Malcolm Turnbull has warned voters of the need for stable government in uncertain times, in a pitch to counter Labor’s fear campaign and the temptation for electors to lodge a protest vote.
Addressing the Coalition’s launch, in the wake of the Brexit decision Turnbull said: “a clear economic plan is more essential than ever as we enter a period of uncertainty in global markets following the British vote to leave the European Union”.
“The upheaval reminds us there are many things in the global economy over which we have no control. Calm heads, steady hands, stable government and a strong economic plan are critical for Australia to withstand any repercussions. At a time of uncertainty, the last thing we need is a parliament in disarray,” he said.
Turnbull said the shockwaves of the past 48 hours were a sharp reminder of the volatility in the global economy. “Always expect the unexpected,” he said, adding that Australia would now need to renegotiate vital trade deals with Europe and Britain.
The launch was held in the marginal Sydney Liberal seat of Reid. The Liberals avoided any comparison of the popularity of the two former prime ministers – John Howard and Tony Abbott – by having them introduced together.
Turnbull emphasised border security – a big issue in the British vote – saying: “Public trust in the government to determine who can come to Australia and how long they can stay is an essential foundation of our success as a multicultural society.”
He said that “to protect our economic security, and to protect our borders, you need a stable Coalition majority government – not a parliament in chaos”.
The government’s border protection depended on three pillars: boat turnbacks, offshore processing and temporary protection visas. “Labor has already abandoned TPVs. So they do not have the same policy as us, and who would trust them on the rest.”
“In tandem with the Greens, Labor would overturn the very policies that have kept our borders secure. We know this because hope rarely triumphs over experience.”
Turnbull on Sunday announced several modest initiatives: A$192 million for mental health; $48 million for scholarships for disadvantaged schoolchildren; $31 million for girls and women to study and work in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) areas; $50 million to help older people improve their digital literacy; $64 million “to crack down on the trafficking of illegal firearms on our streets, in particular by criminal gangs”.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, speaking before Turnbull, announced a $200 million regional jobs and investment package.
Indirectly referencing his business experience, Turnbull said that everything that we sought to achieve depended on strong economic growth. “That is not something that I learned in a textbook anymore than you did.”
He said the election’s “clear-cut choice” was between a government with an economic plan which supported more investment, stronger growth and more jobs and a Labor party with no economic plan.
“Labor believes its best hope of being elected is to have trade union officials phone frail and elderly Australians in their homes at night, to scare them into thinking they are about to lose something which has never been at risk.”
Bill Shorten had put his lie about Medicare at the heart of his campaign and Labor boasted about how many people it had deceived, he said.
“That’s not an alternative government, that’s an opposition unfit to govern. When he’s not trying to frighten older Australians, Mr Shorten is prosecuting an anti-business, anti-growth agenda more toxic and backward looking than any Labor leader in a generation.”
Turnbull said every element of Shorten’s platform would discourage investment and employment.
It was “a recipe for economic stagnation”.
“His vision splendid is to run the nation like a trade union. The volunteer firefighters of Victoria know what that looks like.”
Turnbull raised the spectre of a replay of the Gillard years and another “power-sharing fiasco” with the Greens and independents. “That is why I’m urging Australians today and through this week very carefully to consider their vote, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate.”
“We present a stable Coalition majority government” – the alternative was “a Labor Party that has lost its way or a protest vote for Greens or independents”.
“Vote for any of them and you could end up with Bill Shorten as prime minister in a government where unions, Greens and independents pull the strings.”
A chaotic Labor-Greens-independents alliance would wreak havoc on the economy and put at risk living standards.
“This threat is real,” Turnbull said.
“When it comes to the minor parties, be they Lambie, Xenophon, Lazarus or Hanson – if you only really know the leader of a minor party, but you don’t really know their candidates, and you don’t really know their policies then don’t vote for them.”
Turnbull said if Australia faltered in transitioning its economy, there was a real risk of the country “falling off the back of the pack” of leading economies.
“This is no time to pull the doona over our heads – or, as Labor and the Greens would have it, to pretend that the good times will just keep rolling no matter how much you tax.”
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra