Home > Oz Politics > A policy-based election, a policy-free campaign

A policy-based election, a policy-free campaign

June 28th, 2016

The 2016 election is remarkable in two ways. First, more than at any time in the past 20 years, the two parties have presented strongly opposed policy platforms reflecting underlying ideological differences on economic policy, symbolic (bankers vs unionists) and substantive (upper income tax cuts) class issues, climate policy, equal marriage and more. On the other hand, having set out these differences, the parties have run campaigns that are (because of the eight-week duration) twice as vapid and uninspiring as usual. None of the big issues have been debated seriously.

Most notably the pretext for the double dissolution, the ABCC bill, has barely been raised. It’s obvious enough why Labor would want to avoid arguing about allegations of union corruption, whether those allegations with or without merit. On the LNP side, the $100 million handed to Dyson Heydon and his Royal Commission has so far (AFAICT) failed to produce a single conviction for any act of union corruption, while a number of prosecutions have fallen over in more or less embarrassing circumstances.

Unsurprisingly, the polls have barely moved from the deadheat position they were in at the beginning of the campaign. Perhaps more surprisingly, with a week to go, both betting markets and media pundits are uniformly convinced that the government will be returned with most predicting a narrow majority. Given the random element in any election, making a strong prediction of a narrow win is nonsensical. There are always half a dozen seats where random, unpredicted factors emerge on election night. So, if you think a narrow win is the most likely outcome, you must impute a significant probability to a narrow loss. If the government does not get a majority, this fact will suddenly be discovered with an air of profundity. If it does, the pundits and punters will congratulate themselves on their instinctive connection with the mood of (51 per cent of) the Australian people

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  1. Donald Oats
    June 28th, 2016 at 16:52 | #1

    The previous election campaign period amply demonstrated how politicians (Tony Abbott just pops into my head—why is that?) blithely use bullsh*t to secure some votes, rather than resorting to the more difficult art of applying reason to win a policy argument, to convince us to vote in their favour. When politicians put no stock on the truth value of their statements, it seems fair for the voters to behave accordingly. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a significant shift towards minor parties, for the simple reason that the minor party candidates seem more authentic in terms of what they say. Perhaps it is a mirage, but at least the mirage could be real, whereas we already know by bitter experience what we’ll get from some of the current crop of major party politicians: we get bullsh*t, and plenty of it.

    The one small positive from this is that there is little point in watching any of the media events by the major parties, thus saving much time for more productive pursuits. If the media devoted more attention to the minor parties, perhaps it would be worth buying in and watching/reading the interviews and policy announcements. Since they don’t, I won’t.

  2. David Allen
    June 28th, 2016 at 17:33 | #2

    LNP: Vote for us because we’re going to bash welfare recipients. Those evil lesser Australians are stealing pennies from the rich. Better to hand over billions to the 1%. If that’s not enough we’re trashing the environment as well. I mean, who needs all that reef up where no-one sees it? Amiright? And what about our copper NBN plan: pile up a huge stack of money and set it on fire. Because, reasons!

    What a f8cked-up world we live in.

  3. Historyintime
    June 28th, 2016 at 21:36 | #3

    Well I think the 90% confidence interval is LNP between 74 and 80 seats ie a ‘narrow win’ given the arithmetic and preferences of the cross bench.

    Now that does include some random element in the result but in fact narrow wins at seat level tend to be serially correlated to some extent.

  4. Simon Fowler
    June 28th, 2016 at 21:52 | #4

    I think a large part of the problem with the campaign has been the media and the way they cover politics. I’ve seen a handful of detailed policy analyses, mostly in The Conversation, and the only consistently detailed consideration of policy is in the fact checking sections.

    This pretty much leaves the campaigning (on both sides) in a kind of limbo, where saying anything considered and thoughtful is more likely to provide ammunition for an enemy than help you win friends.

    The economic analysis also doesn’t help in any way, since it never considers the social implications of spending decisions – exactly one number is ever discussed (the budget balance), and only ever in the context of whether the all-consuming surplus will be achieved. Why would you talk about social policy when every media discussion focuses in so narrowly on the cost?

    I saw someone (somewhere) describe this as a depauperate democracy. It’s a pretty good description.

  5. NathanA
    June 28th, 2016 at 22:23 | #5

    I agree with Simon Fowler, much of the media has appeared to be intimidated by an election that is totally different to the last two, where everyone from the economics editor to the bloke calling the footy was more intelligent than the turnip standing for the Libs. It’s almost as though every time either Shorten or Turnbull starts to elaborate on their world view, the interviewer cuts them off.

    While the level of political debate could rise considerably, it is hardly 2010 or 2013.

  6. Kel
    June 29th, 2016 at 01:21 | #6

    What I’ve noticed from the ABC has been the obligatory inclusion of a comment such as “Labor strategists privately admit they can’t win” AND at least a week ago Ros Childs introduced a story about Shorten in Victoria, “where ALP hope are dwindling”!

    Has the Toff got the ABC so scared they instinctively stick the boots into Labor?

    Personally I live in the seat of Farrer and we have had not one piece of election bumpf come our way. I think Sussan Ley is feeling fairly confident.

  7. Clive Newton
    June 29th, 2016 at 07:59 | #7

    @Kel
    Yes. This fear of the Libs cutting ABC budgets has been driving their coverage of politics for years. They run whatever line is on the front pages of The Aust’n, meaning they silence anything the Right doesn’t want talked about. Endless acceptance of surpluses as good, deficits bad. Endless repeating that people think Libs are better economic managers (see, it wasn’t the analyst’s opinion) and as you note endless “Libs will win” analysis (sic)– as in Chris Uhlman’s cases based on Lib insider info.What really is the point of the ABC? Midsomer Murders? Rural programs?

  8. pablo
    June 29th, 2016 at 08:16 | #8

    @clive newton
    A couple of on-air incidents where media bias has been thrown at ABC interviewers, the most notable was Turnbull on Tony Jones lead me to support the ‘fear’ for budget line. Surely this bald accusation from Turnbull should have been called out by ABC management. For me it was revealing how thin-skinned Turnbull is.

  9. Troy Prideaux
    June 29th, 2016 at 08:59 | #9

    Simon Fowler :
    I think a large part of the problem with the campaign has been the media and the way they cover politics. I’ve seen a handful of detailed policy analyses, mostly in The Conversation, and the only consistently detailed consideration of policy is in the fact checking sections.

    Well, that’s always been the case. In fact, people are probably more informed this election than any previous election, but could they do better (?) – of course, a lot better. Saying that, look at the last LNP election campaign vs what was handed down in the 2014 budget… Maybe much of the MSM are becoming cynically wary of election promises and policy pledges… throw in some leadership spill history and their audience’s general attention span for detailed analysis… are we seriously surprised?

  10. John Goss
    June 29th, 2016 at 18:24 | #10

    Your post is about 5 days out of date John. All of the poll aggregators are showing a significant shift to the Coalition in the last week after, as you correctly point out, weeks of stability.
    A week ago the probability of a hung Parliament was pretty high, but it’s now receded to 20% or so.
    Things could still change in the last few days, and the number of Xenophon seats in the HOR is very hard to predict, but it does look highly probable that the group with by far the worst policies will have a majority. I don’t know what has gone wrong with the process.
    The media coverage has been particularly bad, and I don’t know why. We expect Murdoch to be ridiculous but Fairfax and the ABC (across all media) have tended to favor the Coalition cause by the nature of their reporting.

  11. June 30th, 2016 at 00:33 | #11

    (This should have been posted much sooner. – My apologies.)

    Policies that should be put to voters at the Australian Federal elections

    In the Australian Federal elections to be held on 2 July 2016, voters who support each of the policies listed below, are entitled to know whether each candidate asking for his/her vote will, if elected, try to implement that policy.

    There are 56 policies in all. They are divided into the sections: Effective government, Government participation in the economy, Sustainability, Basic needs: Full employment in secure and fulfilling occupations, Education, Basic needs: other, Democracy, Transparency and Accountability, Foreign Policy: Syria, Foreign policy – Palestine/Israel, Foreign policy – Other Middle East, Foreign policy: Ukraine and Russia and Human rights: Protection of human rights, civil liberties, freedom of speech and proper legal conduct by the authorities.

    There’s an appalling bipartisanship between the Liberal/National Coalition and Labor on most domestic issues. Between the Coalition, Labor and the Greens, there is an even more appalling tri-partisanship on virtually every international issue .

    My own suggestion is that voters put the Liberals last, Labor second last, the Greens third last, give higher preferences to other minor parties and independents such as Tony Windsor and give first preference to any candidate who supports these policies.

  12. J-D
    June 30th, 2016 at 11:47 | #12

    If you actually want to know the positions of the candidates seeking your vote on your favourite issues, I am afraid there’s no alternative to the effort of actually asking them directly. They may not answer even if you do ask them, but they’re practically certain not to answer if you don’t ask them.

  13. derrida derider
    June 30th, 2016 at 17:19 | #13

    I think the bookies have it roughly right. Maybe a hung parliament should be at slightly shorter odds, but otherwise it’s not far out from what we all know.

    The thing to remember is that the Coalition won pretty well all the marginal seats last time so they have a sitting member in those seats. And unless they’ve seriously messed up then sitting local members start with a big advantage – all those incredibly tedious multicultural festivals and school presentation nights they’ve attended over the last three years will pay off. So the two party preferred vote may be close – Labor could even get a slight majority of it – but the Coalition will have a comfortable majority of HoR seats. That’s where my money is, anyway.

    The Senate’s a different story – I reckon this Senate could be even tougher for the government of the day than the last couple. The Greens especially will do well out of the new voting arrangements (which is, of course, why they supported them).

  14. Ikonoclast
    June 30th, 2016 at 18:21 | #14

    The major parties always promise “jobs and growth”. Since 2009, the unemployment rate has not moved outside a band of between 5% and 6.5% apart from a couple of tiny squiggles to about 4.9% in 2011. GDP growth has run very much between 1% and 3% for the same period apart from a little Matterhorn up to 4% or a tad more in 2012 and maybe a nudge now over 3%.

    So what does the tired old “jobs and growth” promise mean? It means nothing basically, empty words. It means more of the same old mediocre performance with no new ideas at all.

  15. Simon Fowler
    June 30th, 2016 at 21:32 | #15

    Troy Prideaux :
    Well, that’s always been the case. In fact, people are probably more informed this election than any previous election, but could they do better (?) – of course, a lot better. Saying that, look at the last LNP election campaign vs what was handed down in the 2014 budget… Maybe much of the MSM are becoming cynically wary of election promises and policy pledges… throw in some leadership spill history and their audience’s general attention span for detailed analysis… are we seriously surprised?

    It’s not just that the analysis isn’t really happening, it’s also that what analysis there is never seems to affect the rest of the media presentation. There’s no follow up, no journalists pushing politicians about how their claims don’t match up with the expert analysis, no one holding the politicians to account. And somehow the journalists seem to feel like they’re doing the best they can . . .

    Sure, this has been a failing of political journalism for quite a while now, but in the past there used to be other parts of the media that /did/ dig in to the details. For some reason, though, the only journalists left with jobs (for now) seem to be the political ones, and they only seem to be able to view politics as a horse race with no core values or broader importance.

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