Voters are sick of the blame game
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Voters are sick of the blame game

One of the main reasons voters have become so cynical of, and dissatisfied with, our politicians, and are losing trust and belief in the political process itself, is all the bickering, game playing, point scoring and blame shifting that has increasingly defined our politics and dramatically changed the nature of government.

Voters increasingly want authenticity, honesty, transparency and the significant national challenges met. They have tired of our adversarial politics, so self-absorbed, paying out to various narrow and vested interests, with no genuine concern about, or commitment to, our national interests.

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten in Question Time on Tuesday.

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten in Question Time on Tuesday.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Nobody expects government to be easy, or the big issues to be dealt with without pain for some. That pain is acceptable in the interests of the greater national good.

But what really grates is to see our politicians ducking the bigger challenges, kicking them further down the road, and then, worse, lying about or misrepresenting what they have done as having “provided a sustainable solution".

This sense of frustration and disappointment is compounded as voters recognise that those in senior ministerial positions do not hold those positions because of their relevant skills and experience – indeed, the skills required to gain preselection and elevation within our major political parties are more attuned to success in university politics, or the union movement, not to running major multibillion-dollar government departments. Voters recognise that if ministerial positions were put out for application few, if any, of those holding those positions would be appointed.

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In all this, voters just can’t understand or accept that our political system can’t find a way to achieve bipartisanship on the bigger, longer-term challenges – such as climate, federation, tax and transfer reform, education and health reform, budget repair or a national productivity strategy. Politicians must find some way to lift these issues out of the daily political mire, to set differences aside, to work constructively beyond politics.

These issues are clearly bigger than any of our politicians tasked with addressing them and carry a significance that will extend well beyond the duration of the political careers of those involved. It is most disheartening that the only evident bipartisanship in recent days has been in the area loosely defined as “national security”, and perhaps some areas of defence but, even there, there is the constant danger of that starting to fray at the edges.

A bipartisan approach is required to address big issues like climate.

A bipartisan approach is required to address big issues like climate.

Photo: Michele Mossop

Voters are finding it even more farcical that today they are being asked to accept tax packages claimed to be costing well over $100 billion, to be delivered over 10 years or more, requiring funding and the commitment of successive governments - and merely as some sort of “relief”.

This is to be accepted when those in or aspiring to be in government have done virtually nothing to solve the serious and mounting increases in the cost of living with which voters have to struggle daily – housing affordability, power costs, school, childcare and health costs – and against which the promised “relief” is minimal, indeed to many, is just insulting.

This voter disappointment and concern has been manifested as a drift away from the major parties towards the Greens, other minor parties and independents. But this works to compound the structural weakness of our politics and government. An unrepresentative, obstructionist, Senate simply adds to the mockery.

It could be different if, say, the balance of power were held by a party totally committed to reform, with the simple commitment that they will support whoever is in government provided they pursue a genuine reform agenda. Wishful thinking?

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Unselfish, inspired, apolitical leadership would make a real difference. The electorate would breathe a sigh of relief, and cut that leader a lot of political slack. But who, among the present lot, would have the balls to seek to rise above the daily media melee?

An independent, properly funded commission or national committee could be established on key issues such as climate to marshal the best evidence and structure and lead the public debate on those issues. It would generate deliverable policies for governments and the Parliament to enact over time.

The concept of an independent Reserve Bank grew out of the overarching reform of our financial system. It reflected the desperate need at the time to “de-politicise” monetary policy. How ridiculous was it for key prices such as interest rates and our exchange rate to be determined by politicians sitting around the table of a cabinet sub-committee (the Monetary Policy Committee in the Fraser years, with four of the seven votes being farmers). The system needed independent, market-based oversight and some control.

Why not use the same approach with the climate challenge? As important as monetary policy can be, it is dwarfed by the significance of the climate challenge, with its inter-generational consequences.

Again voters have been ignored and insulted. While both sides have come to admit the damage done by their climate wars, crippling households and businesses with massive, unnecessary, and irresponsible increases in their power costs, they haven’t acted to demonstrate that this admission is genuine. They certainly haven’t tried to work together to solve the problem. Rather, they still sustain the petty point scoring and blame shifting, both between the two major parties, and within the government parties. Voters are demanding, and deserve, more.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader. 

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.