Thursday, August 19, 2010

Only Two More Sleeps…

Two days out from the federal election and it’s still too close to call. If we are to believe the opinion polls then the Labor Government is just slightly ahead on the two party preferred basis. But even if that accurately reflects the outcome of the popular vote, it doesn’t guarantee that Labor would win sufficient seats to hold government. Kim Beazley and Andrew Peacock both lost elections while winning more than 50% of the votes because they didn’t win enough seats in the Parliament. The bookies have the Labor Party holding onto power with a slender majority, perhaps as slim as just one seat, and even they can be wrong sometimes. The truly amazing thing is that twelve months ago it was a very different story. This time last year, Kevin Rudd enjoyed phenomenal popularity, the government was basking in the warm glow of approval, Malcolm Turnbull was leading the Liberal Party to nowhere in particular, and the Copenhagen Climate Conference was yet to occur.

They say that a week is a long time in politics, and in that case twelve months is a geological age. Two significant shifts have occurred over that period of time. One is that the government lost its reputation as being competent, despite the success of navigating the global financial crisis without falling into recession, while the other is that Tony Abbott has transformed the Liberal National Coalition into a viable alternative. Love him or loathe him, the truth is that Tony Abbott has been remarkably successful at getting the coalition back into the race. There has been a most remarkable role reversal where the government is no longer trusted, but the opposition is now seen to be both stable and pursuing a clear direction. Win, lose or draw, Tony Abbott is already a winner in that sense, and will continue to lead the Liberal Party after the election regardless of the outcome.

This leaves Australians with a difficult choice. There are plenty of reasons to vote AGAINST both major parties. Tony Abbott supported Work Choices, he failed to advance hospital reform when he had the chance, he has big ears. Julia Gillard stabbed Kevin Rudd in the back, she wasted money on expensive school halls, she has red hair and isn’t married. But when it comes to policy, there’s not as many reasons to vote FOR either major party. On asylum seekers both sides are trying to be tough, on the budget deficit both sides promise to return to surplus by 2013, and on industrial relations both sides are promising to keep things as they are. Both sides want hospital reform, but have a different approach, and both sides want a broadband network, but at different speeds.

That’s one of the reasons why much of the political advertising has been so personal, each side attacking the other for their perceived shortcomings. Both sides are calling the other incompetent. Both sides are calling the other untrustworthy. Both sides are calling the other fools. Wouldn’t it be terrifying if both sides were right? That’s why the polls are so close, and why it’s so difficult to pick a clear winner. There’s a significant number of people who are equally disenchanted with both sides, and bemoan the lack of an alternative. But on Saturday when the crunch comes and pencil is put to paper, most people will make a choice. If the opinion polls are right, it means that Julia Gillard will be returned to office, but even if she is, both sides of politics need to recognise that we expect them all to lift their game.

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