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From a distance, the so-called “greens” of the Karratha Country Club in the far north of Western Australia look like sand traps. Eighteen tarns of sand pock the ends of long green strips etched in the Pilbara dust.

A torrent of recycled water maintains the fairways, but “it’s like having a pool table that you haven’t dusted in five years,” says club president David “Harry” Hipworth. “It slows the ball down.”

But, thanks to federal Labor, all that is about to change.

On August 16 the Labor party dedicated $400,215 already in the budget to green the “greens” of the club. The dollars are among dozens of small, local spending initiatives announced by the Labor Party and the Coalition over the past three weeks.

To one way of thinking, these spending announcements are the real campaign front line. They are used to convince voters at the local level, where ballots are actually cast, that one party or the other truly has their best interests at heart.

“Most of the polls we read about in newspapers are national or state polls,” says Nicholas Reece, a Fellow at the Centre for Public Policy at Melbourne University and one-time senior advisor to Julia Gillard.

“Of course, elections are not decided on national polls. Political parties know this so they target their initiatives at those electorates where it is likely to get them the best electoral response.”

Fairfax Media has been collecting every spending announcement released by the headquarters of the major parties over the course of the campaign. We have also trawled the websites of local candidates to collect as many announcements as we can apart from what head office distributes.

We have adjusted that list to focus only on dollars that seem positioned to influence votes in particular seats.

Labor has made 133 promises that meet our criteria, compared to 115 from the Coalition.

Our analysis excludes some massive projects, including the $1.5 billion the Coalition has dedicated to Melbourne’s East-West Link. It makes little sense to allocate the cost of such a project entirely – or even substantially – as a benefit to the electorate of Melbourne, beneath which it is located.

It does not exclude roads altogether, however. In Bendigo, north of Melbourne, a combined $131 million is on the table.

The Coalition has pledged $86 million to upgrade the Calder Highway/Calder Alternate Highway interchange near Ravenswood, a cause Labor has supported with $45 million of its own.

RACV Roads and Traffic Manager, David Jones, says the RACV welcomes the funding, and argues that the project will improve traffic flowing from Victoria’s north towards Melbourne. However, he says the RACV was not particularly aware of the intersection as a black spot.

There is little question, though, that the locals know it as such. It is a regular topic of local media coverage.

Our analysis also excludes some battlegrounds that have dominated the national debate. The Coalition’s $10 billion paid parental leave scheme and its $5 billion corporate tax cut are set aside not simply because they are national, but because their targets are so broadly diffused.

Under those caveats, the first announcement to emerge from the Coalition targeting the Green’s seat of Melbourne was $6 million to plant a million trees around the city. The strategy is clear.

Labor attacks Melbourne differently, with a $100 million pledge to redevelop the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. It is the second-largest promise we have found that we felt comfortable attributing to a particular electorate.

But pride of place goes to the Western Sydney electorate of Parramatta. The Westmead hospital precinct located there stands to benefit from $122 million promised by Labor. It is the largest single commitment on our list.

Held by Labor on a margin of just over 4 per cent, Parramatta is central to the fight for western Sydney. Marginal seats including Greenway (Labor by 0.88 per cent), Reid (Labor by 2.68 per cent) and Bennelong (Liberal by 3.12 per cent) all border it.

Both parties have clearly decided that justice and sport matter on the front lines.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has traversed the country delivering small millions from the National Crime Prevention Fund to localised legal services, and has been generating at least half a dozen press releases along the way.

At least 27 announcements have been generated by Liberal candidates, on their individual websites, promising CCTV cameras and other crime-prevention infrastructure to their electorates.

The press releases are nearly carbon copies of one another, and often the headlines are indistinguishable from one candidate to the next.

The Coalition’s headquarters contributes just over 20 items to our list. Announcements are largely left to individual candidates, who may or may not post the announcement online.

We cannot, therefore, claim to have a comprehensive list of Coalition announcements despite repeated requests for assistance to the Coalition.

Labor has made more than 100 such local spending announcements. Promises of $112,870 to help pay for the refurbishment of the Kalamunda Library, or $150,000 for a car park and landscaping at the Khmer Buddhist Association of South Australia’s Parafield Gardens site, are typical.

All of these are distributed through Labor’s campaign headquarters, alongside policy announcements of much larger scope and reach.

For example, on August 14, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd distributed $209.8 million for 137 new Trade Training Centres to be established around the country with a single announcement.

The announcement included the names and locations of the schools to receive the funds.

An analysis by Fairfax Media of those locations shows six such centres will be established in the marginal seat of Page, held by Labor’s Janelle Saffin. It is the largest number to be established in any electorate.

Only five seats receive more than three centres, and only one of those seats is considered “safe” by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Does this imply a cold calculation? Is this a policy that has been hijacked to gain votes? Mr Reece says things are rarely so simple.

“It is very rare for a political party to go out and promise something that nobody wants and nobody needs,” he says.

“What they will do is push things in a direction that happens to help them electorally. They are looking for an alignment between good policy and good politics.”

*The data in this story was correct as of August 30.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.