If the past week in politics is any indication, politicians have no idea whether voters pay attention to politics.
Are we the political equivalent of goldfish, needing to be constantly reminded about what is good and bad about politicians and their policies? Or are we more like elephants, never forgetting the vices and virtues of the passing political parade?
When it comes to the GST debate, the Government and the Opposition are having a bet each way.
Prime Minister Turnbull hopes the community will accept he is trying to do the right thing with tax reform because it has a seemingly immovable belief, based on residual memories of the Howard era, that the Coalition are better economic managers.
But at the same time, when promising that no-one will be worse off, Mr Turnbull is hoping voters have forgotten the more recent Abbott era, during which former Treasurer Joe Hockey falsely promised the burden of the 2014 federal budget would be shared by all.
The Labor Opposition is similarly taking a dual approach. Each day in parliament this week, Labor peppered the Government with questions couched as if a decision to increase the GST had already been announced.
This tactic depends on voters being goldfish, paying very little attention to the ebb and flow of politics, and not having retained the finer detail of Mr Turnbull’s “everything on the table” approach. Labor hopes the community will simply assume the GST increase is going to happen.
But the Opposition also wants voters to have longer memories, to remember their anger when Treasurer Hockey broke his pledge for a fair budget, and that while the current Treasurer may be a smiley guy in lavender shirts he cannot be trusted either.
As former PM Tony Abbott so helpfully pointed out in an article published during the week, Mr Turnbull “has the advantage of being relatively unbound by previous commitments but still faces the problem of how to deal with the ‘no one can be worse off’ mindset that makes serious reform so hard.” No doubt the PM is “grateful” for this gratuitous advice.
Loyalty is a two-edged blade
In addition to its anti-GST campaign this week, Labor tried a number of other tactics in an effort to dent the Turnbull Government’s continuing strong run in the opinion polls.
Having been marked down by voters in the past for its own leadership instability, Labor seized upon a media story that Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop’s chief of staff had attended a meeting of MPs plotting to bring down the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Labor Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek took Ms Bishop to task during question time, no doubt hoping to inflame those MPs already suspicious that the Foreign Minister was not quite the loyal deputy to PM Abbott that she claimed to be.
Unfortunately for Labor, raising the question of loyalty has considerable risks as well as potential benefits for the party. Loyalty questions may cause grief for Ms Bishop but they also remind voters about Bill Shorten’s shifting loyalties during the Rudd-Gillard years.
Vive la republique!
Memories of PM Turnbull’s loyalty to the republican cause may have caused him to shift with discomfort this week, given it was not only the 40th anniversary of the day the Queen’s representative in Australia sacked the government of the day, but also featured a visit to our shores by the future King of England, who will also be Australia’s head of state.
Labor did its best to add to the PM’s inconvenience, with the Opposition Leader pointedly reminding voters that Mr Turnbull, as head of the Australian Republican Movement, had said then PM John Howard “broke the nation’s heart” in defeating the republic referendum.
No doubt hoping to wedge the PM between republican supporters in the community and the Coalition monarchists who are insisting there be no change, Mr Shorten helpfully claimed “those who support an Australian republic have been waiting for another opportunity to vote for an overdue change in our national identity. I believe that chance has now come”.
In perhaps yet another case of relevance deprivation syndrome, Tony Abbott was not the only former PM who meandered back into Australian politics this week. Popping up everywhere like a beaming, bespectacled whack-a-mole, Kevin Rudd was spied at the Australian War Memorial for the Remembrance Day ceremony, strolling around Parliament House, giving a keynote address on Indigenous recognition at the Australian National University, and granting various television appearances.
Never one to hide his light under a bushel, Mr Rudd conceded he had given the current PM benefit of his wisdom on climate change. In doing so, Mr Rudd appears to be more goldfish than elephant, obviously forgetting his own inability to address the “greatest moral challenge of our time” had contributed to his own downfall.
Paula Matthewson was media adviser to John Howard in the early 1990s and then worked for almost 25 years in communication, political and industry advocacy roles. She is now a freelance writer and communication strategist. Paula has been tweeting and blogging about politics, the media and social media since 2009 under the pen name @Drag0nista.