CANBERRA (Reuters) - Key policy differences between Australia's main parties competing in a September 7 general election.
The election is unlikely to have any major foreign policy implications. Both the ruling Labor Party and the opposition Liberal-National Party coalition are strong supporters of a long-standing military alliance with the United States, and both support the rotation of U.S. Marines through northern Australia. Both are also strong supporters of closer ties with China, which is Australia's top trading partner.
Australia's A$1.4 trillion economy is in transition as the investment phase of a big mining boom comes to an end, leaving the country looking for other sources of growth. The economy is in its 22nd year of continuous growth, with gross domestic product (GDP) rising 2.5 percent in the year to the end of March. Unemployment is 5.7 percent, and interest rates are at a record low 2.5 percent. Both the central bank and the government would like to see a lower Australian dollar, to help ailing manufacturers and exports.
The opposition is promising stronger control on government finances and a faster return to budget surpluses. It is committed to cutting 12,000 public service jobs to help control spending, and has said that if needed, it will allow the central bank to cut rates before it would look to any stimulus spending.
The opposition has also promised to cut company tax by 1.5 percentage points to 28.5 percent from July 1, 2015, at a cost of A$5 billion in its first two years. But the biggest 3,000 companies will be hit with a 1.5 percent levy, to help fund a paid parental leave scheme.
Labor has promised to return the budget to a small surplus by 2016, with net debt forecast to peak at A$191.6 billion, or 11.4 percent of GDP, in 2014-15 - still less than one eighth of the debt levels of major advanced economies.
Both parties want to protect Australia's AAA credit rating from all three major ratings agencies.
The opposition parties have promised to scrap a controversial 30 percent profits tax imposed on major coal and iron ore mines.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard and her then treasurer, Wayne Swan, introduced the tax, which began in July 2012, after negotiations with global miners Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Xstrata, now Glencore Xstrata.
However, the tax has been disappointing and is forecast to raise only about A$3.0 billion in its first four years, down from initial estimates of A$13.4 billion.
CARBON PRICE, ENERGY
Opposition leader Tony Abbott has promised to abolish an unpopular carbon tax, currently set at A$24.15 a tonne and imposed on Australia's top 300 polluters. He has blamed the tax for job losses and for pushing up electricity prices.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has moved to neutralize the carbon tax by bringing forward by a year a planned transition to an emissions trading scheme, linked to a European scheme. That will see the carbon price fall to between A$6 and A$10 a tonne, easing the costs on business and exporters.
Both parties are committed to reducing Australia's carbon emissions by five percent of year 2000 levels by 2020.
The Labor government has also set a 20 percent renewable energy target, set at 41,000 gigawatts, by 2020. But falling electricity demand might see the opposition cut the target to 20 percent of real demand by 2020, which would see the target drop to about 27,000 gigawatt hours.
The steady flow of refugee boats from Indonesia is a hot political issue, particularly in a clutch of marginal seats in Western Sydney. About 400 boats have arrived in the past 12 months, and 45,000 asylum seekers have arrived since Labor won office in late 2007.
Abbott has promised to stop the boats, and to use the navy to turn back boats to Indonesian waters. However, there are few details on how that will be done. Abbott also wants to expand the number of asylum seekers who can be processed on the remote pacific island nation of Nauru.
Rudd has moved to trump Abbott's tough rules by sending all asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea, where they will be settled if found to be refugees. Labor has signed an agreement to expand its Manus Island detention centre in PNG from a planned 600 places to about 3,000. But the agreement, announced on July 19, could face challenges in both Australian and PNG courts.
Abbott's landmark election policy is a promise to give women up to six months leave, on full pay, upon the birth of a baby. The scheme would start on July 1, 2015, and is caped at A$75,000. It will be partly funded by a 1.5 percent levy on companies with income above A$5 million.
The Labor government's maternity leave scheme pays a minimum wage for up to 18 weeks, and is worth a maximum A$11,200 to recipients.
The Labor government is half-way through building a national high-speed broadband network, worth A$38 billion. It promises super-high speed broadband, delivered to households via fiber-optic cables. It promises broadband speeds of 100 megabits per second to people in cities and the countryside.
The opposition has promised to complete the national broadband network at a lower cost, of about A$29.5 billion, but with slower speeds of 25 megabits per second. It will use fiber optic cables to suburban hubs, but then rely on existing copper wires to deliver the network the final meters to each house.
(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Robert Birsel)