ARE Labor's ambitious plans to reform negative gearing safe as houses? Or will voters reject the move at the coming federal election? The date for the poll has yet to be set, but negative gearing is already a battleground in the seats of Parkes and Calare. Also on voters' minds are the drought; mobile black spots; and funding cuts to schools. Regional journalist Sahil Makkar takes a closer look at the burning issues in the west.
Parkes, traditionally a Nationals seat, has been held by MP Mark Coulton since 2007.
Mr Coulton says Labor's plan to limit negative gearing and double the capital gains tax will hurt more than 5570 people in the electorate, which stretches from Dubbo to Broken Hill and Condobolin to Moree.
"Labor's housing taxes are lose-lose," Mr Coulton said.
"If you own your own home, it will be worth less, and if you rent your home, it will cost you more.
"Bill Shorten and Labor want to hit Australians with $200 billion in new and higher taxes - on incomes, housing, electricity, investment, retirees and family businesses."
But Labor candidate for Parkes Jack Ayoub defended his party's position, saying both polices are grandfathered, meaning those who currently negatively gear will not be affected and the capital gains discount will remain at 50 per cent for all existing investments.
"I believe this is a positive change that will help those Australians looking to buy their first home," Mr Ayoub said.
"It will have some affect in the larger centres of [the electorate of] Parkes, however, the policy is mostly aimed at stabilising the boom and bust cycle of the major cities."
Parkes is one of the worst drought-affected electorates in NSW and both candidates are promising to do more for farmers.
Mr Coulton said he is open to discussing with his constituents their concerns regarding drought assistance, so that those who require support can access it.
"The Federal Government is pushing ahead with the $5 billion Future Drought Fund to give farmers - including those in my electorate - new tools to prepare for, manage and sustain their businesses through drought," he said.
Mr Ayoub said Labor will establish a "Farm Productivity and Sustainable Profitability Plan" on the recommendations of scientists, economists, research bodies and farm industry leaders to discover new approaches.
Both candidates are promising to improve the mobile network coverage in regional areas.
The federal Coalition has committed $380 million for the Mobile Black Spot program.
The locations for five new Telstra base stations in the Parkes electorate are Tilpa, Silverton Exchange, Enngonia, Pimpara Lake (near Packsaddle) and Naree Station (near Yantabulla).
"I know that the program will not be able to fix all of the black spots across Western NSW, however, this program is very welcome," Mr Coulton said.
"Labor did not help build a single mobile phone tower nor invest a single cent in mobile coverage in six years of government."
Mr Ayoub said he will ensure all major roads across the electorate are totally covered by reception and after that he will ensure coverage in as many areas as possible as quickly as possible.
"I can promise the people of the Parkes electorate that I will listen and always act on their behalf," Mr Ayoub said.
Calare, which has been with the National Party since 2007, is represented by Andrew Gee.
Mr Gee says more than 6180 people negative gear in the Calare electorate, which includes Bathurst, Blayney, Lithgow, Oberon, Orange and Mudgee.
"There are people within the Labor Party who would have concerns about Labor's own policy," Mr Gee said.
"In fact, the Labor candidate for the state seat of Orange, Luke Sanger, has been a vocal opponent of his own party's policy on negative gearing."
Labor candidate for Calare Jess Jennings, however, defended his party's position.
Mr Jennings said the Federal Government currently spends more than $11 billion annually on negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount - that's more, he said, than total Commonwealth spending on public schools.
"I believe that responsibly winding back negative gearing and capital gains tax changes will help make the property market fairer for first home buyers," Mr Jennings said.
Farmers in the Calare electorate are going through one of the worst droughts in 100 years, but the burning issue has failed to bring both parties together.
Mr Gee said it was disappointing that Labor voted against the $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund.
"Drought relief really should be bipartisan," he said.
Mr Jennings said the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government had been slow to respond to the current drought crisis.
"It has done nothing to develop a long-term drought strategy," he said.
"A Shorten Labor Government will invest in over 100 new Centrelink Community Response Officers - to meet the needs of those facing drought or other adversity.
"A Labor Government will help drought-affected towns get back on track with a $20 million Regional Economic Development Fund to be used to stimulate local economies and support local jobs."
Both candidates also blamed each other for not doing enough to provide better mobile coverage in the region.
Mr Gee said Labor didn't build one mobile phone tower or fix one mobile black spot when it was last in office, but Mr Jennings rejected the claim.
"In government, Labor invested in the $250 million Regional Backbone Blackspots Program, which is now providing the essential backhaul needed to connect mobile base stations to the network," Mr Jennings said.
Mr Gee said the federal Coalition had managed to tick off 36 black spots in the electorate and will start work on the others.
Mr Gee provided a list of projects for which he had arranged funding, including $22 million for the Charles Sturt University medical school; $12.5 million for Bathurst's second racetrack; and $16 million for a crossing over the Macquarie River at Dixons Long Point and road paving to provide a better link between Orange and Mudgee.
Mr Jennings said he will ensure the people of Calare benefit from reversing cuts to penalty rates and lifting minimum wages to a living wage.
"I am focused on ensuring that the residents of Calare have access to properly funded schools and hospitals as well as access to affordable healthcare," he said.
"Labor will abolish the 20 per cent cap for funding and inject an additional $14.1 billion in Commonwealth funding to public schools."
Labor's gamble ahead of the poll
THE Central West's tax experts and business community are unsure about the benefits of Labor's proposed changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax.
Labor says it will limit negative gearing to newly built homes from January 1, 2020, though those with investments made before this date will not be affected by the change because it will be fully grandfathered.
Labor also wants to reduce the capital gains tax discount for assets that are held longer than 12 months from the current 50 per cent to 25 per cent, though this change would also be grandfathered.
Matt Wright, the Dubbo-based director of Money Quest, says the proposed changes may further dampen the interest of potential buyers and affect property prices.
"Already the property market overall has cooled over the past few months due to tighter credit policy, and this has impacted not only on investors entering the market, but also on first home buyers and business owners," Mr Wright said.
Labor argues the benefits of negative gearing and the capital tax gains discount are mostly enjoyed by the top earners.
It said the top 20 per cent of income earners receive about half of the negative gearing benefits and the top 10 per cent capture more benefit than the bottom 60 per cent.
Labor says the benefits for the capital gains tax discount are even more inequitable.
Russell Tym, the Orange-based certified financial planner and managing director of MoneyLink, says the proposed changes will take a proportion of buyers out of the market and reduce demand in capital cities.
He said it will reduce the supply of rental accommodation in Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo.
"But lower prices help first home buyers, so some renters become owners and less rentals [homes] are required," Mr Tym said.
Western NSW Business Chamber regional manager Vicki Seccombe said the chamber believes there are more pressing reforms required to the tax system than to negative gearing or capital gains tax.
"We are concerned that changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax may further complicate issues such as housing affordability," she said.
"The greater potential concern, from these changes, is the impact they will have on the private rental market and the supply of affordable housing for the rental market in the years to come."
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's announcements in the 2019-20 Budget
Tax relief worth $158 billion for Australians. Doubling the low and middle income tax offset from 2018-19. Taxpayers earning up to $126,000 a year will receive a tax cut. For a single income family, this will mean up to $1080 more in their pocket each year. For families on a dual income, it will mean up to $2160.
Lowering the 32.5 per cent tax rate to 30 per cent from July 1, 2024. This will cover all taxpayers earning between $45,000 and $200,000 and will mean that 94 per cent of taxpayers will pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar.
Additional tax relief for small and medium-sized businesses. The instant asset write-off will be increased from $25,000 to $30,000 for businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million.
An $8 million business case to develop a fast rail link between Sydney and Parkes, via Bathurst and Orange.
Limit negative gearing to new housing from January 1, 2020. All investments made before this date will not be affected by this change and will be fully grandfathered.
Halve the capital gains discount for all assets from January 1, 2020. This will reduce the capital gains tax discount for assets that are held longer than 12 months from the current 50 per cent to 25 per cent. All investments made before this date will not be affected by this change and will be fully grandfathered.
Restore penalty rates and force big business to report on their pay gap publicly.
Limit 457 visas to areas of genuine skill shortage and require positions to be advertised in Australia first.