While Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten prepare to battle each other tonight in the third and final leaders’ debate, a contest just as enthralling is being played out thousands of kilometres away from the media spotlight in Canberra.
The electorate of Leichhardt, held on a 4 percent margin by the LNP’s Warren Entsch, is gradually forcing its way to the top of the list of seats to watch when the vote count begins on election night. The reason is that, while Leichhardt has always been vulnerable for the LNP, the number of policy fronts on which Mr Entsch and his party have had to fight on to defend it is growing markedly.
The latest is on the issue of indigenous housing, hardly a showstopper for either of the major parties at the beginning of this campaign, but now an area in which both have made major announcements in recent days.
This blog has already covered the implications of Labor’s $112 million indigenous housing promise, an announcement that resulted in a marked improvement in how the party rated on the LGAQ’s election report card.
Now, the LNP has made a policy announcement of its own, promising $105 million to continue construction of hundreds of badly needed dwellings in remote indigenous communities (although there is confusion about whether communities outside of Cape York are included).
The first thing to say is that this is a welcome move from the LNP. After months of political posturing, it shows the party, along with Labor, recognises that the federal government has a role to play in ensuring overcrowding is reduced in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Bipartisanship between traditional political opponents is rare so when it comes about it should be celebrated.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion (with Mr Entsch in tow) travelled to Pormpuraaw to make the announcement, which included a vow to deliver the funds straight to local councils rather than through the State Government.
“The Queensland Labor Government rebuffed numerous Commonwealth offers on a genuine housing partnership, so we will now deal directly with the councils to deliver housing,” Mr Entsch said.
“This historic initiative will mean more jobs and training opportunities for local workers in our remote indigenous communities.”
While attractive, this is potentially problematic, given that the State will still be expected to fund half the cost of the program and associated water and other infrastructure would remain a State responsibility to provide.
But in a seat that is somewhat unique in terms of the capacity of the indigenous vote to influence the result at election time, the need to move swiftly on indigenous housing funding might have taken precedence over settling on the detail.
It is intriguing that, with 18 May looming fast, both the LNP and Labor have now got their chequebooks out to tackle this issue after months of fruitless lobbying by local councils and the LGAQ on the need to continue the good work of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
That, as they say, is politics. The bottom line is that, no matter which party claims government after 18 May, indigenous communities look like they will be in a better position than they were a few weeks ago regarding their housing future, and that is unarguably a good thing.