On the same day that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced Sept 14 as the day for the country's federal election, a major business group challenged politicians to focus on six key issues.
The Australia Industry (AI) Group welcomed the early setting of a date for the election since it would provide long-term certainty that the business community wants. Until Aussies decide if they want Ms Gillard to remain in power or be replaced by Tony Abbott, the eight-month wait would mean some major investment decisions by enterprises would be temporarily placed on hold, said AI Group Chief Executive Innes Willox on Wednesday.
"Business will now be looking to both parties to provide the community with a clear vision of their policies well ahead of the election. On behalf of our members and the broader business community, AI Group will work to ensure that the policies of all parties acknowledge the need to lift productivity, our competitiveness and to build a resilient and diversified economy," Mr Willox said in a statement.
He identified the 6 key issues as follows:
1. The continued gain of the Australian dollar despite the cut in interest prices and commodity prices dipping in the international market.
2. The growth hole looming over the Australian economy over the expected earlier easing of the mining investment pipeline and fiscal policies of the federal and state governments that block instead of contribute to growth.
3. The value of productivity growth, which is on a downward trend. The AI Group believes there is no single solution to fix this problem but must be addressed on several fronts, including the crafting of a more flexible industrial relations system, improvements in education, skills development and management abilities and more focus on innovation, tax reform and infrastructure development.
4. Cut in red/green tape and harmonisation of national regulation processes to improve national productivity.
5. Energy costs and availability due to the higher electricity bills attributed to the carbon tax, as well as concerns over future gas price and availability.
6. Climate change and environmental policy as the carbon tax debate moves into a new phase and resurface as key political issues.
Among these six issues, the hottest debates will likely be on the carbon tax which the Coalition has vowed to repeal if it wins the Sept 14 election.
In response to Ms Gillard's announcement, here is Mr Abbott's take on the coming federal election.
The Daily Telegraph columnist Andrew Bolt opined that while Ms Gillard's sudden announcement of an election date appears to be a smart move, it was a desperate act because if she thought Labor would win the election, she could have called for a snap election instead.
Mr Bolt insisted that the changing numbers in pre-election surveys showing gains in Labor's numbers is the work of the PM's spin doctors. He cited two recent polls made by Essential Media and JSW Research that showed the Opposition still ahead of Labor.
Another Daily Telegraph columnist, Piers Akerman, favoured a snap election by the end of February or early March to end all speculation instead of saddling Australians with the longest election campaign in history and despite Ms Gillard's assurance of differentiating time spent for campaigning and governing.
"Far from ending political speculation, she has created myriad new channels of uncertainty as individuals and businesses contemplate the policy possibilities that may challenge them under this government in the lead-up to the election - and the choices that will confront them when the policies are revealed when the campaigns are formally launched," Mr Akerman wrote.