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Policy v Personality: Who Will have the Deciding Vote?

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By Rachel Eaton

 

In March of this year, the voices of thousands of anti-Abbott protestors will be heard in one of the biggest ‘motions of no confidence’ this country has ever witnessed. The March Against the Abbott government will be staged in every capital city around the nation to express a sense of discontent amongst voters. But is this act of protest really an expression of no confidence in the Abbott government or rather in the voting methods of the Australian public? Perhaps Australia made a mistake; we simply voted on the basis of personality rather than policy.

It seems that regardless of the resurrection of Kevin Rudd’s prime-ministership, in the weeks preceding the 2013 election, the battle was won before it even began.  It was not an election race decided on the basis of talent or political objectives but rather a competition won and fought on the precepts of who was in fact the preferred alternative. Where once Australian politics carried with it a sense of sincerity and nobility it seems that the election battle has transcended into a competition based on who is the ‘better bloke’ rather than the upstanding polly. While to some the outcome of the 2013 election was both inevitable and predictable, one must ask: were we too swept up in the riptide of ALP cynicism and betrayal to pay proper attention to what we were actually voting for?

Come September, it seemed Australians had already made up their minds. Enough of the backstabbing and betrayal that had tarnished the Australian Labor Party; change was well and truly inevitable.  People seemed to care more about who they were electing rather than what they were voting for. It was a bloodbath, a coup at the polling booths against our twice Prime Minister and there was nothing KRudd could do. Surprisingly students who would ordinarily have voted for the ALP were voicing their intentions to vote Abbott to victory.  It seemed that regardless of his intentions to abolish penalty rates, cut finding to universities and scrap the ALP’s National Broadband Network, Abbott was clearly the better choice? But why? Because Tony Abbott was simply the lesser of two evils.

It seems that the very essence of the ALP had been lost and the boundaries redrawn when Kevin Rudd was ousted in 2010. No longer was the ALP a trusted workers party with a solid unionist foundation, but it had become a very public battle ground between a slow talking polly and a fiery deputy prime minster. It was a party that represented disunity, tattle tails and hair pulling. A party who could not be trusted, whose very core no longer reflected the Australian values of a fair go, mateship and cooperation. It is fair to say that the ALP not only became fragmented by incongruent with the very mindset of Australians. But did we really give enough thought to the policies we were endorsing or were we too swept up in the school yard bickering and political tantrums to care?

It is fair to say that Australian political battles have begun to transition into a US Presidential style election race where the most popular personality wins not the most suitable policy. The leader with the best groomed eyebrows, the most attractive daughters and the most pleasant tone of voice will inevitably claim victory.  Whilst I am careful not to categorize the Australian electorate as ignorant, I am confident to suggest that times have changed. Forget policy platforms and voting for which party best represents your needs, it is all about who plays their cards right and convinces the electorate to be their best mate. In the case of the 2013 election, Abbott was simply the more stable alternative to the ALP shambles.

Now just four months on we hear nothing but squandering and frustration from dissatisfied voters who are either disheartened by the current government or disenchanted as a result of the election’s outcome.  Marches to oust Tony Abbott, Facebook groups created to honour his apparent ineptitude and concerns over his comments towards the ABC and his refusal to provide aid to Victorian based food- processing company SPC. But can we safely say that it is Mr Abbott who is to blame? This seems unlikely. Perhaps we have a demanding job description for what we expect in a leader, which can never be realistically achieved. Or perhaps this level of persistent discontent is a result of ignoring the policy and voting for the personality? Whilst politics is an inherently adversarial game, it seems that we as a nation need to reconsider how we vote. Why compromise promising policies in exchange for trust and a fresh face? If we never fully understand just what we are voting for, then we will never be satisfied.

So when thousands of Anti- Abbott voters march the streets of Australia’s capital cities in March we must ask who is to blame.  Is it Mr Abbott or the political mentality of the voters? Have we voted in a right wing conservative to resurrect outdated Howard government ideologies merely in order to prevent blood being spilt by the ALP, or did we really take time to have a good think before we numbered our boxes on polling day? It seems that the time has come to reconsider how we vote, for maybe the finger of blame need not be pointed at Mr Abbott but instead, pointed at us.

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