By Denis Bright
The Sky News Debate turned out to be a civilized forum despite a touchy interchange about the perceived security problem in the Solomon Islands from both sides of mainstream politics. This largely pleasant tone contrasts with the firebrand rhetoric from the federal LNP during the post-1996 era. Populist rhetoric has been successful in delivering so many seats to the LNP largely on preferences from minor parties in Queensland and NSW.
Now the far-right of Australian politics is taking command of this populist campaigning style. This is taking some of the old oxygen out of the sails of the LNP in campaigning mode.
Networks like Sky News have elevated the representatives of the far-right with a degree of reverence which they do not deserve.
Sky News has indeed offered the far-right of Australian politics a free kick in its bizarre forum for maverick parties on Paul Murray’s Live Pub Test.
The saturation advertising from the United Australia Party (UAP) is also a real challenge to democratic processes. This will give the UAP a level of influence which is derived from the strategic use of preferences in key marginal seats. In the past, this allocation of preferences has been to the federal LNP but Clive Palmer is still waiting for a confirmation of future polling trends before making his call on the allocation of preferences from a vital 5-10 per cent base across key marginal electorates. The results will be influenced by the prevailing social demography.
Almost a sixth of voters are still attracted to the far-right minor parties. Boredom is a big factor in the disenchantment of voters with the major parties.
In Week Two of the campaign rolls, there have been no king hits on either side of mainstream politics. Eyewitness and Sky News networks portray democracy as a vacuous media game in their quest for better news ratings. Verbal slip-ups or nasty tirades at meet the people events in pubs and shopping precincts are all part of the strategic media packaging of news and current affairs. This media game offers little real coverage of policy options for our future.
It is understandable that many potential constituents do not even bother to enrol to vote in the resultant political charade.
While the latest Newspoll results after preferences seem to be highly favourable to Labor (53/47), there are still substantial challenges to the hegemony of both major parties in the detailed results.
Largely private polling on a seat by seat basis in marginal seats will be needed to assess the strength of Labor support in highly marginal seats. The results of this private polling will be withheld until the final days of the campaign and leaked to media networks in a very opportunistic fashion when it is too late to change the course of events.
There is time for Labor to focus more on the concerns of voters in its more disadvantaged traditional heartlands across a vast swathe of electorates in most state and the Northern Territory electorates where concern about inner-city electoral concerns is minimal.
A weakness in the LNP current approach is its emphasis on populist macro-economic rhetoric which is of little concern to voters. The UAP in particular is now stealing the LNP’s old thunder on this issue with its saturation advertising. One of the most deceptive agendas in Australian politics is the ongoing discussion of public or government debt levels which covers budget debts levels.
Ordinary voters are confused by this emphasis on public budget deficits. During the GFC years and the more recent COVID-19 crises, public debt levels saved the national economy from mass unemployment. Temporary relief was offered to the business sector to maintain staff levels during the most recent pandemic. These same voters know that the really important debt level is within their own households to meet housing costs and essential purchases or even car repairs to get to and from workplaces. It is quite churlish of UAP advertising to frame the major debt problem as a crisis in macroeconomic management.
This level of national public or government debt is quite low by international standards. It is dwarfed by the upsurge in private household debt in Australia’s $1.5 trillion economy.
When the Howard Government was elected in 1996, household debt levels had already risen to 60 per cent of GDP as the costs of housing and rents spiralled after the two post-1975 recessions to that date.
The spiral in household debt has continued as shown by the long term data from Trading Economics. Private household debt is running at twice the levels prevailing when the Keating Government was defeated in 1996. The Howard Government succeeded in passing on the debt level to private households in the name of neoliberalism.
Tax concessions to property investors have contributed to the household debt through inflated rental and housing prices.
An average home in Sydney or Melbourne now has a median price of well over $1 million. Many households are on a financial treadmill which contributes to the stresses of life from illness, family breakdown or other emergencies.
The LNP has added to these burdens with its underfunding of childcare support, incredible rates for private health insurance and bonds for access to aged care centres.
A household debt level of 120 per cent of Australia’s GDP equals a debt of over $750,000 per person across Australia. Political insiders with more access to economic data would be able to quote the level of private household debt with add on age group profiles and specific details of debt levels in households with mortgages. The Newspoll/YouGov site would have all this data for access by privileged clients.
Hecklers of the left would once interrupt Robert Menzies during the 1950s about his LNP government’s commitment to disadvantaged households in financially stressful times like the 1953 recession when Labor scored an extraordinary result in the half senate election that was soon torpedoed by the antics of the Petrov affair in 1954.
Household debt levels deserve a higher profile in the middle and later phases of the current election campaign from our current crop of mainstream LNP political elites.
The so-called mavericks from minor far-right parties who are largely poised to allocate preferences to return the Morrison Government. Unless there is a better response from the progressive side of politics, the number of confused voters can be expected to grow. The goodwill from the recent Sky News Debate needs to be consolidated in the interest of democratic values and the future stability of Australian politics which has been in a volatile state from too much name calling since the last days of the Howard years. Any quest for policy solutions is likely to be well rewarded by the electorate over this style of campaigning with its largely vacuous qualities in my local Ryan electorate in Brisbane.
Vital issues like action on climate change and the restructuring of the market economy on more sustainable grounds are well and truly air-brushed by this style of populist self-promotion. I do hope that this type of advertising and mail-outs to constituents are not funded by electorate allowances at taxpayer expense when so many families are enduring economic hardship in flood-prone parts of the Ryan electorate.
Today’s offsiders are largely from the far-right of Australian politics.
Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.
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