Right now, there’s a wealth of peo­ple telling you what the pend­ing fed­eral elec­tion’s about. They’re the politi­cians. They’ll say it’s about ‘who you trust’ or ‘fair­ness’ or ‘jobs’ and ‘growth’ – even if they’re ac­tu­ally won­der­ing, ‘Will I have a job on July 3?’ For all the po­lit­i­cal rhetoric, the elec­tion will be about who best un­der­stands where Aus­tralia’s po­lit­i­cal cen­tre is. Be­cause in this coun­try, that’s where elec­tions are won. When peo­ple dis­cuss the mis­takes of the Ab­bott Prime Min­is­ter­ship, they fo­cus on the head­lines: the knight­ing of Prince Philip, Peta Credlin’s do­min­ion over Coali­tion pol­icy and power, eat­ing an onion, or the 2014 Bud­get (which broke elec­tion prom­ises and an­nounced a hi­er­ar­chy of eco­nomic pri­or­i­ties that were viewed as un­fair). Ab­bott’s great­est mis­take, how­ever, wasn’t one that dom­i­nated the news cy­cle. It didn’t make the news at all. It hap­pened on elec­tion night 2013, in­side the then PM’S mind. He in­ter­preted his large elec­toral vic­tory as an ide­o­log­i­cal one – that the na­tion had also em­braced his con­ser­vatism. Hav­ing tried La­bor, Aus­tralia was re­turn­ing to the Coali­tion be­cause it’s what they be­lieved. And Ab­bott thought the na­tion would em­brace a ‘Thatcheresque’ eco­nomic vi­sion mixed with deep so­cial con­ser­vatism. In fact, the 2013 elec­tion was an over­whelm­ing state­ment by the elec­torate that they were sick of La­bor’s in­sta­bil­ity, in-fight­ing and po­lit­i­cal non­sense. They hadn’t made up their mind to sup­port Tony – rather, to not sup­port La­bor. In his mind, some­where, Tony Ab­bott must have known he was wrong. The dif­fer­ence be­tween his elec­tion prom­ises and his first bud­get sug­gested he was aware that he couldn’t sell a pure ide­o­log­i­cal agenda. Pre­dom­i­nantly be­cause most of us aren’t ide­o­log­i­cally pure. We’re not a par­tic­u­larly re­li­gious coun­try. And we’re scep­ti­cal of fa­nat­ics – po­lit­i­cal, moral, eco­nomic or re­li­gious. This may be our much-touted laid­back Aussie at­ti­tude. It could also re­flect an in­nate dis­trust of politi­cians. Ei­ther way, this isn’t the coun­try to wrap your­self in the flag and scream ‘God’ and ‘Lib­erty’ and ride a wave of pa­tri­otic fer­vor to elec­toral vic­tory. In­stead, that kind of non­sense will get you laughed off the po­lit­i­cal stage. Now that the LNP is guilty of the ex­act same leader-knif­ing, we’re back to a con­test over cen­trist pol­icy – vic­tory for the tak­ing by a party whose poli­cies best rep­re­sent the views of the po­lit­i­cal cen­tre. And on that point, La­bor may just have an ad­van­tage. In 2004, John Howard’s amend­ments to the Mar­riage Act (an ex­plicit ban on same­sex cou­ples get­ting hitched) was a wedge that nudged a good chunk of the heart­land towards the Howard’s Bat­tlers camp. To­day, the Mar­riage Equal­ity plebiscite that was de­signed to sat­isfy the right wing of the LNP, and avoid po­lit­i­cal harm by kick­ing the can down the road, has be­come a wedge that pushes in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Aus­tralians are in favour of equal­ity and also highly du­bi­ous of the costs to hold an­other vote to re­solve a de­bate that feels set­tled. They may not all feel pas­sion­ate about it, but in a sys­tem with com­pul­sory vot­ing, you don’t need pas­sion to drive peo­ple to the polls. And to base a pol­icy on the pas­sions of a con­ser­va­tive fac­tion that will be vot­ing for you, any­way, is a pretty sketchy strat­egy. The po­lit­i­cal weapon of cli­mate pol­icy has also lost po­tency. A scare cam­paign over an ETS (emis­sions trad­ing scheme) tar­geted at mid­dle Aus­tralia won’t drive vot­ers the way it did in 2013. Be­cause the abo­li­tion of the car­bon tax didn’t trans­form any­one’s life in a way they’d no­tice; elec­tric­ity bills weren’t some­how halved. The re­al­ity is, when a power bill ar­rives, it will al­ways feel like a power bill. Add to that the fact the Di­rect Ac­tion plan hasn’t fixed the planet and Mal­colm Turn­bull has sup­ported an ETS, and you have a po­lit­i­cal ful­crum that’s lost it force. The me­dia has tried to frame this elec­tion as a clash of lead­ers – the term ‘Pres­i­den­tial­style cam­paign’ bandied about quite a bit. Again, it doesn’t feel like some­thing the Aussie pub­lic wants. They’ve had too many prime min­is­ters in too few years to rel­ish the idea of an ego-fu­elled clash of per­son­al­i­ties. If any­thing, they’ve learnt that lead­ers come and go – pol­icy hangs around. And so the vot­ers are left to de­cide whose poli­cies best re­flect their ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing in Aus­tralia in 2016. Do they be­lieve that re­duc­ing com­pany taxes cre­ates jobs? Or that neg­a­tive gear­ing is stop­ping them own­ing a home? Be­cause af­ter eight years of failed lead­er­ship, they’re good ques­tions to be ask­ing. n


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