Fighting fear of the unknown


Over the past week I have read and heard all kinds of analysis about why John Howard won the election and how Mark Latham and Labor lost it. Poor campaigning vs brilliant strategy; confusing policies vs simple messages. With the benefit of hindsight, the consensus seems to be that the Coalition won the election because they scared the living daylights out of us by telling us interest rates would sky-rocket under Labor.

As someone who watches the market obsessively and worries about interest rate rises all the time, this very basic line is a painful truth.

Even though I’m supposed to be inured to political furphies, the Coalition’s interest rates scare campaign found a toehold in my mind. I was worried a Latham Labor government would send interest rates through the roof. Any government’s monetary policy ranks a distant six or seven on a scale of how interest rates are decided, I KNOW this, but nonetheless I was anxious about Labor’s capacity to run the economy.

I worry about having enough money to live on when I’m old and doddering. I’m concerned about how I’m going to pay for my children’s education. I worry about my parents who are approaching seventy-five and how they will be cared for in the future.

The list seems to go on and on but the over-riding theme in all of my gripes is fear. Fear of not only losing what I have but a fear of what the future holds.

This disquiet goes beyond the simple greed that Clive Hamilton and Hugh Mackay have alluded to in the past week. Sure, a degree of greed in society is part of it but I’m beginning to think the driving force is a primal fear. It’s an underlying mood one that’s obscured or dressed up in the pursuit and retention of material trappings “ the house, the car, the holiday home “ but it’s definitely out there.

Despite my latent fears I’m acutely aware that I’m one of Australia’s fortunate. I have a great job that I love and am secure in. It pays me a decent wage. I’m not rolling in it but I’m not unhappy with what I earn and it provides me with a comfortable home. I’m able to travel, I’ve benefited from a university education, and I have excellent health.

This is my status quo and I do not want it to change. On that basis Labor needed to win me over in a way that would not change or endanger said status quo. The raft of policies they wheeled out during the campaign held so much promise yet ultimately were proved to be either flawed or divisive.

The family tax package with its emphasis on incentive was confusing and disadvantaged too many. Labor campaigned long and loud on the education system’s haves and have-nots. But the policy failed spectacularly because of cherry picking and singling out institutions in an ad-hoc manner. It also exposed Mark Latham’s loathing of the so-called Establishment and demeaned and undermined his worthy aims.

I have private health insurance. My entire family has private health insurance and all of us intend to keep it. None of us will give it up because of the huge problems that beset our public hospitals. There were huge spending promises, from both sides without proposals for real structural reform. Where is the long-term planning we so desperately need in order to cope with the huge health bill we’re going to have in twenty years time?

Labor took a terrible hiding in Tasmania. At its core was over estimating the vote pulling power of the Greens. More importantly, they failed to realise that a great many people do care about conserving our environment but as a vote changing issue, it’s not as important to voters as health and aged care, education and the economy.

John Howard knew this and he won the election comprehensively.

Australia has outwardly flourished on the back of unprecedented economic growth. Howard won because he promised not to change the electorate’s status quo and he played on the fears that we now have about the consequences of change. The Prime Minister is hailed as being a strong and decisive leader but he has manipulated public apprehension to retain power. Half-truths upon white lies that have left no doubt in my mind that the Howard government has deceived me many times over the past three years.

I was deceived about asylum seekers and I was deceived about the reasons for going to war in Iraq. The pathetic excuse that ‘I was never told’ or ‘I acted on the advice at the time’ is just not good enough. As a voter and taxpayer I deserve better. And as a voter, I do not trust John Howard to be the moral guardian of this country particularly when I believe Howard has failed the basic and fundamental test of honesty and accountability in government over and over again. Could Mark Latham have made some redress? Perhaps. He is young, positive and optimistic but he’s also at the mercy of the Labor party machine and all its petty infighting.

That the world is a different place is a post 9/11 cliché. Yet continuing acts of terrorism have made us afraid. I sense a growing lack of generosity in the people around me, an unwillingness to engage with others. I’m not talking about people giving money to worthy causes or sending in blankets for the homeless. I’m talking about an absence of openness. Increasingly, society’s good deeds are performed by an ever-shrinking band of people as we become more insular and fearful. I sense it in myself when I watch every penny and worry about my family’s security.

I hate being apprehensive about the future. I hate not having faith. I hate being cautious and watchful “ hesitating and thinking twice about my options instead of feeling sure that come what may, even if I fail, I will not be left behind.

I don’t want a government to tell me what to do or how I should think, but I desperately want a government that will encourage me to embrace the next thirty years. To not fear for the future of my children and what will become of them when I am gone. At the moment I am left with a terrible feeling that neither side of politics can give me that future.

As I cast my ballot I mused over my lack of confidence in Labor’s economic credentials and my belief that John Howard cannot be trusted to do what is right; and all the while an uneasiness and uncertainty pervaded my deliberations. My stark choice: stay safe with a three-time winner with a proven economic record or leap into the unknown.

On Election Day I chose safety for my family and I hate myself for it. Not because it wasn’t the right decision but because I was scared to change the status quo. In this wonderful prosperous country I live in somehow, unbelievably, I wasn’t brave enough to take a chance.

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