Stuck in money games


Election night 2004: it’s clear by 7.30 that Labor is losing badly. The commentariat’s views, as I jump channels, reflect the glee or dismay of their political attachments as they attempt to explain the rout. By the end of the evening, the ALP’s explanations coalesced into the simple belief that the Coalition’s exploitation of fear of interest rate rises had sunk their hopes. This simplistic single issue explanation irks me, as both a sociologist and a very distressed participant in a democratic process which seemed to have failed to produce a result for the common good.

Why did so many people re-elect the government of the day, and more scarily, possibly give them control of the senate as well? The pundits the next day felt they knew the answers as they hammered the apparent failure of the ALP to sell voters its economic credentials. This take reaffirms not only the ALP’s own belief that the Coalition’s scare campaign aimed at the hip pockets had overridden their positive campaign and that their target voters were essentially venal and self interested. The lesson, most agreed, was that the few attempts that Labor had made to look at a more collective interest, such as saving the forests and redistributing education funds, were mistakes and such risks should not be repeated. So in the post mortems (sic) over the next few months the emphasis will be back on how to convince voters that the ALP has similar and preferably superior economic management skills to the Coalition and therefore should be given the Treasury benches in the next Federal election.

I want to offer some other options before we go along with the economic myth makers once again. The ALP started its very belated main policy push, ie the one the media were waiting for, by trying to buy voters with their family payments. It did not take hold as it confused people. It did however set the up the election theme as who would offer the customer-voter the offer they could not refuse. This set up the economic as the main game and it was that polls showed clearly that Labor could not win.

The very limited fairer society, equity arguments turned up later and lacked traction. The education policy had some whiff of redistribution muted by complaints about unfairness, the health policy on encouraging bulk billing were confusing, Medicare gold too limited, saving the trees was much too late. There were no clear commitments to a fairer society except through ladders to success and lesser squeezes. So the ALP was stuck in money games and the Coalition creamed them on their own best ground.

If we are not to see another long period of Coalition Governments, similar to the post war twenty-three year regime, we must reach much more sophisticated and nuanced understandings of why the ALP lost. We need to know how apparently civil societies can exclude and demonise; why fundamentalisms are rising and religion is tangling with politics; why some people vote for and like someone others see as a liar and evil. These are some of the questions that may not be asked about Australian politics to day. Instead, we will see more simplistic explanations of why the ALP failed to sell it economic credentials and even more forays into how to feed the perceived self interest of marginal electorates.

Was it Lincoln who said politicians should appeal to the angels in us? Maybe if more did, people would be less risk averse in their voting and more generous in their viewpoints.

This range incorporates those award minimums between the Federal Minimum Wage ($484.40 pw) and the minimum rate for a tradesperson ($578.20 pw), and allows for overtime earnings, allowances and loadings which may be earned for night or weekend work, or to which casual employees are entitled.

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