Contributed by Jim Hayes
If there is one common view about how Australia’s election campaign is shaping, it is that there is nothing there to inspire anyone. This was confirmed in last night’s debate between Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese. Commentators have analysed how both avoided saying little of substance. They are right.
The only thing that raised the temperature a notch was the deal between the Solomon Islands and China, and this was about who would be more effective in pushing the Solomon Islands into doing what it doesn’t want to do. Neither conceded that it is up to every nation to take its own course and that attempts by third parties to impose their will is wrong.
Callers repeatedly raised domestic issues on subjects relating to the state of the economy, climate, the failings of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the rising distrust of political leaders. The response from the Prime Minister and would be Prime Minister? Saying as little as possible and avoidance of straight answers.
No wonder the level of community distrust is rising and the expectation that the election result will make little difference.
Saying these things is not an attack on the Labor Party. The party’s support base is thinking exactly this and taking about it in private, while many continue to beaver away at worker for an electoral victory.
Australia’s best interests would be served by the fall of the Morrison government. It is important to be clear on this. This should be a no brainer. The fall will at least provide some relief from the worst of what the Morrison government intends, and it may even provide some space to rethink where Australia is heading.
But the absence of inspiration and fire in the belly and encouraging the minimum of expectations, provides Scott Morrison with the best hope of hanging on.
The reality is that the stocks of both camps are low, and neither is going to win over much new support. They will be lucky to hang on to what they have already got. The prospect of neither gaining a majority is real and ever more likely with every passing day. Australia faces the real possibility of a minority government, a new election, or some form of coalition.
Both sides have stated publicly that they will not go for a coalition. A new election will probably be called. But when the office of government is within easy reach, past proclamations may mean little and are easily buried.
The point is the failure to win a majority is itself a reflection of the fundamental political change generated by the electorate increasingly losing faith in the ability of the political system’s capacity to deliver their needs and the needs of Australian society. There is a systemic problem, which lies behind the growing gulf between pollical leaders and the population. This is not simply a matter of good or bad leadership.
Take the state of the economy. While all the talk about how well it is going prevails, the increasing uneasiness of experts over the economic headwinds, in Australia and overseas, and the prospect of a looming recession are ignored. The cost of living is rising rapidly, and incomes are lagging further and further behind for most. The rise of insecure jobs and mounting debt are real, and Australia’s future international trade prospects are looking shaky. The American economy, to which Australia is tightly bound is in trouble, and his will inevitably flow through.
Australia’s political leaders have no appetite to deal with the structural economic and social problems that hold back possibilities. Matters like the weakness of Australia’s manufacturing base, the power of the banks, the failure on climate policy and action, the deficit of real everyday democracy and engagement of the population in political decisions, and the restrictions imposed by the reality of the monopolisation of Australian media.
Instead of facing any of this, it’s business as usual.
These are times of change and failure of the political system to accommodate to this reality is eating away at its legitimacy.
The prospect of no clear winner in the election may well add enough pressure to force through some debate on these matters, and this would be very good for Australia.