Who will win power in September?
A year ago Tony Abbott was an unbackable favourite to become Prime Minister of Australia at the 2013 Federal Election. Only Black Caviar had shorter odds. Most punters reckoned that Julia Gillard would lead her party to absolute oblivion, irreparably damaging the ALP brand in the process.
Now, although the Coalition is still clearly in front, it is a genuinely contestable election that may yet provide the biggest political upset in our nation’s history. Such a boil-over is worth a punt of a reasonable number of dollars down at the bookmakers, but don’t put your house on it.
My best personal analysis of the current state of play is that we will end-up with another hung Parliament, because most Australians simply do not want either of the major parties to govern them.
Two Independents will hold their seats — Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie. The Greens will lose their Melbourne seat in the House because the major parties will preference against them, and Rob Oakeshott is in real danger of losing for local reasons.
I reckon that Bob Katter should switch from Representatives to Senate where, because of his high public profile, he has a splendid chance to take a seat from the Greens in Queensland, leaving him in a possible balance of power situation in that Chamber.
The Prime Minister’s controversial announcement that the election will be held on September 14 enables her to honour her signed agreement with the Independents to serve a full three year term, while providing the Leader of the Opposition with plenty of scope to make some errors of judgement.
When all the dust has settled on this, it should be acknowledged in all fairness that she has proved that a minority government can survive in Australian politics and provide an active political agenda. Indeed, it has already passed more than 400 pieces of legislation. The fact that we may or may not like some of it is beside the point. The Parliament has been working and Gillard has survived one of the most vicious personal vendettas I have ever seen.
The crucial point to bear in mind about this election is that it will be held in an atmosphere where the voters are utterly switched off by politics — indeed disgusted by it wholeheartedly.
The vast majority despise politicians and believe that the debates in this current parliament have been vulgar and irresponsible, the emphasis being on holding or gaining power with no care being given to the real needs of the people.
Indeed, my personal view is that this has been the worst-behaved Parliament of my 81 years of life, and the new Parliament will face the challenge of spending its full term regaining public respect.
Given this fact, politicians must come to terms with the reality that most voters won’t listen seriously to their policies or promises. They will vote for people, not parties. Hack candidates put-up by party machines will get a thrashing, and this will be a wonderful event.
Nevertheless, the electorate will make it very clear to the candidates what their aspirations are. So, for once, it will be the pollies who will have to do the listening in this campaign, not the other way round. In the hope that a politician somewhere is actually listening right now, these are the major matters that, in my humble opinion, concern voters most of all.
• Every government in the world must be fiscally conservative — get into surplus and stay there. Australia must lead the world in this. The days of vote buying are over. The endless years of entitlement are finished. Debt is no longer fashionable, especially with individual voters, who know from bitter experience that one day all bills have to be paid. Most have learned the tragic outcomes of a life of greed, and don’t want the hand-outs that pollies love to bestow on them. They are sick of being treated like prostitutes.
• Infrastructure is the most neglected element of the economic and social fabric of our nation, and has been ever since Federation. Most politicians have always reckoned that infrastructure earns them no votes, mainly because projects take so long to be planned, financed, approved and built. They hold the foolish belief that voters get angry if they don’t see results before the next election. Thus, we have a nation that is crying out for new and upgraded freight railways that will get long distance trucks off the road, cut highway maintenance and reduce pollution. Just as pressing is the need for fast underground rail systems in our cities which will offer travellers a service every five minutes. Voters can see little value in driving cars on crowded city streets, but current rail services give them no option. Our ports are not geared for the age of technology. They are labour intensive and very slow in turning ships around. Big investment is needed in their automation and in their environmental stewardship of the surrounding oceans. Power stations are antiquated, using too much fuel, being too costly to run and environmentally unfriendly. Additionally, all power lines must go underground in every street in the nation. Airports are unable to handle their traffic. New runways are long overdue, and Sydney is crying out for a new airport as a matter of urgency. Along with this, we must have fast passenger trains connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. They can replace a lot of air services. I could add much more, but I have said enough to indicate that any party that goes to the 2013 election without a national infrastructure plan for the next two decades should not get your vote. They won’t be getting mine. The time has come to make infrastructure a political life or death issue in the minds of all candidates.
• It beggars imagination that this nation, which occupies the driest continent on earth, does not have a plan to drought-proof the Inland. Nor do we have a strategy to flood-proof the Coast, given the extreme weather conditions we experience from time to time. Both of these challenges can be overcome simultaneously if we have the will power to do it. They are achievable at little cost in comparison to the wasteful handouts that all governments wallow in so as to get our votes. One year’s gambling money will bring a continuous water supply from the Gulf Rivers to the Eastern States. A similar amount will bring water from the Kimberly to Perth and will stop the building of utterly useless desalinisation plants. There are about 20 rivers that regularly flood coastal cities that need new or enlarged dams, no matter what the Greens say. We should have built them half a century ago to control the water flow. These essential projects would also provide considerable reserves of water to handle bush fires by diverting flow over the mountains into inland streams. This is really exciting stuff that will make the voters sing songs of joy, but pollies prefer to get their votes by frightening them.
• The rejuvenation of labour markets to improve productivity is now long overdue. The Australian workforce is less productive than most nations in the G20, making us ultra-uncompetitive on the world scene. It is irresponsible to stir voter discontent about the evils of predator employers, even though a few of them are less than human. Some enlightened changes are needed out in the workplace which are fair to both sides, reduce costs and improve output, as we are living beyond our means. The reform of the labour market will be a volatile issue on the campaign trail. The Party that tries to sweep this issue under the carpet will lose — and will deserve too.
• Five million voters are over 50 years of age — more than enough to decide who governs our nation. Many are highly concerned that their superannuation will run-out when they still have a decade or so of life expectancy. Additionally, they have rapidly declining confidence in the ability of the large Super Funds to look after them adequately. Whichever side has the most enlightened superannuation strategy will make rapid strides towards victory. They will also need to have positive policies on mature age employment and age-friendly housing, as these are key issues for Seniors.
You may be surprised that I don’t have refugees on my list, but I believe that while politicians and the media immorally thrive on vilifying boat arrivals, a growing number of people like me feel that it’s time to calm down and stop trying to re-implement the White Australia Policy. Most countries in the world have got a refugee problem, yet we developed hysteria about it and became a joke in the eyes of the world.
Let’s face reality, process them all on-shore quickly, send the thugs home and concentrate on giving those who remain the opportunity to become good citizens. The party that runs on this positive platform will get a lot of votes. The Federal Budget will also save billions of dollars in wasteful expenditure.
There are lots of other issues that will get a few days publicity during the campaign, but we can chat about them as the election saga proceeds. However, let me say that I will be strongly supporting Disability Insurance and the Gonski Education plan. The current concepts of both can be improved, but they represent the fundamental fibre of an enlightened nation.
My final election comment for the moment is not one that I make with any sense of national pride. Nevertheless, I must say that I fear that this election will go down to the wire on the issue of whom the voters dislike the least — Julia or Tony.
Voters were distressed about this choice last time, and they like it much less this time. But, there is no alternative. All the leadership challengers have had their chances and seem to have now taken vows of silence.
Unless one of them experiences a rush of blood and stages a dramatic Hawke-Hayden type coup at the very last minute, it is game on for Abbott and Gillard. They will ruthlessly punch one another to the brink of oblivion. It will not be a pretty sight.