Around this point in election campaigns, political tragics start talking about which side has “won the narrative”. It is the ultimate in insider phrases but it points to an important aspect of modern-day campaigning, particularly if the main electoral combatants have broadly similar approaches to fundamental areas of policy like economic management, foreign relations and so on. While there is some truth to the notion that the Liberal National Party and the Labor Party have not been this far apart on the political spectrum since the 1990s, each of them is still trying to claim the middle ground in the national electorate. The difference is in how they go about explaining themselves to that broad middle.
As far as local communities are concerned, this campaign has seen a growing acknowledgment by both major parties that local issues move votes. And there is one institution that knows local issues like no other: councils. This explains why Labor has pulled ahead (slightly) in the race to claim the campaign narrative: the party has gone out of its way to pitch its policy platform in the context of what is in it for local communities and, by extension, local councils.
Today’s announcement of a “Local Government Plan” by Labor is a case in point. The plan is essentially a repackaging of campaign announcements Labor has already made but it is couched in language that shows a willingness to tackle the essential challenge of local councils across the nation_ financial sustainability.
“Local councils are on the front line of many big challenges, including climate change, waste management and meeting the expanding needs of our communities,” a media release by Labor’s Stephen Jones accompanying the plan says.
It goes on: “Labor is committed to building the nation-building infrastructure Australia needs. We will work with state and territory governments to get projects up and running, with earlier investments in all states and territories.”
There is no commitment to the core policy proposal that will help fix local infrastructure needs, a restoration of financial assistance grants to councils to at least one percent of Commonwealth taxation revenue. Indeed, Katter’s Australia Party was the only election contestant that supported that policy.
But, along with some other promises on funding for waste management, protection of the great Barrier Reef and remote indigenous housing, this was enough for Labor to manage a B-plus, as opposed to the LNP’s B-minus, in the LGAQ’s final election report card.