Vicki looked uncomfortable as the microphone was thrust towards her.
“Who are you going to vote for?” asked the reporter.
Vicki appeared to be a middle-aged, slightly down-at-heel Australian who lived in Launceston, in the seat of Bass.
“I don’t really know who to vote for”, she said.
“Well, what do you care about?” pressed the reporter.
“Education is very important to me. And health. And jobs. I’d like a bit more work.”
I got the impression she was looking for a reason to vote for Turnbull’s Coalition, but she just couldn’t quite find it.
As if she’d come to the realisation that there was no way his oft-repeated election policy – the company tax cut – was ever going to trickle down all the way to northern Tasmania to benefit someone like her. It just wasn’t gonna happen. As you know, her electorate – Bass – fell to Labor.
So here we all are, almost a week later, still waiting for a definitive result. Either Turnbull scrapes back with a wafer-thin majority or is forced to form a minority government, which sees him horse-trading with Bob Katter, perhaps an Independent or two, and/or a Green.
Like every journalist, commentator and most voters, I’ve got several theories on what happened last Saturday and if I may ask your indulgence, I’m going to share them with you.
1. We all know Australia has a debt problem. But so does every household. Who hasn’t got a mortgage? Who hasn’t maxed out their credit card at some time or other? Who doesn’t have enough money to make ends meet?
An over-emphasis on money, deficits and streams of numbers is a complete turn-off for your average voter. It might be the subject of much interest and thrust and parry between economists, journalists, treasurers and other politicians, but I don’t think it holds the attention of the public for very long. It should, but it doesn’t.
2. An under-emphasis on education. Every single Australian cares about education. They understand its importance to their own kids and to future generations. They find it hard to forget the radical changes to University fees proposed by Joe Hockey a couple of years ago. Voters also believe in fair funding for schools - they thought Gonski was the way to go.
We are proud egalitarians. Flip-flopping on federal funding for schools makes the Coalition look like they’re trying to disadvantage public schools. As if they secretly only care about private schools, which many of them have attended. (As have many on the Labor frontbench.)
Because a fair go is more or less part of the Australian DNA, Malcolm Turnbull has an image problem. When Peta Credlin called him Mr Harbour-front Mansion, it struck a nerve with many voters. Few Aussies live the way he does. I agree with Nikki Savva who wrote in The Australian “The PM has to move out of Point Piper and use the Lodge as his base”.
3. Every Australian also cares about our health system. If you’ve ever gone to a crowded Medicare office, in some hideous shopping mall, filled out your forms and waited interminably to get some money back, you’ll know that the idea of outsourcing – yes privatising! – the Medicare payment system is not a bad idea. Malcolm Turnbull should have defended this plan as a way of improving efficiency and saving money.
But voters care deeply about the proposed-then-abandoned GP co-payment, the freeze on rebates to GP’s and changes to bulk-billing. They worry that maybe there is something to Bill Shorten’s claim that the Coalition will privatise Medicare. Better to be safe than sorry.
4. Lies, lies, and more lies. The sight of grown men, both vying for the position of Prime Minister of Australia, attacking each other and calling each other liars is not a good look. Not good for the person speaking, nor for the person being spoken about.
For politicians, life in Canberra will not be the same. The parameters have changed, along with many of the faces. There’s disquiet in Liberal ranks and the recently passed changes to the Senate have reaped their reward. Many of us are horrified to realise we’ll be paying the salaries of one or more serious undesirables in our Upper House.
"There has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian," was Malcolm Turnbull’s catch cry but it was often spoken with a kind of self-mocking sarcasm. As if it was really only a line from a script.
For Vicki, life goes on. Nothing much will change despite all the talk, the promises, the slanging matches and of course, the expense of the federal election in the winter of 2016.
She’ll still be under-employed; her expectations of life in small-town Australia will remain modest.
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