Undecided? Tired of big Aussie parties? Here are five glaring differences between them this election | Paul Daley
One of the post-election adages that politicians regularly refer to is that voters are never wrong when it comes to reappointing or rejecting governments in democratic elections.
It’s a statement of the obvious, really: punters hear what they hear and vote for the party or candidate or leader that best appeals to – or influences – their sympathies.
With major party primary votes relatively low (measured against many previous federal elections), and amid the rise of centrist “teal” candidates in blue ribbon seats, a significant green and undecided vote, a constant refrain in voter vox pops seems to be “there is no major difference between the major parties”.
Despite a surprising absence of detailed argy-bargy between the Coalition and Labor on several critical policy areas (read climate crisis mitigation – on which there is a significant policy difference – and fossil fuels, school funding and universities, and foreign and defense strategies), the democratic choice between the major parties – not to mention the independents – seems to me, on the contrary, quite brutal.
Having covered federal politics on and off for the better part of 20 years, these days I devote little attentive energy to the day-to-day ins and outs of the race calls of opposing strategies and tactics. I place my trust in a few professional political observers. I watch television news and alternately roll my eyes or insult the front pages of my city’s daily newspapers on my suburban lawns when I exercise my dogs.
Yeah, I get distracted by every AFL game every weekend and reading foreign novels and magazines and stuff on the internet about cooking and crossbreeding dogs and how to teach them to catch Frisbees and on the big wave surfing and Sean Penn’s performance at Gaslit.
But even then, the many glaring differences between the Coalition and Labor are obvious to me – in black and white, if you will, like the coat of my collie-cross-bitzer, Olive, who just won’t play Frisbee .
1. Advance reconciliation
Starting with the dignified call in the Uluru declaration from the bottom of my heart to make your voice heard in parliament. Labor has pledged to hold a first-term referendum to put the vote in the constitution. The Coalition opposes it. “It’s not our policy to hold a vote referendum, so why would I do that?” said Scott Morrison.
The major parties are at odds on this issue, which is at the heart of reconciliation between blacks and whites in Australia and which is the first stage of a voice, treaty, truth process determined at Uluru (on this front the position of the Greens – which favors truth and treaties over the consecration of a voice – in sharp contrast to that of Labour, as Thomas Mayor, signatory of the Uluru declaration, points out here).
2. Fight against corruption
Another major issue – and critical difference – between the major parties is their policies on public integrity and a federal commission to fight corruption. Labour, if elected, has pledged to establish a powerful National Integrity Commission by Christmas. The Morrison government presented the last parliament with an exposure draft (not the same as presenting finished legislation) for a largely toothless commission. He blamed the Labor Party (which wanted a stronger anti-corruption watchdog and refused to fully back it) for its failure to deliver on its 2019 election promise to create a federal anti-corruption body.
Morrison has repeatedly derided the New South Wales Anti-Corruption Commission – the model of strict enforcement of public integrity, which has been scalped by Labor and senior Liberals – as a “court kangaroo”. This is all quite different — in tone and intent — when it comes to prosecuting federal corruption.
3. Social policy ambitions
Amid the ongoing tussle over who is best able to manage a faltering economy (the government’s message appears to be: We are, however, under our watch, it’s actually gone to shit in a bucket, so you can’t trust them to deal with the consequences; but what would I know – I failed Intro to Formal Logic in second year!) In the past week alone, significant differences have emerged on the Pharmaceutical Benefits scheme (work would reduce the price of a PBS drug from $42.50 to $30, the Coalition, $42.50 to $32.50), housing, the gender pay gap, support for the introduction of electric vehicles and related infrastructure, and the recommitment to manufacturing in Australia.
4. Take care of our elderly
One of the most significant and influential social policy differences between the major parties concerns nursing homes. Many have experienced the painful nightmare of finding appropriate care for their parents or other loved ones. For others, it’s an unpleasant contemplation of what, personally, awaits us not too far away. It affects most of us in one way or another and the Labor Party has rightly identified it as an election slow burn. The differences relate to the cost of dignity and higher levels of care.
5. Who could best lead a minority government?
Now for the same glaring thing that would quickly become illusory if the Greens, Teals and other independents held the keys to government formation after May 21. It is the wish of Morrison and Anthony Albanese of the Labor Party not to form a minority government in the event that neither of them wins an absolute majority.
Morrison is an experienced prime minister, even if his governmental, interpersonal and empathetic abilities are often hopelessly lacking. Albanese may be the least militant, but he is a far more gifted negotiator and conciliator, as evidenced by his success as Director of Government Affairs in the minority Gillard government (which remarkably passed 561 bills).
And that’s shaping up to be a truly significant contrast – one that could matter the most in just over two weeks.
Amidst all the boredom, the endless off-putting chatter about tactics and strategy and who is in the lead and which voters really wantit’s the irresistible political thought that keeps vying with all the distractions in a spirit largely detached from the weeds of this election campaign.