Policy differences at stake in Australian federal election

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The policy differences between the two major political parties vying for power at Australian elections on Saturday have been described as the widest divide at a federal contest in 26 years.

The center-left opposition Labor Party is regarded as pursuing a "big target strategy" with a diverse range of policies aimed at creating a more equitable society under the slogan "A Fair Go for Australia." To give someone "a fair go" is an Australian colloquialism for providing justice.

The conservative Liberal Party-led coalition government is promising a steady course in uncertain times under the banner "Building Our Economy, Securing Your Future." The government warns voters that Australia's slowing economy would be damaged by Labor's ambitious agenda.

Here are some of the policy differences:



The Liberal and Labor parties have promised different approaches toward Australia's most important trading partner China after relations have strained in recent years over issues including Australia's ban on covert foreign interference in domestic politics and foreign political donations. But both parties have been short on specifics.

The Liberal-led coalition government has upset Beijing by blocking Chinese companies from buying a cattle empire and Sydney electricity provider and by banning Chinese technology giant Huawei from Australia's 5G telecommunications network rollout this year.

Former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating last week angered the government by describing Australian intelligence agency bosses as "nutters" who had damaged relations with China by warning against Chinese investments in sensitive Australian infrastructure.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has distanced himself from Keating's comments. But Shorten suggested Australia needed to rebalance it relationship with China, warning against viewing China's rise "solely through the prism of strategic risk."

Labor accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of offending Chinese this week when he described them as Australia's "customers" while the United States were Australia's "friends."

Morrison had been arguing against Australia taking sides in the trade dispute between China and the United States, Australia's most important security ally.

"You stand by your friends and you stand by your customers as well," Morrison said.

Australia has bilateral free trade agreement with both China and the United States.



Labor has pledge to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve zero emissions by 2050. The coalition government has committed to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% by 2030 and warns that Labor's more ambitious target would wreck the economy.

The Liberals are critical of Labor's failure to put a monetary cost on the target. Labor argues that failure to act on climate change would also cost the economy.

Energy policy is a contentious issue in a country that's the world biggest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas. Australia has been one of the world's worst carbon polluters on a per capita basis due to heavy reliance on coal-fired electricity.

Labor wants half of Australia's electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2030, and would offer rebates for households to buy solar batteries. Labor has also set a target to make electric cars account for half the new cars sold in Australia by 2030.

The Liberals would spend 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) by 2030 on paying major polluters to reduce their emissions.

Labor has also adopted aspects of the Liberals' scrapped National Energy Guarantee policy. The program that placed on power generators a reliability obligation as well as emissions reduction obligation led to the overthrow of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by government colleagues who were opposed to any carbon reduction measures that increased the price of electricity.



The Liberal-led government has all but stopped asylum-seekers from coming to Australia by boats after 50,000 arrived on Australian shores during Labor's most recent six years in office.

The government has turned away 80 boats, either sending them back to Southeast Asian ports or banishing the asylum-seekers to immigration camps on the poor Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Labor takes some credit for that success, noting the current policy of refusing to allow refugees who come by boat from ever settling in Australia was adopted in the final weeks of a Labor administration in 2013.

But Labor has committed to continue with the government's secretive, military-led Operation Sovereign Borders.

The Liberals say a Labor government would encourage asylum-seekers to come to Australia by boat again by abolishing temporary protection visas. The government only gives boat arrivals protection visas for three years. They can be sent back to their homelands if the circumstances they fled from improve.

Labor would give them permanent protection visas to provide certainty in their lives.

The Liberals have capped Australia's refugee intake at 18,750 while Labor wants to lift the number to 27,000.

The Liberals also want to repeal a law passed by Parliament by their opponents in February that reduces obstacles faced by asylum-seekers seeking medical evacuations from Papua New Guinea and Nauru.



Labor plans to reduce tax breaks for landlords, which the Liberals warn will accelerate a decline in house prices in major cities.

Labor argues that property investors are squeezing first home buyers out of the housing market because the tax regime gives landlords an unfair advantage.

From next year, landlords will only be able to claim tax deductions for losses from their property investments if the properties are new. The aim is to encourage property investors to build new homes instead of competing for existing stock against people looking for a home.

The tax discount that landlords can claim from selling properties would be reduced from 50% to 25%.

The new rules will not apply to landlords who buy properties before Jan. 1.

The Liberals argue that the changes will reduce the value of all homes.

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