returned.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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