1993 – Hewson has lost the unlosable election. He had released the most detailed policy, outlining his plans for a GST, welfare reform, cutbacks to Medicare and a range of other initiatives.
The Liberals stuttered and spluttered and said that they’d learned from this. It was a mistake to be so upfront with the electorate. They announced that it was a mistake to be honest.
I remember thinking at the time that they hadn’t quite grasped the concept of democracy. To me, there are two ways of looking at standing as a potential government.
One, you state what you believe, argue for it and continue to argue for it until the voters are won over to your views. This is the approach that Labor took with the Vietnam War.
The other way of looking at it is that you offer up an idea, and if it’s rejected, you conclude that people don’t want it, so you change your policy and campaign on something else next time.
I’m reminding people of this, not because of the Liberal’s small target strategy in this election, but because it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of slamming the electorate for the way it voted, or spend too much time trying to lay blame. The important thing is to look to the future.
I know, for some, the future seems bleak now that Tony Abbott is our Prime Minister. (It seems from Facebook that most people I know are moving overseas.)
But the future is a long time. Even John Howard was voted out eventually. If the idea of six years under Abbott seems too much, start working towards making him a one term government.
Impossible? Not if he’s as bad as we all fear. It’s one thing to be relentlessly critical of the problems we’ve faced; it’s another to solve them. And Abbott HAS raised expectations about what’s possible.
GFC? It’s over so it’s no excuse for anything! Boats arriving? We’ll just turn them around. Rising energy prices? Not under a Coalition Government. Interest rates? They’ll be lower under us, but not this low. Worried about Political Correctness? We’ll let you say what you want, as long as your not critical of the Liberal Party or Australia. Surplus? No problem. Too much Government Debt? We’ll pay it all back? Taxes? You pay too much. Sex life not as good as you want it? We have candidates with sex appeal.
But rather than think in terms of elections, rather than thinking in terms of winning or losing, rather than blaming the Murdoch Press, or the leadership tensions in the Labor Party, let’s forget Politics and start the fight for what we believe in, right now!
In political terms, for example, asylum seeker rights has been a loser since 2001. Labor would have been “wise” to have worked out a bi-partisan “Let’s sink the boats in a totally compassionate way” policy with the Liberals, but I’m sure many people would have had a problem with that. So when it comes to the things that you think are important, how are you going to put pressure on Abbott to stop him going too far? How are you going to mobilise people and make them aware of what’s being proposed so that the Liberals don’t just slip it through quietly and unnoticed like their changes to childcare announced this week?
Or would you prefer to say that the electorate is stupid, that they deserve what they get and I’m going overseas for the next six years?
Minor parties manage opposition better than major parties because it’s all they know. Family First or The Greens are pleased when they have wins on particular issues. (As I’m writing this, I hear someone from one of the major parties say that The Greens should be upset that their overall vote is down and not celebrating that the they retained Melbourne.) For Labor and Liberals, however, being in Opposition is purgatory – rarely do they sit back and say we achieved quite a bit in that term of Government and we’ve raised people’s expectations about what’s possible. When Labor first proposed Medicare (Medibank, as it was called then), people were told that half our doctors would move to England or stop practising altogether and we’d have a crisis, but by 1975 the Liberals were promising to maintain it. (How well they retained is another story!) Some reforms last; others have about as much long term effect as morning dew in a desert.
Whether the Carbon Tax stays or goes, it’s initial effect was to encourage some industry to reduce their emissions and become more energy efficient. Not all of these are going to say, “Hey, let’s get rid of these cost-savers and spend more money on electricity now that there’s no carbon tax!” (You know, when the power bills start coming down. Ho, ho, ho and I believe in Santa too) And while, I have serious doubts about Abbott’s Direct (in)Action Policy, we have both sides committing to reduce emissions.
Yes, opposition is hard. And harder when you have people gloating about getting rid of the “worst government in history” without being able to name anything major that they did wrong, while ignoring the fact that we survived the GFC without going into recession. But I think Shelley said it best:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
“Ozymandias” by Perce Byshe Shelley
“Nothing beside remains…”
Abbott too shall become history. The Liberals had a countdown clock a few weeks ago. And while we don’t know yet how long it’ll take, a new countdown has started.
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