Coalition sandbagging key electorates with taxpayer funds

Jason Wood holds the south-eastern Melbourne seat of La Trobe with a margin of 3.2 per cent in a state that is showing signs of a substantial swing to the Labor Party.

It means the voters of suburbs such as Berwick, Narre Warren and Officer South have been offered more electoral pork than almost any other electorate in the country.

After opening the year with a promise for $500,000 towards a new multicultural centre in Berwick, the Coalition has kept up the pledges with a heavy focus on roads.

More than $300 million worth of road projects have been promised although local motorists won’t be driving on some of the new bitumen until the middle of next decade.

To make sure voters are aware of the Coalition’s deep desire to help them, in the past week it has promised four upgraded car parks at railway stations in the electorate. There are just seven stations in the seat.

And one of those, Pakenham, had already been promised to have its car park doubled in size by the Andrews state government before the Coalition came to the party.

Car parks are a key part of the Coalition’s sandbagging plans.

The seat of Deakin, held by a key Peter Dutton supporter Michael Sukkar, is at risk of falling to Labor despite its 6.4 per cent margin.

There are seven stations across the electorate. The Coalition wants to expand parking at five of them.

Yet there is no state rail land available at three of the stations with the state government noting that at one, Ringwood, the site is too tight even for a new multi-deck carpark.

On one day the Coalition announced 25 carparks for railway stations across Melbourne. Twenty-two of them were in Liberal-held seats including some where there is no clear increased demand for parking while key growth areas, which just happen to sit in Labor electorates, were completely ignored.

They include council areas in Melbourne’s west where local populations have grown by more than a third over the past five years with large demand for local railway station access.

Another seat to get a lot of attention is Pearce on the northern suburban fringes of Perth where Attorney-General Christian Porter is facing a major battle against Labor’s Kim Travers.

Ten promises have been made including five worth a combined $30 million that were highlighted by Mr Porter over a three-day period. They included a $25 million swimming pool for the growing suburb of Ellenbrook, $234,000 worth of work on a park in Gingin, including new barbecue and toilet facilities, and $350,000 for a local skate park.

The Ellenbrook pool was at least the third aquatic centre promise made so far by the Coalition including one at nearby South Perth in the marginal Liberal seat of Swan.

Another cabinet minister, Greg Hunt, is also focusing on local projects to woo voters in his seat of Flinders, where he is fighting former Liberal-turned-independent Julia Banks and Labor’s Josh Sinclair.

The Health Minister has promised $5 million towards the local Rosebud hospital, $2 million for a “missing link” in the local cycle path network and $150,000 for a pavilion at a local sporting ground.

In far north Queensland, where long-standing MP Warren Entsch is battling to retain the seat of Leichhardt, plenty of federal taxpayers’ cash has been promised to a range of hyper-local projects.

Port Douglas will get an upgraded animal shelter worth $500,000, another $1 million will go into the Cairns men’s shed while $60 million will be sunk into the local James Cook University’s Tropical Enterprise Centre.

While both the Coalition and Labor are keen to promote their signature policies, small scale ones used to sandbag particular seats are left to local candidates to make public.

Scott Morrison with Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, who has had 12 promises made for his seat since the start of the year.Credit:AAP

And while particular seats considered to be at risk have been lavished with attention, non-marginal seats, those that may be deemed unlikely to be retained and those without sitting members have received far less attention.

While the Coalition has focused its attention on the seats of Pearce, Hasluck and Swan in Perth, far less has gone into Stirling where sitting member Michael Keenan is retiring.

But even Stirling has got some attention, with a promise of $17,500 for facilities at a local baseball and softball field.

Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Jessica Irvine is a senior economics writer with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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