Politicians could be forgiven for thinking their megaphones weren’t working after this week’s opinion polls showed there’s been almost no movement in the electorate’s voting preferences since the beginning of the year.
Much has been made by the commentariat of the federal budget failing to provide the Turnbull government with a bounce in the polls. But little mention has been made of the other parties and independents failing to benefit from the government’s misfortune.
It’s not for lack of yelling. This week we were subjected to the Liberals bellowing that Labor hates the National Disability Insurance Scheme because it won’t support an increase in the Medicare levy for all taxpayers to “fully fund” it. Labor roared back that the Libs hate poor people, Catholic schools and big banks, but loves millionaires.
Meantime, Tony Abbott shouted “Islam! Terrorist! Refugee! Terrorist!” to a rapidly dwindling fan base. And Pauline Hanson screeched at impetuous journalists who dared to question her party’s allegedly dodgy book-keeping practices when – in a totally unrelated matter – a Queensland police officer had been shot dead.
One explanation for the polling flatline is that it’s not the megaphones that have switched off, but the voters. We’re fed up with the maggoty diet of lies and half-truths that politicians dish up to us daily.
This is suggested by the 82 per cent of voters who told the Essential Report last week they were “sick of slogans from politicians” and wanted “real answers on how government can operate better”.
The previous week, 69 per cent of us told pollsters the Liberals “will do anything to win votes”, while 61 per cent made the same damning assessment of Labor. And neither of the major parties had the confidence of an outright majority of voters to fully fund Medicare, the NDIS, universities, pensions or schools.
In the leadership stakes, only 50 per cent of voters agreed this week that Malcolm Turnbull could be described as trustworthy, compared with 44 per cent for Bill Shorten. This was a drop in six percentage points for Mr Turnbull since the budget, while Mr Shorten’s rating dropped by five percentage points.
That’s a pretty sorry state of affairs.
The vast majority of us (85 per cent) say we wish “our political leaders would look for more common solutions, rather than just fighting each other”.
This point is more than a wistful aspiration on the part of voters, and accordingly poses a strategic challenge not only for the Labor opposition but the minor and micro parties that are fuelled by conflict and protest.
The Greens, for example, have been agonising over the tactical costs and benefits of opposing the budget’s changes to Catholic school funding under Gonski 2.0. The party’s only member in the lower house, Adam Bandt, announced last week that he would vote against the reforms.
The rest of the Greens’ parliamentarians, who are in the Senate, say they will await the outcome of a short inquiry into the draft legislation before determining a position.
This is becoming a standard tactic for minor and micro parties that have representatives in both parliamentary chambers – they either support or oppose draft legislation in the House of Representatives where they often have little or no say, but reserve the right to change that position when they get to see more detail during Senate proceedings.
This chopping and changing of protest party positions can be a good thing, if a more considered outcome is the result. However, that’s not how we would describe the dog’s breakfast that was One Nation’s position on the ABC this week.
The PHON senator initiated the omnishambles on Wednesday, expressing his unhappiness with the public broadcaster’s investigation into the party’s fundraising and expenditure by shoutily announcing One Nation would block passage of the budget unless the ABC’s funding was slashed by more than half.
Before anyone thought to inquire whether this threat extended to blocking supply, Senator Burston’s leader overruled the extortionary effort, saying it would not be in the nation’s best interests to block the federal budget.
One Nation’s antics aside, undoubtedly there’s a need for opposition parties to hold the government to account and ensure that all legislation passed by the parliament delivers in the best public interest.
But as opinion polls continue to testify, voters are unimpressed with these efforts to date. Political parties are also expected to work together to “get the job done”.