Be principled, but not so much that you scare voters


Loading

Labor attempted to do it with a detailed set of policies, the majority of which it aired years ago and has defended in the public square since. Morrison (for it really was just him, and only him, fronting the Liberal Party campaign), presented almost no fresh policy, but campaigned strongly on what he said were the risks of a Shorten Labor government.

The contrast between the two approaches was complete, and startling, because Morrison was campaigning on a vague agenda of trust for past performance, but barely mentioned any past policy achievements.

Meanwhile, Shorten asked us to trust that a government led by him would do what it said it would, and nothing more, even though he had no reason to believe Australians trust him – polls consistently show that voters don’t warm to him.

The weird detour during the campaign’s final days, into Morrison’s beliefs on hell and homosexuality, was informative.

Loading

The small storm over whether he, as an adherent Pentecostal Christian, believes gay people will burn in eternal damnation, was really about voter trust.

If a politician has deeply held views he keeps to himself, views which are unpalatable to the mainstream, how can we be sure he’s not hiding them, only to spring them on us once he wins office?

This is what Abbott did, with his unpopular 2014 budget, and his knighting of Prince Philip. This is what many say Julia Gillard did, with her carbon pricing scheme.

Voters’ trust in politicians is so low that they can no longer afford to spring anything on us at all, which could make it increasingly difficult for them to respond to economic and social challenges as they’re thrown up.

The death of Bob Hawke two days before polling day was not tragic – it is difficult to think of anyone who lived a larger or more passionate life. There is nothing tragic in the end of a long life so well lived. Still, it tinged the final days of the campaign with nostalgia and some sadness.

Hawke was a remarkable mixture of pragmatism and principle, and his commitment to social justice was inspirational – he stood up for refugees, he went out on a limb internationally to reject apartheid, he protected the Antarctic and he abhorred racism.

He thought the best of the Australian people and communicated to them as an equal, not a superior.

His charismatic personality set a model for election campaigning that politicians still attempt to emulate, with nowhere the Hawke-ian aplomb or ease.

Hawke was also hopelessly, endearingly emotional – something we often punish our politicians for now, particularly if they are women.

He made no attempt to hide his flaws, on the contrary, they became part of his appeal. Compare the enormous leeway Hawke was given for his love life to the scrutiny faced by Gillard, for example, over her perfectly ordinary de facto relationship.

There is no point romanticising the past, particularly on a day when the nation has just made its choice for the future.

But if there is something we might hope to inherit from Hawke as we move into the era of the 46th Parliament, it is his combination of principle and pragmatism, along with the skill he had for convincing voters to trust him on the detail.

Jacqueline is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.

Most Viewed in Politics

Loading



Politics

Related posts

Make a comment