I found this past election rather tough. Not because I was working tirelessly campaigning for a local candidate, nor was I counting votes late into the night after working at a polling booth all day. No, I found it tough because there was nothing that inspired me to vote.
I have, from a very early age, been acutely interested in politics. I was very excited when I was first able to vote after years of having an opinion that was not allowed to make its way onto the ballot paper. Yet, rather suddenly in 2007, I found myself seriously considering not casting a vote. In fact, it was not until the morning of the election, and after many conversations, that I decided to follow the norm and have my say.
I had found the campaign horribly uninspiring and almost unbearably frustrating. As many commentators have suggested - and former members of the government have since lamented - the Coalition ran a rather negative and history-focused campaign. The problem with such a tactic, as many of my students will tell me, is that history is boring. It was almost as if John Howard was making it clear to the Australian public how he would like to be remembered, not why he should be re-elected.
While Kevin Rudd supposedly led a more positive campaign, I felt that he was equally boring and banal. Indeed, his victory speech seemed to epitomise his campaign. The ALP talked about the future in very generic and broad terms without providing any vision or policy that was truly inspiring. Certainly, if we can gauge what the ALP means by revolutionary through their new education policy, then we can rest assured that there will be little instability and fear of a coup in Australia. Apparently revolution now means “something a little different”, or at least packaged differently.
Yet, it is not just the lack of inspiration that bothers me but the lack of policy substance and, I wonder, honesty. The fact that Kevin Rudd did not provide policy explanations of any substance makes me wonder if that is because he wasn’t willing to be honest with us about what he really wants to do. This is not to say that politically speaking he made the wrong move. Of course, the election result makes it clear that he absolutely did the right thing politically. I guess, though, I wanted more than trite political slogans when trying to decide who to vote for.
In the days after his election as Australia’s 26th prime minister, Kevin Rudd has commented on what are largely the symbolic pieces of policy. I personally believe that the government should say sorry to our Indigenous Australians and that Australia should sign the Kyoto Protocol. However, I think it is foolish to see either of these particular actions as being, in and of themselves, much more than a symbolic gesture. Of course, what they signify in terms of future action may well be vastly important, but I doubt that signing the Kyoto Protocol will be the key in doing our part in addressing climate change. So, while it appears that Rudd is already a man of action, the real tests on the particulars of his economic and social policy are still to come.
Up to this point, he has managed to avoid significant critique of his policies. The reasons for this are likely many. Certainly, his education policy is founded on rather unpalatable grounds for members of the classic secular left. For example, the ALP’s education revolution policy states that, “In the 21st century, a human capital revolution will drive productivity growth” (emphasis mine). Further, in an article published in The Monthly one year ago, Kevin Rudd wrote that education is viewed by social democrats as something that assists in “creating the human, social and environmental capital necessary to make a market economy function effectively” (emphasis mine).
Based on these foundational statements by the now Australian prime minister and his party, I mused earlier this year in an article for New Matilda that perhaps the lack of critique of Kevin Rudd’s policy was a result of the political left wanting nothing other than the demise of John Howard’s government.
The reality is, of course, that the pressure is about to hit Kevin Rudd and hit him very hard. Already there have been comments from the Greens, Indigenous leaders and business groups letting Kevin Rudd know what they expect him to do on various policy issues. Real scrutiny is ostensibly on its way.
Despite my disillusionment with an election campaign governed by expediency, I decided to vote. Even though the little I knew about ALP policy didn’t inspire me and John Howard only told me what he had “achieved” over the past 11½ years, I filled in the boxes on my ballot paper. Right now, I continue to feel a little disappointed that I was not able to vote with either confidence or excitement. I truly hope that positive idealism in Australian politics has not died at the hands of pragmatism.
The reality is that we now have a new government which, if nothing else, does engender some hope for a different future. Only time will tell if the Rudd years will be remembered fondly in Australia’s history. I will observe the unfolding of this history with great interest.