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Personality v Policy…

Not long after the Liberal Party came to power under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, I got a job at a very well respected, and unbiased, economic policy think tank. It was very interesting job, but one I struggled with originally. I didn’t understand why, if we were supposed to be unbiased, only Liberal Ministers were permitted to be invited to speak on our platform. It felt lopsided to me. Surely, if we were to be not aligned to any one political party and we were supposed to be above politics and focused on the success of the Australian economy, both sides of the economic coin should be represented.

Given the landslide against Labor in 2013 and the fact a large percentage of the business community and media had stopped listening, along with the belief at the time Labor had no chance of winning the next election, it was explained to me that the Government of the day, regardless of political leanings were the one on the platform. They were in a position to fix the economy, to ensure the nation’s prosperity whereas the Opposition were in the political wilderness, unable to effect change.

It took a while for me to get my head around that. I admit I was still struggling to understand how Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party had won the election. Abbott was a fighter, you have to give him that, but after the election he stayed in attack mode. There was no relief from his dogged attacks on everyone he saw as the enemy. There was no real leadership (even in this days just a few months after he got the keys to the Lodge and moved into the AFP barracks).

My State Director and I were talking one day and she said something that stuck with me, and guides my political awareness even now. During a discussion on why I couldn’t invite a particular Labor Shadow Minister to discuss a topic, given they had been instrumental in it while in power, she said to me:

“Mike, you have to get beyond the personality and dig to the policy. The problem in Australia is people vote for personality, even if it is against their best interests. They don’t research, they don’t dig deep, they don’t look beyond the next day. The majority of Australians don’t even understand anymore how they vote.”

It was an odd thing for me to hear and I thought a very condescending position. Why don’t people understand how to vote anymore, why do you think they have zero concept of the policy and focus only on the personality. I had more questions after that discussion than I had before hand.

It wasn’t until Budget 2014 I realised exactly what my boss had meant. Part of my job was to analyse the policy to source the seeds of future economic growth for the Australian economy. It could be tedious at times and I learnt quickly that politicians say a large amount of words without actually saying anything. They talk, but they play their cards close to their chest.

After the Budget came down in 2014 I, like a large portion of Australia, was absolutely horrified. Education cuts, Health cuts, University fee deregulation. The budget was the thing of nightmares for most of Australia. Economists were vocal about the impacts the budget would have long-term. There was little in the way of light for the Abbott Government at the time.

To this day, most of those changes are still sitting in the Senate waiting for approval. The Hockey Budget of 2014 burnt what political capital the Government had with the voting public. It was a direct contradiction of the now infamous “No Cuts” speech from the night before the election. It was almost as if the Government took that speech and used it as a blueprint for one of the most draconian budgets in modern Australian political history.

I spent hours reading that Budget, trying to find the seeds I was looking for. It was harder than you may think. It was during this period, while eyeball deep in this cut and that, that I came to understand the importance of what my State Director had told me.

The cult of personality in politics was the reason we had this budget, and this Government, which seemed to be so different from what the people had been promised. I cast my mind back over the election campaign. I remembered Meme’s on Facebook and Twitter, I remember the blatant bias of the mainstream media and the now infamous “Australia Needs Tony” front page, the photo shop skills of the New Corp papers making the Labor party appear to be bumbling, blithering idiots all while the LNP under Tony Abbott offered statesmanship and authority.

It was then that I realised the error many people had made when they allowed their vote to be dictated to them by outside interests, rather than their own sense of what was right. Many people knew Tony Abbott wasn’t going to be a good Prime Minister, and while some people thought he’d be stable and secure even his supporters seemed a bit wary of him as PM.

In 2013, during the election and for a couple of months after it, I was unemployed. I had been made redundant from my position due to economic issues. Businesses in the lead up to the election had closed their books and weren’t spending. Consumer confidence was down and as a result the industry I was in got hit, hard.

One day, a month or so after the election I went to the local shopping centre just to have a coffee and get away from the job hunt for an hour. I was sitting in a coffee shop having a coffee and reading a book on my iPad when I overheard a conversation between younger women at the table next to me. It was about the election and the NBN.

Prior to the 2013 election about the only real policy that came out was the changes a LNP Government would make to the largest infrastructure build in Australia since the Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric scheme. It was a visionary policy from the Australian Labor party that would see Australia in position to be one of the first countries to tap the new e-economy. The speeds on offer would mean that small businesses and entrepreneurs across Australia would have fast, reliable internet and be able to run their businesses from practically anywhere in the country.

The Abbott Government, under then Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced what would amount to a cheap, two-speed service removing the last leg of the build – the fibre cabling to the premises – and leaving the degrading, rotting, copper network. It was like having a high speed motorway, and then a dirt track for the last leg of the journey.

During the conversation I overheard the two ladies were complaining their homes had been taken off the NBN map. I felt their pain, mine had as well. It would take almost two years for my house to reappear and the NBN to come to my area. It was during this conversation however that something struck me as odd.

“Did you hear they’re removing the School Kids Bonus?” one of them asked.

“Yes, they said that before the election,” said the other.

“Yeah I know, but I didn’t think he was serious. I’ve got 2 kids in school and another about to start, that School Kids Bonus shouldn’t be taken from us, what about the rich people who never pay tax?”

“If you didn’t think he meant it, why did you vote for him?”

“He wasn’t Rudd. Can’t stand that bloke. He talks for hours and he was useless as PM, if he hadn’t been they wouldn’t have rolled him.”

I remember at the time thinking it served her right, she’d voted for the Liberals and the removal of the School Kids Bonus was one of the few policies they had announced before the election. But it wasn’t until I was clawing through the 2014 Budget that I realised something else. She lived in my electorate, not Tony Abbott’s so she how had she voted for him?

It was then the State Director’s comment about Australian’s not knowing how to vote made sense. Australia’s Government operates under a version of the Westminster System. We vote for local candidates and the Party with the highest number of local seats wins the right to form Government. The leader of that Party then becomes Prime Minister.

Australia does not have a Presidential Voting System. When we go to the polls in July we are not voting for Bill Shorten, or Malcolm Turnbull. We are voting for our local candidate and ultimately the Party we think has the best policies to move Australia forward.

There’s a lot of Personality on display in this election. Just last week Rupert Murdoch owned Sky News began claiming the election was already won and the Turnbull Government would be returned. Even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has claimed he’s already won.

Grudging comments from politico’s congratulating Bill Shorten on his campaign, and adding things like “there was never any doubt he’d lose”, or “you could tell from the beginning his heart wasn’t it, he never came across as someone who believed he’d win.”

I began to get angry when I started hearing this. How on earth were these apparent experts able to make these claims? Three leaders debates, all of which were won by Bill Shorten. One of which the Prime Minister couldn’t be bothered attending. Shorten has appeared everywhere, unafraid to answer the hard questions put to him face to face. He’s given answers the pundits have called “the moment he lost the election”. Why? Because they are answers that are hard to hear, not what the people want, but to his way of thinking they’re honest.

Polls are showing he has skin in the game. They’re showing the people are angry, they want change. They want a Government who will say what they’re going to do in plain, simple english. Not three-word-slogans or sound bytes. They want a Government who can accomplish something that doesn’t take the country backwards. They want to be led by someone who has principals and who isn’t afraid to say “this is going to be difficult.”

Australian’s are not stupid. They do not need to be fed apple sauce from a media spoon and have some journalist on the news make aeroplane noises as they direct it to our mouths.  We are a country that deserves the truth. We deserve the political leaders who will make the decisions we put them in power to make. We do not deserve to be treated like we’re imbeciles who don’t understand the basics.

In this election the Labor Party is playing the long-game strategy. They’re releasing solid policies. Are they pretty and sparkly and come with a bow? No, they aren’t. What they do have is vision. They’re policies lay a clear path to a well defined future. They aren’t reliant on slogans, they aren’t reliant on failed slogans from American Presidential campaigns or hit sitcoms. They are taking the ‘fight’ to the people and saying “There are two visions here. The policies you vote for are the ones that will make a difference to your children’s futures. It is up to you.”

The Liberal Party have released several policies throughout the election, however they’re playing the Abbott Game. There’s little in the way of substance. Tax Cuts to businesses sounds impressive, but the fact is cutting tax on businesses isn’t going to stimulate the economy. That will only happen if it’s legislated the money saved must be invested in hiring new staff, and not simply used to further fill company bank accounts or shareholders pockets.

The Liberal Party talk Jobs and Growth, but have not outlined what they’re going to do to ensure jobs and growth beyond implementing the recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Trade Union Movement and bring back the Howard era ABCC. They talk about innovation, which is great and something the country needs, but not about how they’re going to bring about innovation. For a Party who believed the only reason people wanted the NBN was to download movies faster, innovation seems to be the least of their concerns, as the one tool that would have streamlined that and made it a reality is currently worthless.

There are a range of policies from both Parties that have been announced in Health, Aged Care, Tax, Medicare, Education, Childcare, Climate Change, Renewable Energy, and the NBN just to name a few.

Before you vote on July 2nd, make sure you understand what those policies will mean. As a single gay male I view it as the responsibility of all of us (not just those with skin in the game for future generations) to ensure our country has the brightest possible future. It is not about ‘what’s in it for me,’ it is about ‘how will the country look in 5 years or 10 years time.’ Last week a friend of mine had a son. He is currently 4 days old. He won’t vote on July 2nd, but we will.

The votes we cast at the upcoming election are not for us, but for the children who will lead in the future. I’ve heard a lot about deficits and the debts we’ll be leaving for others to pay, but the reality is a nations economy is not a personal bank account. The fear campaign about maxing out the countries credit cards was a masterstroke by the Abbott Opposition in 2013. It dumbed world economics down and in the process muddied the understanding of many people about what a nations economy looks like.

And remember. Unless you’re in the seat of Wentworth, or the seat of Maribyrnong, you are  not voting for either Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten. You are voting for the Party that has the best policies for the future of your local electorate.

If Australia continues to vote without analysing the policy, allowing our democracy to be replaced with a bastardised version of the American Presidential System, the quality of political and policy discourse in this country will continue the downward trajectory it’s been experiencing in recent times. If we as a Nation continue to put the personality before the policy we’ll leave the nation in such a state future generations will look back at us and think we really were stupid and easily led.

The majority of Australians voted last election, without caring about the policy. If it happens again, this country of ours is in trouble. I’m not saying who to vote for here. Liberal or Labor, the choice is yours. Just make sure when you vote on July 2nd the choice you make is informed.


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