Having submitted my postal vote a couple of weeks ago I have been blissfully ignoring the election campaign, and also hoping that most of the abysmal election promises being made are soon broken. The most frustrating part of the election is the pandering to the median voter – I’m not sure why we need leaders any more. Leaders win people over with ideas and shift society in a superior direction. Followers run with the mass – clearly both Abbott and Gillard are only followers, not leaders. Gillard has even offered up environmental policy to some form of community forum. Who knows how that will pan out, but why can she not show leadership on this issue. We have had the Garnaut report. We know what most experts are saying about the need for change. Economists would all agree that pollution must be priced – there are a number of possible ways to do this, but to promise no change in electricity or petrol prices while promising to solve “the biggest problem” of our time is absurd.
As for community forums, the latest journal to hit my intray from Berkeley Electronic Press is a new journal (I think) called Poverty and Public Policy. The first article in that online journal gives details about some Town Hall meetings in the US, designed to generate ideas to reduce the US budget deficit. As reported in the journal this is inferior to polls as ways of assessing public opinion, and at least as far as poverty is concerned lead to negative outcomes.
I have been trying to write a piece on why policy proposals made during the current election campaign have been so weak. I think a lack of leadership is important, but so too is the strength of the economy. Forget the 50 economists story about stimulus pulling us through – Australia was in a great starting position because of 20+ years of consistent economic reform, and low debt. Stimulus helped get us through the GFC, but as usual the lucky country found a few rocks and a big buyer that still bought when the rest of the world was falling over. Now that the GFC appears to be mostly behind us politicians have forgotten the importance of ongoing reform – of making tough decisions. When our economy was weaker we had Malcolm Fraser telling us that “life wasn’t meant to be easy” (so take courage), Paul Keating giving us “the recession we had to have”. From the time that Whitlam cut tariffs until Howard’s introduction of the GST our leaders were willing to make tough decisions, despite the potential electoral cost, in the national interest. I think that it is no coincidence that the pandering to the swinging voter by both sides of politics in the past 5 years has coincided with the latest commodity boom. Natural resources may be blessing us, but they’re also a curse.