Keep On Truckin' On The Road To Nowhere


Trucks! Is there anything that more completely embodies what it is to be Australian than a truck? Any object that so perfectly encapsulates the themes of strength, ruggedness, hard work, self-reliance, utilitarianism, and wheels, than the good old traditional Aussie truck?

I think not. Hardly surprising, then, that both Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd, two men whose Australianness could hardly be more typical, have turned to the truck to act as the "vehicle" to convey their powerful and provocative political messages.

What are these messages? Well, Turnbull’s, in a nutshell is: the Government owes too much money to people; while Rudd’s similarly condensed, is: no it doesn’t.

It’s an inflammatory issue, and the passionately held views on both sides make the fiery debate that continues to rage in the halls of power so gripping and compelling that it verges on newsworthy. On the one hand, the global financial crisis has necessitated some hard decisions and a rethinking of economic orthodoxy in an attempt to stimulate the economy and keep the country afloat; but on the other hand, the ever-mounting public debt points to a future in which Australians will have to suffer significant pain with precious little assurance that the money raised is being directed to the best long-term ends. On a mysterious third hand, isn’t it true that fiscal policy is, basically, boring as hell and everyone would rather be talking about sexy shenanigans on saucy battleships?

It’s complicated, which is why Turnbull has quite brilliantly chosen to simplify the issue for the slow-witted, easily distracted Australian populace, through the ever-popular medium of a truck. The political truck was not invented by Turnbull, of course; John Howard used one when he was opposition leader in 1995. Howard’s debt truck differed from Turnbull’s in several ways, of course: whereas Howard’s truck highlighted Keating’s massive foreign debt, Turnbull’s is focused upon Rudd’s enormous domestic debt; and while Turnbull’s truck will feature large billboards describing the Rudd Government’s debt levels, Howard’s carried massive side-mounted machine guns with which the PM would cull politically correct historians. But in essence the trucks are cut from the same cloth, the cloth of heavy, rigid policy debate.

As Turnbull says, the debt truck is "an important way of drawing attention to the reality of this debt". Indeed, how could we ever understand the debt without a truck? Numbers are so abstract, aren’t they? You see the figure "$300 billion debt" in the newspaper and it doesn’t really mean anything — it’s just a number, and devoid of context, our malformed monkey brains are unable to process it. However, in the context of a truck, suddenly all becomes clear. "Wait a minute!" we cry. "The number on that truck … why, our children will be paying that off for years!" Truly, the moment when you first see a debt truck is much like that experienced by St Paul on the road to Damascus, when Jesus hit him with a truck.

It should also be noted, as reported in The Australian, that Turnbull is "sure" that "the debt truck has been obtained on commercial terms", which is a relief to everyone after all the ute palaver, although we should remember that Turnbull has been sure about things in the past — Treasury emails, prime ministerial corruption, the advisability of entering politics, etc — that didn’t work out so well. Still, let’s take him at his word — it will make it more entertaining when the truck turns out to be registered to the Exclusive Brethren.

The most interesting part of the story is that it’s not just the Opposition that has realised the way to an electorate’s heart is through its truck lane. The Government, too, has jumped on the bandwagon, so to speak, with its "supporting jobs truck", a name presumably devised by the same conjurers of wit and pithy catchiness that came up with "the education revolution", "Kevin07" and "detailed programmatic specificity".

Even as the debt truck wends its way through the streets reducing budget complexities to easily understood horsepower, the supporting jobs truck will be making its own way around the suburbs and backblocks of middle Australia, reminding everyone that yes, debt is growing, but it’s all for a good cause: buying trucks. No, I mean, supporting jobs. For example, jobs in the truck industry. Ironically, the debt truck itself is helping support such jobs, thus showing that the supporting jobs truck is correct in its assertion that debt supports jobs. Supporting jobs truck 1, debt truck 0, but the game’s not over yet. After all, the Rudd Government’s debt may be supporting jobs, but there’s no doubt that, as the debt truck claims, it is also a debt. Touche, debt truck.

Of course, Rudd himself can’t really take all the credit for the supporting jobs truck. As we all know, Rudd isn’t really a truck sort of guy. He’s more limousines, jumbo jets, sauce bottles and so forth. I think to find the genesis of the supporting jobs truck we need to look to Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who, as Industrial Relations Minister, is not only all about supporting jobs, but whose very being screams "truck". In many ways, she is the forceful, irresistible monster truck of parliament, just as Wayne Swan is the Volvo, and Christopher Pyne is the golf cart.

So, take The Australian‘s love of a good truck, combine it with the powerful V8 personality of Julia Gillard, and add Malcolm Turnbull’s almost-touching desperation to ape John Howard, and you have one of the most delightful vehicular political narratives since Billy Hughes campaigned for conscription by jumping no-man’s land on a Harley.

But while we might all agree that trucks add a spice and a zest to the often-bland gumbo of fiscal policy, the current fad raises one very important question: why is it only debt that brings out the truckiness in our politicians? Why do we have to wait for economic issues to take centre stage to enjoy some tasty truck-on-truck action? Imagine the possibilities if the major parties brought trucks into every sphere!

Why not have an Asylum Seeker truck? Sharman Stone could tool around the coastal areas in a one-tonne border protection machine, a regularly updated boatpeople arrivals tally painted on one side, a picture of Kevin Rudd in a hijab on the other. The government could retaliate with its Humanitarianism Truck, which would have a loudspeaker on the front constantly blaring out the phrase "Sharman Stone eats babies".

An Environment Truck! Now there’d be a sight! The Liberals, fanging it on the highways in a truck plastered with percentages showing the job-losses to result from the government’s carbon pollution reduction scheme, only to suddenly be sideswiped by Penny Wong’s Emissions Trading Pickup, with its electronic display showing the potential for catastrophic damage to the Great Barrier Reef, the populations of Pacific Islands and drought-stricken Australia if the government does not act decisively in several years to give large payments to coal companies. This, in fact, could be a four-cornered race, with the Greens driving their own truck showing the rising level of carbon emissions and stopping every few minutes to calm the crying children in the backseat, and the Nationals taking charge of a gigantic road train belching a constant stream of black smoke and covered in life-size photographs of whiny farmers.

The possibilities literally never end. The Alcopops truck. The Aboriginal Intervention Truck. The Bill Henson Paedophile Photos Truck — this may be the best truck of all.

Of course, not every issue requires the same kind of truck. Asylum seekers call for a movers’ van, while climate change feels more like a garbage truck. A nice semi-trailer would be best for tax reform, but higher education funding would seem to require something more elegant and sensuous, like a tow truck.

The main thing is that we recognise and celebrate our heritage. We’re Australians, and while Americans have baseball, and the English have tea, and the Chinese have dead Tibetans, we have trucks. And it’s time we embraced them as a crucial part of every social, political and economic discourse possible.

Because if there’s a problem that can’t be explained, rectified, and, if possible, avoided by proper use of a truck, I sure haven’t thought of it yet.


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.