Ten days to go. It’s closer than it should be, say Labor people. ‘We should have put this away weeks ago.’ Still, there’s the feeling they will win, that national averages don’t tell the whole story.
Labor people struggle to accept that Scott Morrison has campaigned hard and well. They look at the grab-bag of promises, big and small, everything from economic management and taxation, down to the local projects in individual seats. They see a government doing whatever it takes. They don’t accept there is an agenda at work. It galls but it’s politics. This prime minister is fighting to the end, even if he’s doing it on his own.
Front page news this morning has Morrison promising to curb union power and rein in environmental regulations. He cultivates the 1904 assertion that a Labor government is ‘so monstrous a travesty’. Over and over: ‘Labor can’t manage money’. At a local 7-11 last night, an illuminated and scrolling poster: ‘It’s the Bill Australia can’t afford’.
Even divided and pessimistic, Liberals go down fighting. Whether it’s the ‘fistful of dollars’ election of 1977, the ‘Labor will tax your family home’ election of 1980, the vicious fight against the capital gains tax during the Hawke years, or the Howard-Costello crusade against ‘Labor’s debt’ and ‘Beazley’s black hole’, they don’t die wondering. Fear and blame can trump hope, if sold right.
And so, as the pious demand more policy debate, the real game now is on the ground, on the air waves and in cyberspace. For the committed and the involved, this is the most exciting part of it all.
This is the time when you follow the leaders. On Monday, Morrison was in Gilmore, Shorten in Lindsay, seats each must retain, especially when both sides start in minority.
On Tuesday, Shorten was in Corangamite, now notionally Labor but with a well-regarded sitting member. Morrison was in Albury-Wodonga, Farrer to the north, Indi to the south, the former a seat the Liberals can’t afford to lose, the latter a seat they want back. Beware incoming eggs. Arm yourself with hyperbole. Warn of societal breakdown. Keep fighting the war.
This is the search for the disengaged, low-information voter in a must-win seat. A poll says 26% of electors are going to vote for minor parties and independents. There are many preferences to be had. One Nation, wounded by dissension and madness, has issued split tickets in Brisbane seats and up north in Leichhardt. Who benefits? Getting a how-to-vote card into voters’ hands is now a key priority. Making them follow it is another thing.
There are many straws in the wind. Many reports from marginal and not-so-marginal seats. But not all words are pure. In conjuring an election win, misdirection is also crucial. Richard Farmer, an ALP campaign veteran, tweeted this week that underdog status is to be coveted.
Not everyone revels in the down and dirty of electioneering. In the 1990 words of Andrew Peacock, ‘as sure as night follows day’, the pursed lips have been out in force this week. ‘This is the worst election in living memory,’ one said. We’re being treated like idiots, they proclaim.
It’s a refrain heard every election. Memories are short. The Abbott-Gillard contest in 2010 deserves special mention.
Of course, the political debate is limited and often embarrassing in its circumscribed form. Paul Keating’s position on China won’t be discussed, even if Bill Shorten made a fair attempt on QandA. The implications of Trump’s influence on the world, especially in terms of trade, hasn’t even rated.
But, be realistic. Elections are also prosaic affairs. Why shouldn’t people be concerned about their local jobs, their local roads, schools, hospitals and playgrounds? These are the encounters with government that most people experience.
There are those who see climate change coming into its own in this election. A slew of independents is running hard on it. Reports of the mounting extinction of species fuels the fervour. Take your pick: survival of the species or mundane economic concerns. It’s probably not an even contest.
Patronising the voters has escalated. There’s even criticism of the number of pre-poll voters. Already around a million people have voted, about ten whole electorates. We legislated to facilitate ease of voting. There’s no voter suppression here. But the people who’ve voted and gone back to their lives are criticised now because they’re not tuned into every election item on those unwatchable news channels. And they’re missing important announcements. They won’t get to analyse Shorten’s costings this Friday. How can we carry on?
It’s a fantasy that every voter is absorbing every policy announcement and tallying up the score-card. Most of us knew exactly how we were going to vote months ago. We are impervious to advertisements, leaflets, how-to-vote cards and the tedious forums with supposedly ‘undecided’ voters. The search for the last undecided voter in these final days is crucial, but irrelevant to most of us.
Consider what is happening now. The fairest and best run electoral system in the world is operating smoothly. The biggest logistical operation in the country every three years is humming along, fairly, and independent of government. It’s impressive but we so easily overlook it.
A visit to the hairdresser disturbs and fascinates. He’s had clients tell him they’ll vote for Clive Palmer because ‘he’s not a politician’. Rebellion meets delusion. Palmer has a long history in the Queensland LNP. Peter Slipper pipped him at the post for preselection in Fisher in 1984. He’s served in parliament and has just formed his second party. But he can convince some that he’s not a politician. The power of advertising in shaping perceptions is apparent.
And perceptions are perhaps where we’re at, backed by a bit of judicious vote-buying. The perception of a confident Shorten preparing for government versus the perception of an energetic Morrison reviving a moribund government. The perception of a teary Shorten today defending his late mother versus the prime minister under vicious attack from a greenie activist armed with an egg.
Be cynical. Shorten was today directly addressing the question of his likeability, working on humanising his image. Against a riven government, the question of Shorten’s electability may not even be real, but, if it is, it might decide this thing.