The holy policy trinity of education, health and crime has taken centre stage in the West Australian Senate election campaign, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten leading a teachers’ march while Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet met 39 floors above him.
A teachers’ strike to protest against education cuts by WA’s Liberal state government attracted an estimated 20,000 people to a rally where Mr Shorten was the star speaker.
The Labor leader denied he had hijacked the event to push his political point before Saturday’s re-run poll, but still asked those gathered whether they wanted more Liberals in the Senate.
“How dare the Barnett government, how dare the Abbott government say that the average is good enough. The average is never good enough for our children,” Mr Shorten said.
“Do you want more Liberals in the Senate? Keep fighting for the kids and we will win.”
With the entire cabinet in Perth to show WA how much it matters, Mr Abbott announced a $10 million plan to target WA’s bikie gangs coupled with more than $50 million for regional health funding across the state.
And he responded to the teachers’ march by saying the best place for them was in the classroom with their students, not rallying by the river.
“The vast majority of parents would be disappointed to see teachers out of the classroom on strike making a political point,” Mr Abbott said.
“And Bill Shorten as education minister cut $1.2 billion out of school funding just before the election … so he risks looking like a bit of hypocrite by addressing that rally.”
Clive Palmer backed his multi-million dollar advertising blitz by appearing in Perth to push for another Senate seat for his Palmer United Party.
He denied he was hiding PUP’s lead candidate Dio Wang from the campaign trail, saying he was in the hustings in the regions this week.
He also hit back at Mr Abbott’s claim the mining magnate was “spending money like a drunken sailor” on his campaign, and attempting to buy a Senate seat.
“At the last election, they (the Liberals) spent $65 million and we spent less than a third of that, but they criticise us because they say competition is good in business,” Mr Palmer told AAP.
“It’s good for the country, but they don’t want competition in politics. That’s what it’s all about.”
He said the Liberals were upset polling showed their third candidate, Linda Reynolds, would not win a seat.
“That’s why Tony brought over the whole cabinet. The Liberal party didn’t want him to come because they thought he’d be a negative.
“But when they realised how well we were doing here, they had to bring him anyway – it was a gamble.”
Asked how Tasmania would feel about PUP’s push for a greater GST share for WA – given it has fewer natural resources, and faces reduced standards of health and education if it gets less of the tax – Mr Palmer said: “That’s a commonwealth responsibility”.
“Before we had GST, that commonwealth had that responsibility to equalise it through the Grants Commission and that’s what should happen in Tasmania. It shouldn’t come at the expense of Western Australia.”