Federal Election 2016: The Coalition promise tracker how did they go ?

The Coalition took a long list of promises to the 2013 election.

Whether they were contained in policy documents or, memorably, pitched by then opposition leader Tony Abbott on SBS the night before the election, ABC Fact Check sought to track a range of promises — 78 to be exact — which captured a wide variety of policy areas, not to mention geographical locations.

Mr Abbott set a high standard when it comes to keeping pledges.

In 2011 he said: "It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards."

On September 14, 2015, Mr Abbott lost a leadership ballot to Malcolm Turnbull, but as there had been no popular election, Fact Check considered that the 2013 promises stood and continued to track them.

On May 8, 2016, Mr Turnbull used the Senate's blocking of the bill to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a key promise made by Mr Abbott, as a trigger to call a double dissolution election, putting the Government into caretaker mode.

Check the tally below to see the promises that the Coalition kept, and those that fell short of the mark, and read on about some of the challenges Fact Check faced in assessing them.

The tally

Thirty delivered, 19 broken, 21 in progress and 8 stalled — that's the final tally for the end of the Coalition's term.

The status of each promise was carefully considered as events unfolded over the election cycle.

"Delivered" and "broken" promises have either met or fallen short of the criteria defined within the original promise, or where necessary, developed by Fact Check for this project.

Some promises were left as "in progress". These generally have timelines or other circumstances which extend beyond the election and are on track to completion, and therefore cannot be ticked or crossed.

The final category is "stalled". This status can reflect the will of the Coalition to achieve a promise which has been thwarted by extenuating circumstances.

A good example of this is the Coalition's promise to invest $16m towards upgrading Hobart's Cadbury factory, which was stalled when Cadbury decided its own contribution to the upgrade would not be worthwhile and so withdrew its application for federal funding, despite the Coalition's willingness to provide it.

A "stalled" status can also reflect a promise whose deadline is beyond the election, but is unlikely to be met, as in the case of the complete the NBN by 2019 promise.

As relevant events occurred, each promise was updated so that readers could track a path to its final determination.

Sometimes Fact Check continued to publish updates even after a pledge was assessed as "broken" when it appeared that it could be broken afresh in a new way.

This occurred in relation to the no unexpected adverse changes to superannuation promise, when the Government flagged potential changes to superannuation tax concessions 12 months after legislating a four-year delay in increasing employer superannuation contributions to 12 per cent.

And of course, the Coalition's promise to amend Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) legislation went from "in progress", to "delivered", to "stalled", to "delivered" again, to "stalled" yet again, all in a matter of months, as the Government attempted to steer its reforms through a hostile Senate by introducing changes via regulation and negotiating with crossbench Senators, only to have the regulations disallowed when some members of the crossbench reversed their stance.

Some determinations were easy to make — for example, the passing of legislation to abolish the carbon tax and the mining tax meant their status as "delivered" was clear-cut.

Likewise, when the Government legislated its temporary debt levy, its "no tax increases" pledge was unequivocally abandoned.

Mr Abbott's oft-repeated promise to "stop the boats" was ticked off the to-do list when the Coalition met its stated goal of less than three boat arrivals in a year — the Howard era record.

But there were other promises that weren't as straightforward, and required careful analysis to determine their final status.

Status anxiety

Each promise has its own set of criteria to be delivered or broken, which Fact Check based on what the Coalition said and wrote in policy documents before the election, and how this would be interpreted by the common voter.

A great deal of the time, deciding to leave the status of a promise as "in progress" was significantly more difficult than simply changing its status.

A dilemma soon after the 2013 election was how to treat the promise to deliver minimum broadband speeds of 25-100 mbps by 2016 and 50-100 mbps by 2019 when NBN Co published a strategic review forecasting that the first of these goals would not be reached and Mr Turnbull, in his role at the time as communications minister, told Parliament the Government accepted the "disappointing" forecast.

But, as is the case with many promises, it is impossible to write something off in 2013 that has a deadline of 2016. It was only when the election was called, and the opinions of experts were sought on a final determination, that Fact Check considered the promise "broken".

When Mr Turnbull called the election on May 8, it was clear that even if the Coalition was re-elected, the December 2016 target was out of reach due to the sheer number of premises that NBN Co would need to pass to deliver access to minimum speeds to all premises.

Likewise, the decision to change the status of the Coalition's promise to build Australia's new submarine fleet in Adelaide to "delivered" was fraught.

The actual completion of all 12 submarines is a task that will take decades, and likely, the terms of several governments of different stripes.

Thus, setting the parameters for fulfilling the promise far into the future would not have been a worthwhile exercise for those it would affect — what they really wanted to know was, would the Coalition generate jobs and work for local businesses by building the submarines in Adelaide?

In this way, the promise was considered to be much like the Coalition's promise to decide on a site for a second Sydney airport — once the announcement was made on the site for the airport, it was considered "delivered".

In the same manner, once the Coalition had chosen the French bid for the submarines contract ahead of the Japanese and German ones, and unequivocal statements given about construction in Adelaide, the promise was considered to have been honoured.

Some readers suggested this promise should have been treated as Fact Check has treated the no change to pensions promise.

In June 2015, the Government legislated an increase to the assets test free areas of the pension, and the taper rate by which the pension is reduced once the free area is exceeded.

Fact Check determined that this would constitute a change to the pension, but the legislated reforms will not take effect until 2017 well into the next electoral term — so it was left "in progress" (and now that the election has been called is "delivered"), as the electorate has the opportunity to consider this change at the 2016 election and vote accordingly.


Tallies by subject area

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to communications that ABC Fact Check tracked, three are broken, two are stalled, one is in progress and one is delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

Tony Abbott's promise of "No cuts to the ABC" and "No cuts to SBS" were broken in the Government's first budget in 2014.

But it was the Government's determination to give the country a broadband network cheaper and faster that was the highlight of the communications portfolio promises.

The Government has broken its promise of delivering initial broadband speeds of 25-100 mbps by the end of 2016 and promises to contain the cost and rollout the infrastructure by 2019 have been stalled by delays and budget blowouts.

Of the four promises related to the NBN, the Government has delivered one, broken one and two are stalled.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to the economy which ABC Fact Check tracked, two are broken, four are stalled, two are in progress and seven are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

The Government made 15 economic promises before the election and delivered on seven of them, including no cuts to health, education or defence.

They also honoured pledges not to cut penalty rates and to deliver jobs to South Australia by deciding to build the new submarine fleet in Adelaide.

But a decision to delay the timing of the superannuation guarantee increase broke that promise and another not to make unexpected adverse changes to superannuation.

Four promises, including restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which became the election trigger, and the plan to achieve a surplus of 1 per cent of GDP by 2023, have stalled.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to education which ABC Fact Check tracked, none are broken, none are stalled, two are in progress and five are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

The Coalition's election promises on education ranged across universities, apprentices and school chaplains with the overarching promise of "no cuts to education".

On that broad promise, the Government has delivered by increasing overall education funding year on year in nominal terms and well above CPI.

The Government has also delivered on its promise to continue university education funding owing to a failure to get its plan to deregulate university fees through the Senate.

It has also delivered on promises to grow higher education and to continue the school chaplaincy program.

Five education promises have been delivered and two, to match Labor's school funding arrangements and establish an independent schools fund, are still in progress.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to the environment which ABC Fact Check tracked, three are broken, none are stalled, one is in progress and two are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

A promise to abolish the Labor government's carbon tax was a central plank of the Coalition's re-election campaign and it delivered within 12 months of being elected.

Similarly, it allocated funding for the replacement scheme, the Emissions Reduction Fund, which was legislated in late 2014.

But in cutting funding to the green army, and scrapping the solar roofs program, two other promises were broken, though the plan to establish a Great Barrier Reef trust is in progress.

Two environmental promises have been delivered, three broken and one is in progress.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to health which ABC Fact Check tracked, two are broken, none are stalled, three are in progress and three are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

The Coalition has had mixed results in its promises on health with three delivered, two broken and three in progress.

Its overall promise of "no cuts to health" has been delivered, with funding increasing year-on-year over the Government's term and keeping pace with population growth and inflation.

Similarly, medical research was not cut and promises to fund dementia research, youth mental health and bowel cancer screening are all in progress.

However, it has not honoured promises to restore the private health insurance rebate and not to close any Medicare locals.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to immigration which ABC Fact Check tracked, two are broken, none are stalled, none are in progress and two are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

Fact Check judged that "stop the boats", a key Coalition election promise was delivered in April 2015 when only one asylum seeker boat arrival had arrived 18 months.

Similarly, the Coalition delivered on its promise to stop taxpayer funded assistance to asylum seekers within six months of taking government.

However, its promises to prevent asylum seekers who arrived by boat from getting permanent Australian residency, and to clear the backlog of 30,000 asylum seekers waiting to be processed, have been broken.

On immigration, the government has delivered two promises and broken two.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to Indigenous affairs which ABC Fact Check tracked, two are broken, none are stalled, none are in progress and three are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

Tony Abbott's promise to engage more fully with Indigenous people was delivered with the establishment of a Prime Minister's Indigenous advisory council and the move of Indigenous affairs to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

But the promise to spend a week a year in a remote Indigenous community was broken when Mr Abbott spent less than a week in Arnhem Land in September 2014.

Similarly, a draft amendment for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people was not published within a year of the election and still remains unpublished.

On Indigenous affairs, the Government has broken two promises and delivered three, including the promise of funding for the GenerationOne Indigenous employment model.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to infrastructure which ABC Fact Check tracked, one is broken, one is stalled, 11 are in progress and two are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

The Coalition went to the election promising funding on a raft of infrastructure projects around the country.

Of the 15 infrastructure promises Fact Check monitored, two, a road to Perth airport and deciding on a site for a second Sydney airport, have been delivered.

Eleven of the remaining promises relied on funding that extended beyond the next election and are in progress, including major roads in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide.

However, a promise to fund $1.5 billion for Melbourne's East West Link stalled when the Andrews government in Victoria decided to scrap the project.

But the Government allocated the funding without doing a cost-benefit analysis, thereby breaking another promise to perform a cost-benefit analysis on all $100 million-plus infrastructure projects.

This brings the government's tally on infrastructure promises to two delivered, one broken, 11 in progress and one stalled.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to legal affairs which ABC Fact Check tracked, one is broken, one is stalled, none are in progress and three are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

The Government has delivered on three of its promises relating to legal affairs, though not on one of its headline election promises to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The promise was abandoned when new counter-terrorism measures were announced.

But the Government has made good on its promises to hold inquiries into union corruption and the Rudd government's home insulation program.

Plans to amend the Financial Advice Legislation were achieved but stalled when the Senate disallowed them.

Three legal promises have been delivered, one broken and one is stalled.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to social services which ABC Fact Check tracked, one is broken, none are stalled, one is in progress and two are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

Tony Abbott's signature paid parental leave promise was broken in the second year of the Government's term.

However, the Government did promise not to change pensions during its term and to implement the National Disability Insurance scheme with Labor's funding and timeline, and both these promises have been delivered.

Two promises have been delivered, one broken and one, to increase employment participation, is still in progress.

Infographic: Of the Coalition's promises related to taxes which ABC Fact Check tracked, one is broken, none are stalled, none are in progress and three are delivered. (ABC Fact Check)

The Coalition promised before the last election to be the party that would not increase taxes.

It broke that promise when it implemented a temporary budget repair levy in mid-2014.

The Government did cut the company tax rate for small businesses, but abandoned its pledge of a 1.5 per cent corporate tax rate.

Its 2016 budget policy of progressively cutting the rate over 10 years did not honour the promise during this term.

But it did fulfil its key commitments to abolish both the mining and carbon taxes and has made no changes to the GST.

The Government kept three of its tax promises and broke two.

Thwarted or stalled?

The restrictive nature of the four categories Fact Check chose for its promise tracker became more and more apparent over the electoral cycle.

There were some promises that could not be considered "delivered" or "broken", but which weren't entirely well-served by the categories of "in progress" or "stalled".

This occurred in situations where the Government's intention and will to deliver a promise was abundantly clear, but it was prevented by extenuating circumstances.

On these occasions, "stalled" was used as a proxy for a pledge thwarted.

A good example was the Coalition's promise to invest $1.5 billion in Melbourne's East West Link.

The Government's enthusiasm for funding this project was so great that it broke its promise to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for all $100 million-plus infrastructure projects when it allocated $1 billion to the project in the 2014-15 budget.

But when Labor came to office in Victoria later in 2014, it scrapped the project, in line with its own election promise.

The Coalition's promise couldn't have been "broken" after the Victorian election, as the Coalition had allocated the funds and remained committed to spending them on the project.

A status of "in progress" would have implied that there was still hope that the promise would be made good, but the Victorian Government was very clear in its opposition.

Thus, the only fitting category was "stalled", as events had moved out of the Coalition's control.

A lesson learned for the next promise tracker — perhaps a fifth category of "thwarted" might be appropriate?

Delivered, in spite of itself

Curiously, there was one promise which the Government seemed determined to break, but ended up honouring in spite of its efforts.

The promise to ensure the continuation of current university funding arrangements was declared "stalled" when the Government announced changes to university and higher education funding on budget night, 2014.

The Coalition tried repeatedly to pass the bill, but it was twice frustrated by the Senate.

Had the legislation passed, the promise would have been written off, but the status was changed to "in progress" when the Government shelved its higher education reform agenda until after the election.

The Coalition has since delayed any potential reform by another year, and when the election was called, the status advanced to "delivered".

University funding arrangements continued throughout the term, in spite of the Government's own attempts to change them.

Not all promises are equal

Whilst the tally is a useful at-a-glance measure of the Government's record, the university funding example demonstrates each promise must also be considered on its own merits.

Three key things must be kept in mind when considering the outcome of the promise tracker:

  • A delivered promise can be perceived as negative depending on the audience, just as a broken promise could be seen as a positive
  • ABC Fact Check was unable to track every single promise that the Coalition made before the election
  • Some promises mean more to some individual voters or groups, depending on their circumstances, interests and even locations

The Government's promise to provide $700 million for the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, for example, may mean little to voters outside that area, but could be critical to voters within it.

There are some promises that are by contrast, of critical importance to all Australians, such as no cuts to health and no cuts to education.

Spending related to both of these promises was analysed carefully in relation to CPI and population growth, and Fact Check found that spending had increased, so they were both deemed "delivered" at the end of the electoral term.

Labor accused the Coalition of making $80 billion worth of cuts — $50 billion to health and $30 billion to education — in the 2014-15 budget, but Fact Check found that these "savings", as the Government called them, were on projected figures over 10 years made by Labor, and that there is too much uncertainty for this long-term estimate to be used as a reliable measure for cuts or savings.

The changes were not scheduled to begin until July 2017 in the case of health and January 2018 for education, and the verdict on the debate was deemed hot air.

Just as voters can take the legislated changes to pensions into account in the polling booths on July 2, they can also consider the Coalition's future plans for funding schools and hospitals.

Some promises are also more infamous than others.

On the eve of the 2013 election, then opposition leader Tony Abbott told SBS there would be "no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS."

These promises were widely reported, and when Mr Abbott broke the latter two in the May 2014 budget there was a prolonged backlash, as he acknowledged seven months later.

"Now, on the subject of broken promises, I accept that what we are doing with the ABC is at odds with what I said immediately prior to the election but things have moved on, circumstances are different," he told a media conference.

"Going into that election, the then government was telling us the deficit for that year would be $18 billion; it turned out to be $48 billion. I think sensible governments are not only entitled but, indeed, expected to change when the circumstances change."

That decision will be critical to the continuation of services like this promise tracker.

With the aid of its monitoring of 78 promises over the past three years, voters can now decide whether they agree with Mr Abbott's principle that governments must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards, or whether they expect governments to change with the circumstances.

Source: ABC News

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