Soon after becoming leader, Mr Abbott stated in parliament “I have even been accused from time to time of flirting with the deputy Prime Minister”. And in rising to congratulate him, Ms Gillard reciprocated the banter with “obviously I know Tony well, we spent a lot of time chasing each other round…we were for a while a Punch and Judy show for Australian politics”.
Well, the puppet show has hit a wall.
Most media commentators agree that this is the least substantive election campaign for some time, with voters frustrated by the candidates and the narrowing difference between the major parties. It’s the Seinfeld election with a campaign that is almost devoid of serious content. While Kerry O’Brien and Laurie Oakes try to achieve more pointed and relevant interviews, most of the media remains obsessed with the machinations of politicians rather than policy or politics itself (including so called in-depth shows like Insiders on the ABC).
My feelings on the campaign have largely been driven by an intense dislike of Abbott, equaled perhaps only by my loathing of John Howard, and despondency at the failure of the ALP to deliver on the hopes and trust the electorate placed in them in 2007. At the core of my loathing/despondency is the rhetoric about “working families” and “battlers”, a feature of Australian politics for more years than I care to count.
Despite our glorious survival of the GFC and the benefits of the mining boom, such are contemporary pressures that many families are doing it tough. Reports of people cutting back on meals and increasingly calling on their superannuation to deal with mortgage stress are becoming more common, and Australian real estate prices are at unaffordable levels. The 2010 Housing Affordability Index registers that Australian house costs are the most unaffordable in the world.
In cuts to taxation (both personal and business) there is a diabolical failure to appropriately resource key infrastructure little hospitals, schools, public transport and low income housing. More and more of the cost of living has shifted away from the public purse, funded through the taxation system and provided in the form of a social wage, and onto private individuals. And surprise, surprise, the gap between the rich and poor in Australia is widening.
In light of this economic climate, an announcement from Gillard that she will introduce a tax breaks for families who have students 16-18 years old and staying at home seems like a Band-Aid on open surgery. Most of these families would rather see investment in the public school system and quality health care, where you don’t have to pay the local GP $20 (or much more) each time you see them. And, of course, looming largest is the desire for affordable housing in well-serviced locations. Lack of housing close to infrastructure like shops and schools means car ownership in Australia is mostly mandatory, and increasingly expensive. Even your dear blogger drives the 5 km to work across the inner city, taking 15-20 minutes instead of the 50 minutes it takes on two forms of public transport. With the NRMA estimating Australia’s most popular cars have soared to an average running cost of $260 per week to run – over $13,000 a year – what is a $4000 tax break really worth?
While costs for “working families” rise, both leaders are clamoring to reduce company tax rates and further strip the tax system of the finances it needs to ensure a more even allocation of services and resources across the country. Even when a step is taken in the right direction, such as on the mining tax, bravery collapses in the face of a political campaign from a tiny and privileged elite. As my father, a constituent in Gillard’s electorate of Lalor, calls them: The BLF (Billionaires Liberation Front).
So heading back to where I began, to the flirtatious banter between Gillard and Abbott. While clearly Abbott is objectionable, and in my view a misogynist, this is not the only dynamic going on in this interaction. We have two leaders, both playing a personality game, exercising their skills at obscuring the real issues with personality and guff. Rather than calling Abbott on his retro ideas and offensive views, we get jokes and frivolity.
What I like about this excellent ad from Get Up! is that it sets aside the humor and treat Abbott’s own words seriously. After all, if he wins on the 21st many will not be laughing.
What we appear to need next, is appropriate and detailed attention to economic distress and lack of equality of outcome in Australia. The key issue for most people appears to be: how will I get through this week/month/year with my mortgage paid and my family fed. With the daily slide into the ridiculous by most politicians, and even much of the media, this campaign could make you think that delineating this key issue is rocket science.