Compare Labor's precise plan, reducing carbon emissions by 43 per cent in 2030, with Scott Morrison's projected target of 26 to 28 per cent by the same date and it looks, for a moment, as if there's a real contrast. There is - until it comes to the hip pocket. That's because both parties are busy assuring us that their programs won't cost a cent. Nothing can stand in the way of winning the election we're speeding towards in the first third of the coming year.
It's a fantasy world, brought to you by a politician near you.
Neither party wants to touch on how they will deal with the changing weather patterns that accompany our position as one of the top ten producers of greenhouse gasses on a per-capita basis. There's no debate about measures we may need to implement to cope with this changing climate. The heavy rains that made this November the wettest ever are precisely in line with the intensification of extremes expected to accompany climate change, suggesting we're already further along the path towards irrevocable alteration than earlier assumed. Listen to the political debate, however, and there's nothing other than furore and argument over a vague target more than a decade away; one that both parties insist can be achieved without any voter being hurt in the making of their policy.
How can we explain this contradiction? What explains this bizarre situation, where we are being told so much is at stake at the same moment as both parties insist their policies are cost-free to us personally?
Engaging in what passes for political 'debate' is like watching a film. Lots of drama and action, but with a tightly circumscribed field-of-view and carefully choreographed fights. Sure, both parties have real differences but this doesn't mean they're offering genuine alternatives. They're both trudging over the same terrain and accepting, broadly, the same range of potential possibilities; participating in the same circumscribed conversation. Why? The answer is they want to win.
Last century it became accepted that the path to victory lay through triangulation. First Bill Clinton (in the US) then Tony Blair (in the UK) transformed this technique into an art form. After carefully identifying extreme positions on the left and right, they adopted policy settings securely the middle. The problem for Labor today is that this is exactly where Scott Morrison has positioned the government and why Anthony Albanese's problem is so difficult. Labor must offer change but make it cost free. The way to do this isn't to focus on the costs of policy inaction or the price of, well, anything, and that's why he's happy for us just to focus on the government's dysfunction.
Morrison, meanwhile, insists nothing needs to be done; just sit back and relax. We will meet our objectives in a canter and nothing should make us feel happier as a country than watching our PM zoom round and round the Bathurst race track hooning it up simply because he can. How good is that!
Neither party will be bothered telling us the truth because it might get in the way of winning the election.
The problem is that the voters who will decide the next election still haven't chosen a side. They haven't even switched on, yet, to the political debate. You'll recognise them at Christmas, standing near the barbecue, and holding forth about the big issues: like how much it cost to fill up the car last week ("I couldn't believe it ... over two dollars a litre!") and how much the house down the road went for last month ("Just incredible ... how can anyone afford to buy today?").
Faced with such immediate, current and personal issues, these voters really don't give a damn about the future trajectory of the planet or nebulous concepts like the meaning of life. They stopped listening to the debate about climate change when it was still labelled global warming and don't see how the current rains actually prove climate change is real. They don't care about why the price of fuel is rising or if Taiwan really is a part of China - they just want their problems to go away.
Both parties have long given up on educating such voters and neither will bother now. They're focusing, instead, on that golden land way off in the future: the one with affordable housing, plentiful childcare, and laughing children playing on swings being pushed by happy parents. Both parties (particularly Labor) have positioned policy offerings well within the comfort zone of the electorate. Listen to the leaders however and you hear (particularly from the PM) that his opponent is a virtual devil incarnate whose election would lead to the rapid end of life as we know it. The end, for example, of the weekend.
It's particularly important to recognise this as the election looms ever closer and the accompanying rhetoric swells to a shrill crescendo. It's also the reality of the way we communicate electronically nowadays. Brevity and succinctness require reducing every message to its simplest: black and white, good and bad. Forget nuance, boil it down to the golden nugget even if this means discarding all the nutrients that make a meal substantial.
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So who will you vote for in the coming year?
Put the choice like that and the answer's obvious. Independents. Those offering action.
At some point, however, the choice will be reduced to that of a chaotic government with a feel-good PM who, despite accumulating evidence to the contrary, continues to assure us that nothing needs to change or an opposition that's different - but only just!
Neither party will be bothered telling us the truth because it might get in the way of winning the election. So take that as your personal challenge over this holiday period. Engage. Talk about the coming election at the cricket and the beach. Tell the politicians they need to stand for something and get your friends to concentrate on how vital their coming vote will be.
The next one really might be one of the most important of our lives.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
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