Government and governance, Arts, culture & society | Australia

3 June 2016

Political parties hostage to risk-averse, focus group-driven spin, are failing to engage and inspire voters, writes John Hewson.

Having just watched the first game in rugby league’s State of Origin, a very poor quality, uninspiring, low scoring game, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison with this federal election campaign.

Given all the hype in the lead up to Origin 1, the event itself was a massive disappointment, dominated by too many old players, well past their use-by dates, still enmeshed in their old ways.

There are now so many excellent young players in the weekly club games, fast and furious, that if given a chance could have certainly put on a much more entertaining, and probably a higher scoring, game.

There were no game-changing mistakes in Origin 1, with both teams intent on just grinding it out, sticking with a handful of well-practiced set-plays, until full time.

How easily our leading politicians have fallen back into their own old ways, not really trying to inspire, but seemingly intent on taking minimal risks, to avoid mistakes at all costs.  Once again just delivering focus group-driven messages and slogans, rather than answering questions, or attempting to generate significant policy debate.

I had hoped that we had moved on from the banal three-word slogans of the Abbott campaign in 2013 – stop the boats, fix the budget, create two million jobs, and so on.

On assuming the leadership Turnbull promised to move beyond such slogans, yet, here we are with “we have a plan”, “jobs and growth”, and so on.

And what happened to all the hype about a “double dissolution election”, and new Senate voting rules? Can anyone remember the issue that produced the “trigger” for a double dissolution election? We haven’t heard another word about the ABCC!

More on this: Dismantling the jobs and growth mantra | Maria Racionero

The electorate is clearly not engaged. The so-called Leaders’ Debate last Sunday evening, drew less than 20 per cent of the TV audience, about half those that viewed The Voice on Channel 9, which in turn led MasterChef and House Rules.

I also suspect that a fair slab of the viewing audience for The Voice were aged 18-25, even more disturbing when we also recognise that reportedly nearly half of all 18 year olds haven’t bothered to register to vote.

By not breaking from their old ways, and not seeking to inspire, by sticking with boring, and generally unbelievable, messages and slogans, the standing of the major parties will continue to slide, making it easier for the minor parties and independents to attract votes.

Moreover, the voters have every reason to believe that neither side will actually deliver most of what they promise. Indeed, both sides have already conceded as much.

Shadow Treasurer Bowen has admitted his intention to publish an “honest” assessment of our economic condition and prospects (using the forecasts of the Parliamentary Budget Office rather than the Treasury) and to deliver a mini-budget within 100 days of assuming office, while Treasurer Morrison has foreshadowed some “recalibration” of his budget.

Prior to the election, both sides had already committed to very significant additional expenditure over the next decade or so, all of which is unfunded, and they each have added to the “spend-o-meter” almost daily during the campaign.

At the time of calling the election, both Turnbull and Shorten claimed that this election would be about trust – which party do we trust to best manage the economy, or education, health, climate change, and other key policies.

Yet, they have each done very little to build such trust. To tell us, for example, just how our economy is to make the transition from a resources/construction boom to whatever – what industries will deliver growth and jobs, how, and over what time frame?

Hopefully Origins II and III will be better. There are now still 29 sleeps until the election on 2 July 2.  Please break out of the set plays, and throw the policy ball around. Inspire us.

This piece was also published by the Southern Highland News.

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Hewson, J. (2016). A sorry state - Policy Forum. [online] Policy Forum. Available at: