Federal Election 2013: issues, dynamics, outcomes

Elections Federal government Political parties Democracy Australia

This paper provides a week-by-week summary of the key issues and controversies of the 2013 Federal Election.

Key points:

  • the election of 21 September 1940, when an incumbent Menzies government survived with the support of two independents.
  • major changes in the rules for the election of Labor’s leader; confirming a move—a year earlier than originally planned—to an emissions trading scheme (ETS); and unveiling the Australia and Papua New Guinea Regional Settlement Arrangement (RSA) for the processing of asylum seekers, who would no longer be settled in Australia.
  • The opening day of the campaign was notable for the strident headlines from some News Corporation mastheads calling for the defeat of Labor. Economic concerns—and in particular the cost of any new election promises—quickly became the dominant campaign theme. The Coalition elected to use the Parliamentary Budget Office to verify its policy costings, claiming that Treasury figures could not be trusted.
  • The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader held their first debate at the National Press Club on 11 August. A second leaders’ debate in the style of a community forum was held in Brisbane on 21 August, and a third on 28 August at Rooty Hill in Sydney’s western suburbs. The Opposition had by then released details of $31 billion in savings, but had to weather constant criticism for not declaring its ‘budget bottom line’.
  • The publication of Treasury’s Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook prompted exchanges over the major parties’ economic credentials, and the nature and timing of any return to a Budget surplus. Sexism also re-emerged as an issue on the campaign trail and the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme became one of its most controversial policies. Asylum seeker policy continued to animate public discussion.
  • A fortnight before polling day, a Fairfax Neilsen poll showed Labor lagging behind the Coalition 47–53 and indicated that 70 per cent of voters were expecting a Coalition win. The Coalition released more policy costings on Thursday 5 September, claiming it would improve the budget bottom line by over $6 billion. The Coalition had indicated the possibility of a double dissolution if a victorious Coalition’s key policies were to be frustrated in the Senate.
  • The Coalition won 90 seats, Labor 55 seats, with the remainder going to small parties (three seats) and independents (two seats).
  • The Senate proved to be an interesting contest, with small parties winning six of the seats. The Coalition won 17 seats, Labor won 13 seats and the Greens three seats, with one independent returned. The Senate count in WA proved controversial, with appeals, re-counts and the loss of 1,300 ballot papers combining to prompt a petition to the Court of Disputed Returns.
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