Cynicism rampant in this election

Mar 31, 2022
Fuel gauge.
Cynical also to think that a temporary $5 or $10 saving on a week’s fuel bill will help determine the way people will vote. Image: Pixabay

Cynicism is the order of the day, far more so than in any pre-election period in the past 50 years. It seems to be the prevailing mood of those who are reporting and recording the issues and events that dominate the federal election that will take place one Saturday in May.

It seems also to sum up the approach of many of the participants. And possibly of quite a lot of people who will vote. It is a sorry state of affairs.

A trivial example. Just a few days ago federal government MPs and their media supporters were disparaging the probable selection of Andrew Charlton, a former economic advisor to Kevin Rudd, who lives in an expensive Eastern suburbs house, as a ‘captain’s pick’ by Labor Leader Anthony Albanese as his candidate for the seat of Parramatta, ahead of a local. Come the weekend we discover that Prime Minister Scott Morrison (and two others) have been given the power to select the Liberal candidates for half a dozen NSW electorates, rejecting local plebiscites. The horrified reaction of those who were outraged at a Labor captain’s pick? Couldn’t spot it.

More seriously. For several years the Morrison Government has been complaining that the Chinese Government refuses to talk to them. Ministers in Beijing won’t pick up the phone to answer calls from their opposite numbers in Canberra. (Not surprising, in a way, given that Prime Minister Morrison has tried to paint himself (and Australia) as a principal antagonist of China, trying to persuade other countries to join his blacklisting of telecom firm Huawei, leading the demand for an inquiry into the origins in China of the Covid virus – these and other provocations being met by a partial Chinese trade embargo.)

Yet given the opportunity to open the way to some dialogue, Prime Minister Morrison refused a request for a meeting by the new Chinese Ambassador to Australia. A cynic would conclude it suits the Morrison Government’s political agenda in the lead up to this election to maintain the rage against China that Defence Minister Peter Dutton does so much to promote.

A cynic would not be surprised that despite the fact that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has spent the past six months or so desperately winding back the huge financial assistance provided during the initial stages of the Covid pandemic to people and to companies and his expressed concern about budget repair, he can suddenly find very substantial funds in his budget to meet cost of living (and the cost of surviving the election) pressures.

There was a telling sentence in a story by Phillip Coorey, The Financial Review’s political editor, in Monday’s paper where he said:

‘Sources said it was likely the cut (in fuel excise) would be for at least six months because a three-month cut, pushing the issue beyond the May election, would be regarded cynically by voters, while 12 months would be too expensive in lost revenue’. Now there’s cynicism – on the part of his ‘sources’ about the electorate, which they apparently consider can so readily be fooled by maintaining the excise cut for an additional few months past the election.

Cynical also to think that a temporary $5 or $10 saving on a week’s fuel bill will help determine the way people will vote. Sure, the hip-pocket nerve has always been regarded as requiring attention at election time, but to put such faith in so short-term and relatively trivial a measure suggests a very low regard for the electorate.

On the other hand voters have become more and more cynical about their government and what it does, reflecting at least in part the public’s lack of trust in the government. Early this year a study by the ANU found a little more than three-in-10 Australians (34.5 per cent) had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the Federal Government. This was only slightly above the level of confidence prior to the pandemic and during the Black Summer bushfires, when only 27.3 per cent of Australians had confidence in the Federal Government.

Confidence actually lifted during the early stages of the pandemic, reflected first in public opinion polling and later in the re-election of State governments in Queensland and Western Australia. But the recent South Australian election demonstrated the validity of the ANU’s finding that confidence in government had retreated.

There are many good reasons why the electorate has lost confidence in the government’s ability to govern well and in its integrity. As to the former, its handling of the health crisis became less and less credible (from the Prime Minister’s declaration that ‘its not a race’ to the Treasurer’s mismanagement of handouts to big businesses that were permitted to profit handsomely at public expense).

As for integrity, reports by the independent Auditor-General exposed rorts associated with electioneering by the Liberal and National Parties on an unprecedented scale that the government hardly bothered to defend but preferred to ignore. Simultaneously, and unsurprisingly, it backed away from its promise to create a body like ICAC in NSW and similar bodies in the other states that investigate and expose corrupt practices in government, and sought to demonise them as kangaroo courts.

The political problem for the Federal Government begins at the top. Many people no longer trust Scott Morrison. Too often the answer to a question as to whether something he has said is true, can be, ‘No’.

Worse, what the Prime Minister has said has sometimes been demonstrably, and not merely arguably, false. This has led to the situation where he can no longer boost his political credentials by being Prime Ministerial. He has squandered the credibility normally associated with Prime Ministerial office. It may be that he has recognised this recently and as a result has been making fewer pronouncements surrounded by Australian flags and/or extras wearing military uniforms. Instead we have been treated to all those working-man costumes (with him posing as a welder, a baker, a candlestick-maker?) while he promises (sometimes for the second or third time) millions for this or that project.

Then there are the independents, and the women. In fact nearly all the independents who could be a threat to sitting Liberal MPs are women. It is hardly a coincidence. And its not at all unlikely that the threat they pose is related to the cynicism permeating, indeed dominating, the current political scene.

In policy terms, they challenge the government’s stance on climate change where the government’s commitments lack substance. Additionally they highlight the Government’s ‘women’ problem, a problem that in essence is bound up in the misogyny evident since its denunciation by Julia Gillard. Additionally, Mr Morrison’s party refuses to deal with its mal-treatment of women within its own ranks.

Cynically, the Government has criticised Labor over its treatment of the late Kimberley Kitching, conveniently forgetting its own history, past and present – Julia Banks, for example, who resigned from the party over the ‘bullying and intimidation’ in politics – and the Liberal Party’s decision several days ago to cut Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells from its Senate team.

And all of this is before the election is officially launched when, a cynic would suggest, we switch to the stage where the parties rely less on what they themselves promise to do, and more on the lies they tell about what they claim their opponents will do.

David Solomon first covered a federal election as The Australian’s chief political correspondent in 1969.

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