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The ties that bind: How negative campaigns eclipse community focus

  • 12 May 2022
  Election campaigns can be defined by all sorts of things. Gaffes, negative ads, international incidents, public policy. It is trite but no less true to say that this federal election campaign has been much more about the first three rather than the last. The policy discussion has been edged into the election mix most seriously by various interest groups and by some of the macro party and independent candidates seeking election.

The focus placed on a number of these independents has been framed by policy questions, or policy differences, especially in the case of those independents running in traditionally Liberal seats. Whilst there are independent candidates running on local community issues, especially in rural and regional electorates, this shift to national policy-based independents is striking. Their presence raises the profile of national and international issues but elides the questions of community usually championed by independent candidates.

Presentations of community have been even more absent from the campaign headlines than those of public policy. The distinct focus of this new wave of independents, and the attention they are garnering, is a factor in this. So too is the global instability we are currently experiencing.

Moreover, the major parties have been more interested in negative commentary on their opponents than framing themselves by the communities they are part of. The allure of negative advertising overshadowing the way Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have previously contextualised their biographies in community. Morrison the Cronulla Sharks fan, Albanese the South Sydney Rabbitohs fan.

To be a Sharks fan is to belong to a community, to be part of Cronulla and the broader Sutherland Shire community, known to locals simply as ‘the Shire’. This geography is important to Morrison’s identity. It even plays into his faith identification. Morrison has distanced himself from the problems of Hillsong leader and sometime friend and mentor, Brian Houston, by saying that for years he has worshipped at a local Pentecostal church, Shirelive, not at Hillsong.

'To understand how a government will interact and treat the space that ought to be open for community, for a vibrant small and medium entities of civil society in all their iterations in a continent-nation, seems imperative.'

Morrison has so determinedly identified with this community even though he was a rugby union, not league, follower until not too long ago. The community seems to reflect his political positions. Morrison’s is a community of higher levels of income but lower levels of