I’m quite puzzled by the negative, disillusioned tone of much of the blogosphere and MSM commentariat coverage of the federal election campaign. I’ve actually been quite heartened, almost inspired, by it.
The advent of 21st century versions of old-fashioned “town hall” participatory democracy with the ABC Q and A public grillings of both leaders and the Rooty Hill and Brisbane Broncos public fora have delivered unprecedented real public scrutiny of both leaders’ policies and personal qualities. To my way of thinking these fora are much more useful and real than the previous tradition of staged TV debates and Press Club performance in the last week.
Moreover, both leaders emerged from the process with their reputations justifiably enhanced. Australia is fortunate to have two personable, capable, highly intelligent and experienced leaders in Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. My own reaction to last night’s Broncos marathon was that I’m pretty relaxed and comfortable about Saturday’s election. Whichever party wins we will have a competent, moderate democratic government with solid, prudent economic policies. In fact there’s little to distinguish the Labor and Coalition macro-economic positions. Barring a double dip world recession, Australia’s short-medium term future is very positive and both parties can be trusted not to imperil it (despite the inevitable hyperbole of both sides’ negative advertising).
On balance I prefer Labor and that’s the way I’ll be voting on Saturday. I’m a genuine swinging voter having voted Coalition twice in the last last 15 years. I think Julia Gillard is the better leader of the two contenders, and I prefer Labor policies overall. The National Broadband Network policy is a standout for me and an absolutely vital piece of national infrastructure. Most aspects of Gillard’s Building the Education Revolution policies, Rudd’s painfully negotiated health and hospitals deal with the States, and even the hastily cobbled together Resource Rental Tax deal, are all solid, forward-looking policies. A modest reduction in company tax, enhanced national infrastructure building, and funding the public sector component of the long overdue 12% occupational superannuation policy are each sensible uses for the RRT revenue stream.
Maybe the totality is not quite as visionary as some might have hoped, and the glaring omission from Labor’s policy suite is any convincing, coherent policy to deal with climate change, but overall it’s a solid second term reform agenda. It’s a trite but true cliche that politics is the art of the possible and Gillard Labor has fashioned a set of policies which should satisfy any reasonable, politically astute observer.
By contrast, when you drill down to the level of specific policies, there is little to see on the Coalition side. Their more generous parental leave scheme is a plus, though the slug on company tax for big business isn’t. And Abbott’s mental health policy is markedly superior to Labor (another glaring omission from Gillard’s policy package). However, with those notable exceptions the Coalition’s policies seem little more than a reactive, ad hoc series of unrelated initiatives designed to pork barrel particular areas and interest groups, and funded by slashing and burning other areas of government expenditure, some of them announced and some not.
The Coalition’s policies are neither coherent nor well considered, and don’t add value to Australia’s economy. Essentially Abbott’s election strategy has consisted of smoke and mirrors pork barreling while trying to convince Australians of the patently false proposition that Labor has been guilty of gross waste and extravagance and has run up huge and unsustainable public debt, when the reality is that our public debt levels are tiny and Gillard/Rudd’s economic stewardship through the GFC is the envy of the western world and praised by most economists not to mention the Reserve Bank, IMF and Treasury.
Labor’s problems have been caused by Kevin Rudd’s badly misjudged handling of the climate change issue, the resources “super tax” and his egregiously gratuitous advocacy of a “big Australia” when the marginal seats in the outer suburbs of Sydney and Brisbane are experiencing major adjustment stresses flowing from a near-record migration program and population growth levels from an enhanced birth rate. It was just plain stupid politics from a former leader who by all accounts sees himself as the smartest bloke in any room.
With any sort of luck Julia Gillard has done enough to allow Labor to limp across the line to a second term in government despite Rudd’s blunders. If not, an Abbott Coalition won’t be a disaster, although it will certainly delay the necessity of providing vitally important fast broadband infrastructure and is less likely than Labor to begin taking any effective action on climate change. At least Gillard believes it’s real and understands the need for a carbon price … just not quite yet.