Fear and loathing on the campaign trail: Back to the future

September 1, 2013

Australian House of Representatives – Canberra. Source: Alex Proimos (http://www.flickr.com/people/34120957@N04)

This week Australia goes to the polls. Elections are always a good time to stop and look around. To think about how we are going, and more importantly, where we are heading.

From the perspective of how we have been going – our circumstances appear to be quite rosy - at least on the surface.

Economically, we are in the top five countries for GDP growth over the past five years. This is a great feat – yet is easy to understand given that we’re experiencing the country’s greatest ever mining boom.

Socially we also appear to be an enriched Western democracy. The Labor government has instituted many safeguards for workers in their Fair Work act, and history will judge this government’s grandest legacy as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). I can’t recall a much more gratifying piece of legislation being instituted (perhaps our gun law reformation, but that was a long time ago now). In saying this, we continue to grapple with the inequity of the asylum seeker debate. Certainly there seems little end to the contentiousness, and certainly no end to the tide of boats coming our way.

Environmentally, you could argue we have also been through the launch of our carbon tax.  Having said that, the proliferation of mining and exploration around the outback, coupled with a lack of action on protecting national treasures such as the Great Barrier Reef, are concerning.

We are not perfect, but no country is. Overall, the boom will be viewed as a potential coming of age of the nation. Looking ahead however, the political options appear rather bleak. If ever there was a time for a more bonafide third party it would be now. The Greens have lost their mojo as Christine Milne bumbles through with her ill-founded aggressive demeanor. In a time where the environment is less of a concern to the masses, their platform seems weak.

The Australian Labor Party appears to be in disarray. Their policy making lacks vision and a consistency of thought. Whilst their ability to create legislation in a hung parliament should be admired, their apparent inability to manage themselves has damaged their brand deeply.

Rudd was never going to be the messiah - once people remembered what he was like first time around. He has been a divisive factor in the party and the question now needs to be asked, “Who will lead moving forward?” For a party that swept to power with its grand visions in 2007, the combined Gillard/Rudd era has symbolically been a disaster. Their achievements overshadowed by wrangling, infighting, and being a sucker to the polls. They will certainly need to undergo a revitalization of sorts after this election.

Which takes us to the Liberal Party of Australia/ The Coalition, who as it stands, appears likely to become our new government. This has always been the Liberal’s election to lose. They have taken the safe bet.

Abbott was the man who brought them to the brink in the last election. This time around he will step into The Lodge. If ever it feels we are going backwards to take a step forward, this is it. Install Tony, one of Howard’s lieutenants. The message has been loud and clear. Repeal. Get rid of the mistakes of The Australian Labor Party. Go back to what we had. Do what Howard did with the boats. This list goes on.

The potential paid parental scheme is a big idea, however, is a dangerous one economically and leaves some wanting. Generally speaking, nothing else seems to have stuck.

Tony’s approach has been – don’t stuff up. This says as little as possible. Nothing too outlandish and they might even obtain a landslide. Even the debates have been about negating Kevin, rather than beating him.

One policy that is a step forward, but in reality could have been so much more, is the NBN roll out. The rationale - ‘You don’t need that much bandwidth”, “it’s too expensive” – wreaks of a lack of vision, a belief in the innovative and ingenious potential of our population. This will prove a missed opportunity for the nation.

The legalisation of gay marriage is another point that Abbott could have made a stand on. In the end, he was wise to hide behind his political cards, and no one has seemed to really call him out on it.

Time after time, the stand Abbott has taken is an approach grounded in residual thinking. Disbelief in the climate science of our time, no to the legalisation of gay marriage, and the lack of need to expand our bandwidth are three key examples. Playing it safe is always a dangerous strategy. Trying to hold onto what we have will ensure that we miss opportunities. This happens in the business world all to often. Brands often get usurped by someone else with a fresh take, Nokia and Ericsson are major examples. Both brands missed the smart phone and tablet shift.

The Australian Labor Party have to think of a new way forward. They will need to build their case around it. Their infighting will need to resolve itself first, but a creating a powerful juxtaposition to Abbott’s Liberal Party is not too difficult. You can forsee a few stumbles from Abbott along the way as he gets tongue tied around topics where he is uncomfortable.

Innovation and creativity are planks that Labor can think about as they look ahead to 2017. They will need to galvanise around an ideal that disrupts Abbott’s steady as she goes policy, his safe conservative look, his slow measured speech patterns, and the conservative background and ideology that he has.

On a bigger note, I think ahead and wonder what a new government will mean for the population as a whole. We know we are striving for control in this crazy world. Likewise we know people are looking for and searching for ways to make the most of the amazing flux we are going through. What impact will his leadership have on the psyche of the nation is undetermined. It could no doubt go several different ways.

One outcome could be a shift, whereby our new government’s conservatism acts as a springboard for confidence. Initial NAB, Dun & Bradstreet research indicates a more confident business community. This may trickle into the community at large, if the standard of living appears to improve of course.

The other path is not as fruitful. Along with Tony’s conservatism, Australians could retreat into thinking that the way we live should just be maintained. 

Hopefully the former will manifest and we can enter into a new phase of growth and social prosperity.