On the ABC's Q&A last Monday the Trade Minister Craig Emerson responded to attacks on the Gillard Government by asking 'what could we have done better?' The answer he received was that Labor could have done a better job at selling. Is it fair that we judge a Government on their ability to tell us what they're doing, rather than on what they actually do?
A look at the history of this Government shows that it has a track record of success in getting things done, but a propensity to distract voters from those achievements through a lack of discipline and some terrible PR decisions. The Rudd and Gillard Governments have made substantial changes to this country – the economy has grown by 13%, while other economies have shrunk. Interest rates are lower than ever. There are almost 1 million new jobs, with higher wages. Taxes are lower. Nearly 200,000 more kids are in university. There's free dental care for low-income adults and all children. Work Choices is gone, and workplace disputes are a third of what they were when John Howard was Prime Minister. The NBN will mean everyone gets high-speed internet. Care for people with disabilities is now affordable for all. Pensioners receive around $500 a year more.
Despite all this success, the Australian electorate is going to vote in Tony Abbott – someone who was a supporter of Work Choices, who served as a minister in John Howard's Government, who opposes abortion and who hasn't even released any policies which voters can base their decision on, apart from an NBN policy that would see us get slower internet and a promise to 'turn back the boats'. It's hard to fathom, and it's unclear what people expect will change for the better under Tony Abbott. Why is this happening?
Swan's monumental blunders have made it appear that the economy recovered despite the Government's interventions, not because of them. When he announced the mining tax in 2010 he claimed it would raise $12 billion but it raised a fraction of that. He predicted a surplus, but we got a deficit. Both of these outcomes make sense – the mining tax was watered down and mining companies reinvested all their profits in their companies. But it looks like the country's chief money counter simply can't count. He announced the original mining tax without sufficient consultation, alienating the mining companies and provoking an advertising campaign against the Government. The Opposition didn't have to do a thing – the mining companies did all the work for them. He also promised tax cuts and welfare payment increases in one budget, and took it back in the next. It's hard to believe he and his department could get it so wrong, and it overshadows the good news about the economy that would finally show voters that interest rates can be lower under Labor and that a Labor Government can be trusted with managing the economy.
Just when Julia Gillard was able to announce that unemployment was at its lowest rate ever, Stephen Conroy decided to introduce disastrous media reforms, essentially declaring war on the sector they rely on to get their stories out. The media spotlight swiftly left the good news and media bosses openly campaigned against the government. Again, the Opposition did nothing, and again their ratings soared. And for all the destruction in relations with the media, the reforms failed in the parliament.
'Crush your enemy totally' is one of the rules of power that Julia Gillard forgot about. Whenever Gillard gains traction with voters, Kevin pops up with something destructive to say. Leaders with dignity who are rolled in a party ballot take their place on the backbench and shut up, or leave politics altogether. This should not have been expected of Kevin Rudd. Julia Gillard's biggest mistake was allowing Kevin Rudd to stay in parliament rather than insisting he step aside before the 2010 election. The Opposition again needs to do nothing – Kevin's doing the work for them.
Tim hasn't done much to help Julia out. The one time he was allowed to go on TV he made inappropriate remarks about prostate exams. He hasn't appeared since. The first man should be someone we can respect, not someone who embarrasses his partner.
Technically an ally, but the sort of ally you want to keep a close eye on, Bill Shorten was responsible for convincing MPs to dump Kevin Rudd in 2010. Kevin won't challenge without his support. All this does is promote the perception that Julia Gillard isn't in charge of her own party.
In a sneaky attempt to deprive the Opposition of a vote, Labor elected Peter Slipper as Speaker, removing popular Harry Jenkins. Slipper was soon after outed as having texted obscene comments about women's bodies and accused of sexual harassment. He was cleared, but mud sticks.
Expelled from the party after it was revealed he'd used a union credit card to pay for prostitutes. A perception existed that unions, Labor's backbone, were dodgy – Thomson proved it.
Julia Gillard's chief spin doctor has proven divisive and often incompetent. While Gillard herself has to be blamed for taking his advice, it doesn't help to have someone in your team who causes more problems than he solves. It was reportedly his idea to go hard on 457 visa holders, a decision which turned bleeding heart lefties against the PM; he forgot that he was on one himself. He should never have allowed a video of the PM talking about abortion to go to the media, but it did and it's alienated a significant sector of the electorate and many of her MPs – not what you want when you're facing a likely leadership challenge.
Readers from Sydney will know that Alan Jones has done more to help the Opposition than anyone else. His radio show is listened to by voters in marginal Western Sydney seats, and he is relentless in attacking the Prime Minister. From mocking her father's death to accusing her of being a 'lying bitch', he exploits his position of power to bring the debate down to the lowest common denominator. His view, that 'women are wrecking the joint', resonates with male listeners who are afraid of change.
(And in case you thought it was actually the opposite, that it's men wrecking the joint, we can't forget Jenny Macklin's claim that she could easily live on the dole, a claim that was audible to everyone who heard the interview but was erased from the transcript circulated afterward.)
Those pesky boat people keep arriving, and a lot of Australians still believe they're going to take our jobs and rape our women. Maybe because people like Alan Jones keep telling them that (he has said they are ''vermin'' who ''infest our shores'' and ''rape and pillage our nation''). A slight easing of John Howard's policy on asylum seekers combined with factors beyond the control of the Australian Government has meant more people are trying to get here on boats. Far fewer than the number that come on planes, but those are far less visible, and usually more white. Tony Abbott says he'll stop the boats. This is enough for most people, as unlikely as it is.
Of course the Prime Minister has done things which haven't helped her case. Breaking the promise that there wouldn't be a carbon tax is probably a decision that annoys people more than the higher electricity bills do. Being unmarried is a personal choice, being an atheist is a personal choice. However, were she married and were she to go to church every now and then, she would have a much easier time of it. Barack Obama is probably an atheist, but he pretends he's not. Being married and referring to God every now and then wouldn't lose the votes of unmarried atheists around the country, but being unmarried and a declared atheist is enough to turn traditional Labor voters who are conservative and religious against you.
Australians should be able to accept a female, unmarried, atheist Prime Minister. But there have been too many inexcusable blunders, and too many promises broken. According to research firm IPSOS, a significant proportion of voters would prefer not to vote in either party, and most of those who are going to vote for Tony Abbott would prefer Malcolm Turnbull. The sentiment was summarised by a respondent who said: 'Just to round it up, yes there will be a change, yes they all talk bullshit and no, it will virtually stay the same there will just be a change of government'. This election is not about voting in someone who will do a better job, it's about punishing Labor for treating them like fools.
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