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Campaigning on fear

By Patrick Baume - posted Monday, 2 April 2007

The voters of New South Wales have just had to suffer through the most negative campaign in Australian history, with both sides focusing entirely on character assassination and how useless the other mob were. It was an awful campaign and in the end I am sure most voters felt that whatever the outcome, they would feel like they, and the state, had lost. My fear is that this is going to be largely repeated in the federal campaign.

There were reasons why the NSW campaign was as it was. The State Labor Government could not run on its record, because its record was appalling and it could not focus on its future vision, as its only bold plan, the desalination plant, was deeply unpopular. The Opposition’s campaign has to be largely sheeted home to a staggeringly lazy approach to policy and a politically incompetent leader.

Neither of these situations exist at the federal level. The government has plenty of economic positives to point to from its 11 years in charge and Kevin Rudd is clearly in a completely different league to the own goal expert Peter Debnam. Yet I fear that the Americanisation of Australian politics will largely continue at this Federal Election, with both sides relying primarily on fear of the other to win the vote.


The Opposition’s fear campaign is going to focus on WorkChoices, especially as it has almost become accepted wisdom that fear of Federal IR laws were a big factor in keeping Morris Iemma in power in NSW.

Despite the lowest unemployment rate in over 30 years, unprecedented levels of prosperity, and an economy - with the only real danger being that it may be doing a bit too well compared to our major trading partners - the Labor Party will try to convince people that their job security and very way of life is falling down around their ears as we speak.

The government will have two prongs to their fear campaign. The first is the most ridiculous of them all, that if Labor are given their way and Australian troops leave Iraq the Götterdämmerung will be upon us, sharia law will be just around the corner and we will all be slaves in the new global caliphate. We have already had a preposterous comparison to 1942 from the Defence Minister, and the shrill predictions of doom from him and the Foreign Minister are sure to continue, without the vaguest nod to reality.

The other, and far more substantive fear campaign, will be a slightly tweaked version of the economic L-Plater attack on Mark Latham. It will be harder for the government to focus on interest rates after the several recent rises, but the line that Labor are financially irresponsible, the first response to the ALP’s broadband plan, will be thumped and thumped and thumped up to election day.

Both leaders will claim they are focusing on the positive, with Rudd sure to make another two or three “grand vision” announcements over the next couple of months. And Howard will leave all the attacks to his chief fear campaigners - Downer and Nelson on security and Costello and Minchin on the economy, while he desperately attempts to maintain the façade of a leader who is down to earth but at the same time above it all.

But come the home stretch, the union-Labor machine will be ramping up the WorkChoices attacks to fever pitch and the government will be trying daily to convince us all that there will be a terrorist under our bed and a communist raiding our bank account if Labor wins.


Does it really have to be this way? Do we have to be treated like idiots by both sides of politics?

Perhaps I’m completely wrong, and as we come near to the election, Kevin Rudd will admit that WorkChoices has not been an unmitigated disaster, but spell out his concerns about certain aspects of it and his plan to alter IR Policy without harming small business or economic growth.

In this alternative universe John Howard will also admit, with 20-20 hindsight, that the war in Iraq was not such a great idea but detail why he feels, now the damage has been done, that the US and its allies have a moral obligation to help the people of that country to achieve some kind of basic liveability. Don’t hold your breath.

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About the Author

Patrick Baume is a Media Analyst who blogs on politics and sport at

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