If you haven’t noticed by now, this year heralds a federal election year. For the next few months we will see the first rounds of the election shadow boxing before the election date is finally announced. There are some screaming for the government to go to an early election while others want the government to go the full distance. Given the most recent polling results it seems the government is on its way back from total oblivion. However politics is a strange beast and anything can change between now and whenever the election is called. Under our federal electoral system, only the Prime Minister truly knows the dates for issuing the writs for an election to be held (after the Governor-General has given their consent).
However after the last couple of years of significant negativity in our national politics, the political landscape in 2013 looks very interesting, to say the least. The often repeated statements by the Coalition that the minority government has failed Australia are at odds with reality. The Coalition’s commentary has been the usual negative critique of the government that had, until more recently, been repeated by the mainstream media is likely to continue this year. There are many successes this government has had with the support of the Australian Greens. And at the same time some of the worst this government has come up with has been done in concert with the Coalition, like the return to the worst policies for assisting asylum seekers.
However, while the government is in some serious trouble, it seems to me that the Opposition is in even bigger trouble in reality.
In Queensland, the Liberal National Party (LNP) went from exacting a huge electoral win to now being highly unpopular. Queensland’s conservative premier is suffering from delusions of grandeur as he continues to slash and burn essential services, attacking hospitals, schools and emergency services. The Premier continues to ignore the massive contribution that tourism makes to the state, preferring to rely on mining revenue. The conservative government is very keen to destroy sensitive environs, including the Great Barrier Reef. It has gotten so bad for the LNP in Queensland that the conservative government launched a desperate distraction about compulsory voting over the festive season.
In Victoria, the Liberal National coalition is also deeply unpopular. Since pledging to do so much for the state, the Baillieu conservative government have spent the last couple of years sitting on their hands. There has been little development of the state’s economy and in fact there have been active efforts to damage the economy and undermine industries associated with renewable energy production and distribution. The government continues to back a Member of Parliament caught using public funds for his private business with a new round of allegations of a Liberal MP meddling in local government matters. And then there have been the changes to Melbourne’s green wedge to enable further development and expansion of the city, despite the lack of controls on such developments. However the Planning Minister is to give himself more powers to allow him to fast track developments, enabling the Minister to work around environmental protections and planning laws. For the most part this conservative government has been busy doing very little; they’re certainly not rolling out its so-called election agenda.
In Western Australia the conservative government is facing its first real challenge at the polls with the election happening in March this year. The conservatives have done little to improve their position. Despite the efforts of the loose coalition of conservative parties there is little harmony. The state government continues to pour money into the metropolitan regions, neglecting regional centres. There continues the acquiescence to the mining and gas lobby as the state government threatens local communities of forced, compulsory acquisition of land; and removes environmental protection standards. There continue to be problems for senior members of Colin Barnet’s front bench, especially for Troy Buswell, the state’s Treasurer and then there is the souring relationship between the major conservative parties.
In New South Wales, the conservative Premier, Barry O’Farrell, started out swinging but found it hard going not having out-right majorities like his colleagues to the north, south and west. While he hasn’t been as out-rightly vicious as Queensland’s conservative government, he has steadily and systematically been attacking the public service, and especially essential public services like public hospitals, schools and the fire-fighters. There has been little development of the state’s economy and there remains little being done about the pressing infrastructure needs of New South Wales, especially existing and future growth areas.
The Northern Territory conservatives are still busy dealing with being in government after a long time in opposition. It’s clear that there are some internal issues given the website still notes the conservatives being in opposition. While in South Australia the conservatives are completely incapable of making any inroads electorally with regular public spats about whether or not the current leadership is capable of winning an election. However despite the apparent problems, leadership spills have returned the existing leadership; though you have to wonder how well things are going for the conservatives when the leader that is regularly and openly bagged is continually returned as leader after each spill.
At a national level there are even more problems for the conservatives.
The popularity of the leader is perhaps the biggest problem for the conservatives at a national level. For two years the conservatives have maintained a relentless war of negativity against policy proposals before properly considering them, something the greater public has woken up to. However it seems to be very hard for the Leader of the Opposition to back away from his negativity and attacks. Every attempt by Tony Abbott to present a more positive front fails and he quickly resorts to being negative. There are, as already mentioned, problems with the policy platform.
There has been an endless stream of thought bubbles presented as policy and numerous contradictions between Tony Abbott and his shadow cabinet about what is or isn’t Coalition policy. For the last two years we’ve often heard the Coalition talk about their policies yet claim they’ll only be released before the election; it’s surely evident to most observers that the Coalition is extremely light on policy details to be continuing to use this tired line.
More recently they have run into trouble over the Slipper-Ashby case. The calls for a proper investigation have become louder, though the conservatives were probably hoping the festive season would make people forget this affair. There are many, many elements about this case that warrant further investigation, especially given the implications of who may be involved from the leadership of the conservatives.
Unfortunately if the summer is anything to go by, we still have a media environment that spends more time copying and pasting media releases than doing some real work to file stories. You only need to think of the ANZ hoax earlier this year to see that our media is cutting and pasting rather than doing some real work – simply put – such a hoax would not have happened if journalists did their jobs and media companies stopped sacking journalists. We have a media environment that insists on covering the trivial and fluff while ignoring the more substantive issues facing the nation.
Our media will likely fail to cover the important issues leaving most Australian voters poorly informed about the policies and positions of the various political parties and independent candidates.
Let us make the effort to maintain the pressure on all politicians and political parties to be up-front about their policies and positions on the key issues and not accept attacks as legitimate electioneering. And let us keep the pressure on our mainstream media outlets to provide us with information not fluff.
NOTE: This was first published on Alex Schlotzer’s personal blog