Firstly, I should apologise for that rather ridiculous title, but I couldn’t think of anything better. Obviously, I’m referring to the fact that the Prime Minister has declared an election for September 2013. It’s a pretty big deal, regardless of the politicking that’s already taken place about the matter. Some people have claimed that it’s a brilliant move by Julia Gillard, while others have argued that it was a desperate move by a falling government. And then, of course, there are already conspiracy theories arguing that Craig Thomson’s arrest was specially staged to take the attention away form the federal election. Whatever. There are bigger problems out there than this.
Of course, Tony Abbott has already come out and launched his mini-campaign, declaring that this federal election is the most important in a generation. No doubt his campaign will be heavy on the fear tactics so beloved of the right, and probably devoid of the facts.
That’s what I want to focus on here – the wilful ignoring of reality. Recently, I had a discussion with a young man over Facebook who had provocatively declared that Labour = Satan. I challenged him to explain what he meant by that: what I got was a mish-mash of ignorance and prejudice that sounded like something an incoherent drunk might say.
This post isn’t about this young man and his unfortunate ignorance; rather, it’s about what I’ve come to consider a wilful determination on the behalf of some people to embrace untruths, simply because it makes them feel better about themselves and their place in the world. Not a good start for democracy – but of course, it gets worse. I read somewhere that, even when confronted with evidence to the opposite, people are only going to have their own views more deeply entrenched. That is to say, there is no point trying to argue with people – if anything, you only make them believe their own opinion more completely.
And all of this before we’ve even got the the ‘echo chamber’ that so much of the news on internet appears to be. If you want to hear something that puts the right spin on facts, a spin you agree with, you’ll probably choose certain sites and publications, and ignore others, which leads to a constantly self-affirming belief that you are correct. And all those other outlets – well, they’re just crap. This is especially obvious amongst climate change denialists.
So, I guess my point is simple. I’m calling for a real election campaign. An election campaign based on the record of the Labor government over the last 3 years, and what the Coalition government will do in response. Now, personally, I think that there’s plenty for the labor government to be proud of: I think the carbon tax is a good move. I like the way they’ve reconsidered education. I think that their investments in health and other vital issues are important. I think that they’ve shown the backbone necessary to make hard decisions, like cutting defence spending. I like the way they’ve taken on the tobacco companies. I reckon the standard of living for most Australians is the highest it has ever been – while acknowledging that more work is to be done to protect the marginalized members of our community.
Of course, there are glaring problems too: the treatment of asylum seekers is one of those. I have concerns about the cuts to the dole for single parents, and I’m unhappy with the anti-discrimination law as it stands, specifically the way it protects churches.
I’m sure the Coalition will (eventually) release some of their own policies. I hope this time they are properly costed, and accompanied by a thorough plan, rather than a lot of bluster and fear-mongering.
And then, I hope we can start to debate about those kinds of issues. I hope we don’t have to hear about Tony’s teenage daughters or JuLIAR or any of that ridiculously personal bullshit. I know this is a vain hope, but let’s hope the election is fought out over policy decisions, rather than personal ones. After all, this isn’t an election about Ms Gillard or Mr Abbott – rather, it is an election about the 22 million Australians who will be forced to live with the outcome.