Australia votes in a federal election today, and according to opinion polls the Liberal/National Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, appears poised to sail into government on a wave of discontent with the incumbent Labor government. All but one of Australia’s newspapers have endorsed the Coalition. If you’re thinking of voting for the Coalition, beware of self-fulfilling election prophecies!
The Coalition think they already have your vote in the bag and they don’t have to do anything to win you over. They think they don’t even have to be honest and upfront about their policies. Their strategy is to merely sit back and wait for you to hand them the keys to the Lodge.
A few months ago I ran into a Liberal Party speechwriter who stated as fact that his boss would be the next Environment Minister. The same attitude has slipped out in various similar alleged remarks by Liberals that have been reported in the news from time to time, not least Abbott’s public statement during the 2010 election campaign that “I think that I will be the next Prime Minister of Australia.” Following the 2010 election, the Liberals refused to accept the legitimacy of the Labor government and spent three years mercilessly attacking it. Their arrogance can only have increased over those three years as they have ridden high in the polls.
Now the Liberals are already publicly talking up the “mandate” they claim they will have for their policies and how Labor will respect it, despite the fact that the election has not yet been held. Are you sure you support the Liberals’ policies? Because if you vote for them they will certainly claim that you do.
Why are the Liberals so popular, and why has their popularity been so sustained? For three years, the media have made news judgments that make Labor and the Greens look bad and the Liberals look good, with increasing blatancy. There are multiple possible reasons why the media have given Abbott such an easy ride. Most obvious is that 63% of Australia’s newspapers are owned by News Corporation, who promote a right-wing ideology and accordingly tend to back right-wing candidates.
Somewhat less obviously, there is an argument that opinion polls have a strong influence on public opinion because of the way politics is reported. The Australian media is obsessed with a horse race narrative – who is winning, who is losing. Polls are always reported as major political news even though week-to-week movements are within the margin of error. Then the week’s events are interpreted in the context of the week’s poll, with political commentators attacking political candidates who are already unpopular and going easy on those who are relatively popular. In this way the media amplifies and cements an initial change in public opinion.
Because the media have given them an easy ride, the Liberals have been able to get away with doing things that would have been front page news if they were Labor or the Greens. They’ve hidden major policy details until the final days of the campaign. On Monday, we learned crucial details of their climate policy which indicate it won’t work. Then the Liberals revealed their energy policy, which does not mention climate change or solar power.
Around lunchtime on Thursday, when the Liberals presented an incomplete set of costings, we learned of $9 billion worth of budget cuts including to foreign aid, rail infrastructure, research grants, water buybacks, government jobs, legal aid for Aboriginal Australians, superannuation for low-income earners, university funding, childcare, aged care, and renewable energy. Later Thursday afternoon, they unveiled a new internet filter policy and several Liberals publicly promoted it. By Thursday evening, the internet filter policy had been censored and the Liberals now claim it never existed.
What ugly surprises might the Liberals be hiding until after the election? We may well find out too late that the Liberals have a broader radical right-wing agenda they have hidden because they know the majority of Australians will not support it.
The Liberals and the media might have already decided who we are going to vote for, but we don’t have to vote how they tell us to vote. Just because the Daily Telegraph insists on instructing us to “KICK THIS MOB OUT”, doesn’t mean we must. Although the polls may appear to paint a picture of an inexorable bandwagon we all might as well get on, the reality is that there are still many undecided voters.
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re probably not all that happy with the prospect of a Coalition government, but perhaps feel they are the only alternative to Labor. Here’s the thing: Labor and Liberal are actually pretty similar. Central elements of Labor’s approach include prioritizing short-term economic growth and competitiveness; promoting fossil fuel mining and exports; a pointlessly weak greenhouse gas emissions target to be met at the lowest possible cost to polluting companies; getting the budget in surplus ASAP; deregulation and other neoliberal “economic reforms” including cutting “green tape”; and a privileged advisory role for business lobbyists. The Liberals are generally even more in favor of these things than Labor. Though they claim to represent the interests of the majority, they really represent the corporate elite.
You don’t have to choose between Labor and Liberal. Labor may be a bad government, but the Liberals are a hollow opposition. Throughout this election campaign, the Greens have shone through as the real opposition to the bipartisan near-consensus. They understand the economy is part of the society and environment, oppose expansion of fossil fuels, advocate an ambitious emissions target in accordance with climate science, support higher taxes on big business instead of spending cuts, want to strengthen environmental protections and regulation of corporations, and put the public interest ahead of corporate profits.
If you don’t want to vote for the Greens, but also don’t want to hand Abbott absolute control of the Parliament, consider voting Greens in the Senate so they can provide as a check and balance on whichever major party forms government. Or consider voting for another minor party.
Abbott complains that minor parties are “trying to invade the pitch and muck up the way the game concludes”. It’s called democracy, Tony. The two biggest parties are not entitled to win all the votes. The reality is most Australians are dissatisfied with both major parties – they only keep winning votes because each of us assumes everyone else will keep voting for them too. If enough of us start voting for the Greens and other minor parties, eventually Labor and Liberal might not be major parties anymore.
But whatever you do, don’t vote for the Liberal/National Coalition because they don’t deserve it. They have run their campaign in a way that insults our intelligence, and their entitled attitude betrays a contempt for voters and the democratic system. Politicians should not be counting our votes before the election has been held!