Government and governance | Australia

29 April 2016

Australia is gearing up for a long drawn-out election campaign. It’s started badly, and it may get worse, writes John Hewson.

When Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister he promised no more slogans, as it was mostly simplistic slogans, rather than genuine policy initiatives, that defined his predecessor, Tony Abbott.

The expectation he created was for more serious and mature policy discussion and debate. He built on this theme, for example, when he encouraged all those interested in tax reform to “please put all options on the table.”

Now that we have entered the faux campaign –  the period running up to when Turnbull visits the Governor General to formally call the election around May 9, for July 2 – he has already, disappointingly, initiated two sizeable scare campaigns built on slogans.

The first was last weekend when he attacked the Labor Party (ALP) policy to constrain negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions with the slogan ‘Labor’s housing tax’, predicting that it would “smash” the property market by “devaluing every home and every property in Australia”, and resulting in increased rents – it would “punish mum and dad investors”.

Strangely, he chose to do this, this time with Treasurer Scott Morrison, by visiting a young couple that had just bought a negatively geared property for their 18 month-old son. I am not sure how this is meant to cut through with young homebuyers struggling to buy their first home?

The second was this week when the ALP announced its climate policy, which was immediately attacked with the slogan asserting ‘Labor’s massive new electricity tax’, or simply a rerun of Gillard’s carbon tax.

Somewhat surprisingly, the ALP climate policy had received strong support from the Business Council of Australia that, in turn, urged Turnbull to accept it as “a platform for bipartisanship to deliver the energy and climate change durability needed to support this critical transformation”.

BCA’s CEO, Helen Westacott said, “Australia needs durable, national, integrated climate change and energy policies capable of delivering Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target, at lowest possible cost, while maintaining competitiveness and growing Australia’s future economy.”

More on this: Policy Forum Pod | Quentin Grafton, Sue Regan and Bob Cotton on the policy issues set to feature ahead of the poll

It is a tragedy that an issue as important and as urgent as climate change has been used as a political football, with both sides playing short-term politics. They are just attempting to score points on each other, rather than recognise its national significance, and the imperative of bipartisanship in developing an effective policy response.

Yet again, this election is already shaping up as a most unsavoury race to the bottom on many key issues, dominated by scare campaigns characterised by slogans reflecting short-termism, opportunism, and negativity.

It will not be a contest of ideas. It will not see very much evidence-based analysis and debate. The voters will still be left with a choice between the lesser of two evils, and after the election have to live with the evil of the two lessers.

Of course, many still hope that Turnbull will, at some point, set short-term point-scoring and slogans aside, and live up to the expectations he created when he assumed the prime ministership, by leading the debate, and outlining an effective program to deliver good government.

He still has time. I believe that the electorate will still cut him a lot of slack if he does so lead.

Indeed, even if some elements of his program are unpopular with some groups, as undoubtedly will be the case, he may still attract considerable electoral support, even from some of those who believe that they will be disadvantaged, as they accept that the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole – that it is essential in our national interest.

This piece was also published by the Southern Highland News.

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Hewson, J. (2016). Stop the slogans - Policy Forum. [online] Policy Forum. Available at: [Accessed 15 Jun. 2016].