By Sara Bice. Sara Bice (PhD) is director of research translation, Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne.
As the longest campaign in recent memory has ambled on, all parties have struggled to sustain voters’ interests, and issues beyond Australia’s shores have shifted the election focus from change to consistency.
There’s no Julia Gillard-style ‘going forward’ this year. Not even a good ol’ Kevin Rudd ‘working families’ or Tony Abbott’s ‘real change’. Nope. Slogans today are all ‘stable government’ and risk. While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spouted the rather uninspiring appeal, ‘Don’t risk change’ at Sunday’s official Liberal Party campaign launch, Bill Shorten was left with ‘Don’t risk Turnbull’.
And so it is rather dispiriting but unsurprising that Australia’s federal election campaign comes to a close this week with a whimper.
Leaders had an opportunity to push critical issues including climate change, youth unemployment, tax and related evasion, women’s issues, the private/public healthcare divide, immigration and energy futures. Sure, these issues have all been addressed across the six weeks, but few if any have been pursued by politicians espousing hopeful intent to positively change the status quo. Even fewer have received a level of honest debate which would open new opportunities and policy agendas. It’s all pretty hum drum.
Can we know why?
First, let’s blame Brexit. Everyone else is doing it. And certainly, the UK’s vote to leave the EU is playing a considerable role in influencing the context of the final week’s election debate. Politicians are fully on the ‘keep calm’ bandwagon and are now contesting who can offer the greatest degree of stability in post-Brexit turmoil. While we should not overemphasise the effects of the UK’s decision to exit the European Union on Australia, the event has raised considerable uncertainties across political issues, including economic markets, foreign policy, migration and social inclusion.
Second, let’s blame the 24-hour news cycle. But this is an easy target, isn’t it?
Yes, we know that social media has changed the way many members of the public engage with politics and politicians. This year’s Facebook debate cemented that. But is it really the constant scrutiny and singular focus on re-election that stymies strong political debate and innovative policies? To me, this is blaming the tool not the user. At the heart of this issue is a political realm rife with fear of losing—or perhaps in social media terms FOMO (fear of missing out)—where focus has shifted largely onto concern for the career of the individual, rather than onto what an individual may do to advance social agendas on behalf of a committed and interested constituency.
University of Melbourne academics recently argued that social media could enhance democracy, not dilute it, but this requires a mature approach to its pressures and potential. And it’s an approach I’m afraid we have not yet seen.
Other contributing factors and theories abound: Lack of voter enthusiasm. Concerns that internal factional wrangling will result in ineffective Government, as per the past several years. The lack of considerable difference between party platforms—taking the Vote Compass questionnaire last night, I was bemused to find that the Coalition and Labor share many of the same answers on key policy questions.
It would be terrific to end six weeks of election commentary with excitement going forward for working families looking for real change in jobs and growth. But instead, it seems to be politics as usual.
See you at the polls.
This article was originally published by Pro Bono Australia
Photo courtesy Adam Hollingworth