How well is the Albanese Government communicating with Australians?

Mar 16, 2024
Parliament House - Australia

Since the 1980s I have been urged by my Labor Party colleagues to keep political messages simple and to listen to the local community.

This practical advice was welcome and fairly accurate throughout my political career in and out of parliament. Nevertheless, I also discovered that it was wise to never underestimate my electorate which always had the capacity to surprise me with questions and knowledge I had not anticipated.

Therefore, in 2024 I wonder just how well that advice suits modern Australia, where people have higher standards of education and experience, as well as considerable technological sophistication enabling easy access to information from around the world. The Australian electorate is now much more diverse with 50% of the population having one parent born overseas, so it reflects distinctive cultural representation from around the world.

During the most recent parliamentary sitting I listened daily to House of Representatives Question Time to catch up on which current priorities were engaging our elected representatives. Government members lined up to ask scripted questions about tax cuts so the Treasurer and other Ministers could helpfully repeat statistics about the tax bonus likely to be received by workers in selected electorates. This extreme control of the government’s agenda did not impress because the parliament itself should be focused on the complexity of a wide range of national and international issues during Question Time. Yes indeed, the ministers were keeping it extremely simple but were they listening to the electorate?

No government member asked about the cost of living, the lack of affordable housing or other domestic issues of concern to many Australians. Furthermore, it is unusual these days to hear probing questions about foreign or defence policy such is the level of government control. Not that the opposition offers higher standards of accountability, usually relying on a targeted plan of questioning a particular minister with their latest fear campaign. Therefore, the community must rely on Greens and Independents to ask to those questions which genuinely seek ministerial explanation or policy advice.

Governments have lost the capacity to effectively communicate with the electorate partly because too many political minders are responsible for stage managing the message through carefully crafted slogans that are repeated ad nauseum. This method fails the test of transparency because significant detail and elaboration is omitted. We wonder why many voters and especially the young are disenchanted with the political process. They do not trust the government but neither do governments trust the electorate with information even though democracy is supposed to be a two-way process of representation ensuring citizens have “the right to know”.

The lack of government transparency is most obvious in defence and foreign policy because. both Australian and overseas Intelligence agencies have created an image of a dangerous world where anyone could be a foreign spy and we are all suspect if we voice alternative opinions! The community is encouraged to fear some countries while embracing others which may also have very dubious credentials.

The Albanese Government has never explained to the electorate why it adopted Scott Morrison’s defence deal, AUKUS, with no consultation or review to assess the impact on Australians now and well into an unknown future. As an administration with a strong commitment to workforce wellbeing and safety, it is surprising there has been no Duty of Care consideration of the Australian people who will bear the social, environmental and financial cost of the AUKUS policy negotiated and finalised behind closed doors.

The contradiction between the Federal Governments proactive response to the invasion of Ukraine and the invasion of Gaza has shocked many Australians and severely damaged our international reputation. The electorate has not been told why the Australian Government has made no public response to the International Court of Justice nor has it attempted to offer any legal explanation about why some of its decisions should not be considered as “complicit with genocide”. The pathetic excuses for pausing humanitarian funding and cancelling visas for Palestinians fleeing Gaza reveal the secrecy of government as it continually refuses to reveal the source of advice for this inhumane decision making.

Why is a still fresh and talented government so isolated and arrogant about sharing information with its community? Why is it so reluctant to give its backbenchers the freedom to ask the questions so many Australians want answered? When will the leadership team be prepared to listen to all those well-informed diplomats and defence strategists who have cautioned against over reliance on American and United Kingdom defence policy? When will our diplomats be free to assert Australian independence to speak as a sovereign nation?

The recent Essential Poll (March 12,2024) reveals that the Albanese Government’s foreign and defence policies do not reflect the attitudes of a considerable number of Australians.

-Almost twice as many Australians believe the government should position the country as a middle power in Asia than those that say it should be an ally of the U.S.

-67% considered the relationship with China is complex and must be managed

-Twice as many Australians support Israel withdrawing from Gaza than believe Israel is justified in continuing its military action.

It’s time the Federal Government demonstrated its promised commitment to open government and, in the process, showed greater trust in Australians who seem more familiar with decision making in the national interest.

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