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How important is this election?

By Don Aitkin - posted Thursday, 8 August 2013

So the race is on. My local newspaper tells me that the crucial question is which party can the nation trust most. That didn't resonate with me, because I don't trust politicians very much - they say what they say, and do what they do, to gain or retain power. Graham Richardson, the Labor heavy in the Hawke and Keating periods entitled his autobiography Whatever it Takes.

The Conversation (the blog owned apparently by the universities, but not given to dispassionate analysis in some areas) popped this one up: 'So is this the most important election ever? Here at The Conversation the answer is yes. After all, it's our first. But it could also be one of the most important for Australian politics. Think of where we stand on the eve of the poll. The world is in an economic mess. OK, Australia has avoided recession, but for how long? Then there's the geo-political and the mess in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and an estimated 42 million forcibly displaced people…' [and more in this vein].

Now of course this has to be the most important election ever, because we don't know the outcome, and we do know the outcome of all the others that have been held. But there is a delusion (which probably has a name) that 'now' is the most important time of all - as though all history leads up to this great, decisive, critical moment. Also, we are alive in it, and we are supremely important, so it must be true.


But go back to The Conversation's opening lines, and bypass the quip about the election's being the most important for them, because it's their first. Fair enough. But the rest is thoughtless. The world is in an economic mess, they say. How different is that? The world usually is. What you could say is that after the best part of two decades of good times, we Australians seem likely to be entering less enjoyable times. Booms, we should remember, tend to be followed by busts. What is causing the downturn? Well, we're a trading nation, and our trading partners are not so well, and are not buying our stuff quite as enthusiastically as they were a few years ago.

And because we've done so well selling them our raw materials our dollar has become unusually expensive, so our manufacturing and service sectors are correspondingly sick - our finished goods and our services are too expensive. Tourists and students find us a high-cost country. And so on. That isn't exactly a mess. It's just that we are a relatively small player in the big world, and get buffeted easily by economic winds. Is our situation unusually dire? No. Things economic were tough in the 1940s and 1950s because we couldn't buy or produce a lot of what our society needed. Then we had about fifteen good years, to 1975, then about ten awkward years of stagflation, then a bit of boom and bust as we floated the dollar and had the recession that we had to have. Then China started its expansionist time, and we may be at the end of this phase of it.

On the face of it, this time doesn't seem especially important economically. That doesn't mean that Mr Rudd can point to his good record as an economic manager, partly because Prime Ministers and governments don't in fact 'manage' the economy, and partly because, as I just wrote, we are a trading nation, and have to put up with global winds.

What is the choice on September 7th? Too bad about the local government referendum, but it was never going to be carried, so some of the money there is saved. It's a choice between the Ins and the Outs. The Ins have been in for two terms and three governments in what have been politically turbulent times. The Ins' PMs were twice displaced in internal coups, and the dissension with the Ins' party has been manifest. It is subdued at the moment because its members are all concentrating on staying in there, or winning a seat.

The Outs have been that way for two terms, have had one leadership spill in that time, and have been consistently critical of the Ins, who complain of negativity. The Outs could respond, as I wrote recently, that there has been a lot be negative about: the Ins are much better at talk than at getting things done (and passing legislation is not a necessary or sufficient sign of good government).

The Outs have their problems. Their leader is neither fast on his feet nor a good salesman, and most of their senior members do not shine either in Parliament or on television, while the Ins do have a good salesman. It is easy, then, for electors to worry about the choice, and wonder if this is really the time.


My own views will be evident to anyone who has been reading this website regularly. But my guess about the electorate is that as the weeks go on, it will come to the view, in crucial seats and in crucial numbers, that it's time to get rid of the Ins, despite (or maybe because of) the herculean efforts of the Ins' leader to reduce all the issues to just one thing - him or the other one.

After all, those voters will say, if we don't like what the Outs do, once they're in power, we can kick them out in three years' time. We've done before, on many occasions.

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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, Hugh Flavus, Knight was published in 2020.

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All articles by Don Aitkin

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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