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Game on: pollies, follies and lollies

  • 03 April 2019


We are now bang in the middle of the peak season for politicians seeking election. Budget week signalled the beginning of formal election campaigning. The campaign party policy speeches will soon follow. Before we become immersed in detailed partisan debates and electorate trench-warfare some general propositions deserve consideration.

This election campaign will give both the government and the opposition a relatively even chance to present their credentials. While the government always enjoys the advantage of incumbency, which means inside knowledge, government advertising and bureaucratic support, on occasions when the budget speech is so close to the election date the playing field is reasonably even. The opposition and government start from essentially the same budget position and opposition promises can be made knowing that voters realise that swift implementation is within their reach if elected. Initiatives from each side can be countered.

Election campaigns are a time for hot air and hypocrisy about the rules of the game. We can see this in the major parties' current stance on One Nation preferences. Each major party is trying to outdo the other in trying to distance themselves with calls to 'Put One Nation Last'. Yet the nature of our preferential voting system means that One Nation preferences will inevitably flow to other parties regardless of their how-to-vote card advice. HTV cards can shape the flow of preferences but ultimately their direction lies with individual voters.

Debate between party leaders about the ethics of preference distribution is as much about ideological posturing as it is about anything else. The major parties always seek minor party preferences. Only very rarely will the preferences of the major parties themselves matter at all because they are rarely distributed.

The three biggest dangers in election campaigns are bad policies, extravagant promises and personal attacks.

There is much that is subjective when evaluating policies but those policies that are offered in the last-minute rush before an election always run the risk of poor construction and short-term rather than long-term goals. The short parliamentary session following the budget restricts the chance of detailed examination by the Senate, and an opposition keen to take the reins of government may be inclined to allow things through rather than pick a fight. That doesn't bode well.

Campaign policies are targeted inordinately at swinging voters. This means that the most vulnerable people and the common good of the community are easily overlooked. The disappointed reaction by representative church voices