Time for policy meat from the incoming Abbott government, but how can we get it?


by Margo Kingston

19 August 2013

It’s over for Labor. I knew it intellectually when I saw Rudd steal from the Coalition the Northern Australia policy Labor had already destroyed, then hold up a bottle of vegemite to scare voters about a GST Abbott had convincingly ruled out in his first term.

I felt it when I read Labor election campaign strategists telling Rudd via Peter Hartcher how he should change his tactics.

So that’s that then.

For those progressives who engage with and care about politics it’s time to drown sorrows, go on holidays or shred your humanity playing blame games or clawing members of the winning team.

For the media, its time to write the same story that Labor has lost over and over again, throw in some blame analysis and, of course, record the pathos and triumph of a changing of the guard. Lots of colour there.

Please, let’s do something different, for all of us.

Voters actually know very little about what a Coalition government would do. Tony Abbott is on the record many times saying he will not renege on commitments to voters, but he hasn’t made many, really. His Real Solutions booklet is very light on policy detail and there’s still no sign of  substantive health or education policies or what the Coalition plans for the ABC and SBS.

Malcolm Turnbull has delivered a detailed NBN policy and Scott Morrison has done the same for boat people policy, but has any other shadow minister delivered a substantive policy?

Some in the disability field fear the Coalition may narrowly define ‘disability’ to save money on the NDIS. The Climate Change Authority will release its recommended targets for emissions reduction in October – will the Coalition commit to endorsing them?

Then there’s privatisation. No Fibs contributor Gratton Wilson emailed me today wondering whether the Coalition would privatise any arm of the ABC, Australia Post, CSIRO or the Film and Sound Archive. Would it outsource the running of Landcare?

Abbott gave voters a useful clue on his intentions in government during a speech to the IPA this year which ticked off  some of the think-tanks 75 big policy ideas. How many more are in the wings?

The more questions asked and answered on substantive policy the better for voters. It is the duty of the media to have a go.

I’m sure many community groups have submitted detailed questions to frontbenchers of key policy areas – how many have been answered?

There’s actually a lot of solid, democratic work to be done before the election by engaged citizens, community groups and the media.

Laura Tingle has noted an important structural impediment to the media doing that work, the removal of many specialist policy reporters from the Press Gallery. May I suggest that voters actually don’t want to read, hear or see yet another colour piece about the campaign circus? How about putting a specialist reporter or two on the campaign bus with a brief to get some serious policy answers?

How about media on the bus get together and decide not to follow the leader’s script for the day and instead co-ordinate questions on a policy issue on behalf of voters?

How about mainstream specialist reporters submit policy questions to each shadow minister and publish them on their websites and keep readers informed of progress in getting answers?

Gay Alcorn’s first column for The Age since retiring as Sunday Age editor identified the stultifying stasis in media reporting of elections, and wondered whether anything would change this time? It hasn’t.

Social media has also failed in drawing out policy from the incoming government, so what can we do? Ideas welcome.



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  1. the media has been sitting on its arse for so long with Abbott it knows not how to ask him a challenging question.

    if the unwashed and uneducated want to vote for Abbott why should I bloody care anymore?

    I tried so its their loss not mine.

  2. Aaron press says

    I don’t think it’s over until the Election Day. Abbott said the tax system was up for review including the gst then ruled it out for one term if re elected. I do think Rudd was wrong to go that way there are plenty of other things he could have got him on. Sixty percent of polls since they have started have predicted landslide victories to the losing team. I will be arguing my point to the end and I don’t even like Rudd. I would vote for a sack of potatoes to keep the LNP out.

  3. joy cooper says

    Must say I am shattered to read your post, Margo although I do agree, 100%, with this sentiment. “How about media on the bus get together and decide not to follow the leader’s script for the day and instead co-ordinate questions on a policy issue on behalf of voters?”

    It would be about time they actually did some REAL reporting & journalism instead of allowing Tony Abbott to get away with permitting just one question as he did at his so-called presser at Brookvale Oval yesterday.

    The foulness & nastiness of Liberal supporters in Twitter, blogs, Facebook, forums & other social media, is appalling & I fear the worst for this country if they get into power. I am almost at the stage Les is but not quite. Still plenty of fight in me even if others have thrown up their hands in surrender. It has been a three year campaign after all. Too long.

  4. Last week it was James Diaz. This week it’s Tom Zorich


    During this election campaign the words of John Stuart Mill have become a cliché but I’ll repeat them just for fun and also because they are spot on:

    “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.”

    Dark days ahead if this lot win.

  5. Peter Simpson says

    Geepers, that piece reads as if it was written by Pyne or Credlin. So you’ve caught the Murdoch disease too. Shame Margot, shame.

  6. So_over_it says

    Defeatist or what? You’ve jumped onto the Murdoch bandwagon and i want my crowdfunding donation back!

  7. Margo is only being honest. KRUDD better pull his socks up. He presented himself as something very special. I’m not going into details of where he goofs it. “Abbotts solution” sounds like something he gets when he plays with himself.
    Read ‘ashbygate” ( the lot) Takes a while and your batteries get charged when you realise what the conspirators have got away with, and how brazen they are. Gut wrenching stuff.. It really should be brought before the International Court of Justice. that is where you take a case where the local justice system is not working, because of corruption. Sound familiar?

  8. Malcolm Scott says

    With Rudd/Labor (mostly Rudd) failing to put up a competitive proposition, I’m concerned that the Coalition’s policies will now shift in targeting, will narrow, and become less nuanced, all just to claim a more intense mandate. The impact will be in the Senate. It will be interesting to see what insurance people vote for in the Senate.

    I’m still stunned why there is still no substantial framework policy for industry/manufacturing. Surely, this should be core Liberalism. Liberalism is not laissez faire. A Productivity Commission review is not a policy when so much research is already available that would be consistent with Liberal values.

    And as for a response to Climate Change, I’m still surprised as to how something of foundational/primary importance is not more strongly prosecuted with the Coalition. Sooner or later someone in the media has to put it to key Coalition leaders as to why the public should not consider them liars on this subject, given the overwhelming evidence and conclusions by climate scientists. The opinions and beliefs of Coalition leaders can’t be tolerated. For the Coalition to say they accept the Science, and then propose very little is just a traitorous insult.

    We might be aghast at Liberal candidate Tom Zorich response on Direct Action, but to be fair, how on earth would a decent person argue the case for such policy. It was probably a prudent answer. Tom might be a much more decent candidate than what social media is presenting. A successful small businessman from Elizabeth should be celebrated. (Yes I have lived there)

    Hard for Liberal candidates to advocate party policy, doubly hard for many Liberal voters I suspect.

    Yearning for a contest of creditable policies.

  9. zwetschgen says

    The irony is, should the election go the way the polls are predicting and with the economies of both the US and parts of Europe showing signs of an upswing, that an incoming government could ride a wave of economic upturn. And that thanks to the hard work protecting jobs and businesses put in but the Federal Labor Government at the start and the height of the GFC.

    We have all read and heard the hard criticisms of Labor during this time and for sure some mistakes were made, but that is the fate of small governments taking power at a time when large economies teter on the edge. All these small governments can do is hold onto the strap and keep their feet planted as firmly as possible while the coach runs out of control. The Labor Government will never get credit for managing the economy through this crisis period and will likely be tossed out with the stamp of poor economic managers, when in reality they managed what they could control very well, went into debt and plowed money into projects which assisted business and jobs in difficult times not of their own making.

    From my limited perspective, far sighted borrowing by government for large infrastructure projects at times of historically low interest levels would have been a logical option when a country such as Australia has such vast reserves of minerals to use to pay back debt over time, even if it were to be decades. And so create jobs and opportunity in the nation interest in tough times.

    But the words debt and deficit have been strategically planted to frighten the electorate and so, in all probability the Abbott Hockey team will arrive with the right timing to ride an economic recovery, while trumpeting their economic credentials as the only ones who can clean up the Labor’s debt.

    And the great infrastructure projects, the new ports with linked freight lines, the ring roads and outer ring roads, the city and regional rail line upgrades, the new airports, the massive solar projects etc., will remain unfulfilled.

    • Jill storch says

      Very well put!

    • Damian Fox says

      Exactly, just like last cycle! Australia needs to hear this! How though?

    • Yes, Zwetschgen and others – and not only important infrastructure projects will be scrapped, but many social projects as well.
      For example, one that has hardly made the news: the government’s Living Longer Living Better program, comprehensive, forward-looking and funded at $3.7 billion. NGOs helped develop it and Ian Yates of Council of the Aging called it ‘a victory for older people and their families, aged care workers, and the industry.’ Abbott voted against it in Parliament; it passed with the help of the cross-benches; Abbott says ‘in government he will. not change it’, but has made no costings, and his own Aged policy consists of a 3-word slogan, ‘Cut the paperwork.’
      I despair… what sort of a country are we going to be…?

  10. I think you’ve explored all ideas open to us Margo, save incarceration and enforced truth serum!

    Remember, Abbott is the last of the players in the hung parliament which created the minority government. His grabs for power have left his hands as dirty as Rudd’s and Gillard’s, and his back every bit as vulnerable.

    The payoffs, the rewards and the kick-backs that built Abbott’s wall of silence are starting to stink already, and they’ll be waiting for him to deliver more than any of his opponents.

    Meanwhile, who was meeting with peeps and tweeps on Fairfax online all afternoon … Mr Turnbull, of course. No hiding there.

    I survived John Howard. I’ll certainly survive Tony Abbott.

  11. Margo,you made me feel quite despondent for a while, I can understand where you are coming from,I too share some of the same views about what’s happening,But I’m not throwing in the towel and I can’t believe that you would contemplate it either.

  12. Tanya Walker says

    Vote Green! Thanks Margo you have just scripted our dinner conversation tonight.

  13. I agree. I would like to see journalists ignore polling and focusing on the issues, electorate by electorate. I’m tired of three word slogans, and I am tired of Abbot (and others) getting away with saying absolutely nothing about the finer detail of what they will do, how much it will cost, and where the funding is coming from. I realise this happens in every election, but I feel this time around all we are getting is spin – even from journalists.

    I listen to radio a lot, and I hear the same comments made repeatedly throughout the day. We need more analysis, more people holding politicians to account, and reporting of actual substance. I don’t want to see images of Rudd with school children or more images of Abbot in factories. This is NOT news. This is NOT political reporting.

  14. I’m an avid supporter of NoFibs, and I’ve thought about your column yesterday and what solutions can be offered to the problems you raise.

    I can’t really get past the idea that broad criticism of reporting at this point in time is a case of shooting the messenger, even criticism of mainstream reporting.

    With generations of reporters sacked or on the brink, and editors hiring “news hounds” (i.e. young, and therefore cheap) and little else, we are getting the coverage that news titles can afford and that readers deserve if they buy it.

    Calling the result more than 2 weeks before the election might also be part of the problem. There is little difference between, say, the Courier Mail portraying the ALP as losers, and NoFibs portraying the LNP as winners, no matter how correct you feel your call is.

    Scrutiny of the winner and his mob will come soon enough, “from day one” as the slogan goes – it’s built into the parliamentary system.

    We only have to look to the work of Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland’s opposition, and the resultant reporting. The Queensland LNP is being held to account quite well by all accounts, and we know this through the media, mainstream and otherwise.

    Solutions to better reporting of Australian politics will unfold with impartial engagement with politicians, and when media hubs base their political calls on what actually happens as a result of an election, not what they are intellectually convinced is going to happen ahead of time.

    This kind of stance only serves to turn off disgruntled readers and prevents 50% of politicians engaging in the debate.

    No Fibs cannot claim to be ideologically impartial – that’s why some people love it, but it’s also why some of the right of the spectrum don’t want to engage in its debates.

    Having said that I understand the feelings you were articulating about wanting us to write a new story about what is happening. Thinking cap still on.

  15. Dont give up Margo. Fight on. We cant let vampire Abbott, the brute take over this country.
    It can swing just as easily back to Labor. Kevin Rudd is allowed to change his mind on development in NT.
    We know that growing stuff up there is stopped due to heat and humidity, so it’s a bit like
    the temperate climate but the opposite. It is bloody hot up there though and a very difficult environment to
    live in.

    Nobody is perfect. I know we are all saddened because we lost our woman PM Julia Gillardf. But we must
    fight on to keep her spirit going, supporting what she achieved, and to tear down the horrible guy who kept incessantly attacking her. She never gave up fighting the bastard.

    Voting in Abbott means that every man out there then has the right to rip and tear in to any women,
    they like because their leader did it. They are doing it already. This guy Abbott is a brute and does
    not deserve anything to justify his rightness or his bad behavior being correct, past, present and future.

    Crikey has an interesting article today about polls…some are level out actually.

    “…An interesting development is the sudden rise in undecideds:

    Galaxy Research managing director David Briggs said the rise in undecided voters from 16 to 22 per cent was significant…”

    Not that I think much of Galaxy or Newspoll, but there is an interesting trend going. Kevin Rudd does not have to be the perfectly operating politcian, full of decency and truth, but he is a decent guy with a good heart, committed to support for the little man. Not so Abbott. There is very good reason he is called evil, and fraternizes with people like Mirabella and George Pell.

    You bet the undecided people will swing and the percentage might keep rising too. Abbott has had a free for all, his big party, sex porn whatever…the paedos much be laughing!! but parties end and things have to be cleaned up. That is what is going to happen. We’d be fools to destroy a situation where our country is AAA rated in the world. People wont sacrifice this and become the laughing stock of the world. Believe you me.

    Keep fighting everybody, Dont get put of by the gross nasty Libs. Fight them and challenge them, and then go spend some
    time laughing over at the great lampooning of The Abbottoir etc.
    You cant give up until the poll closes on election day. Kevin Rudd wont. You watch it.

    1 put your money where your heart is and do it now. Campaign funds are seriously unbalanced.

    2 Go outside of your safe, agreeable social media circles and use the facts you have to change two people’s minds.

    3 Consider volunteering to campaign, then do it. Only a few weekends left. Grab a friend and make it fun.

    4 Co-opt a group of people to make an entertaining spoof, song or catchy piece of media. Think of the sensational work Sean Micaleff did with “Pamphlet”. Young people love messing with video and audio.

    5 Use a Dymo Organiser (click wheel punches letters onto black tape) to write your own truths or entertaining comments on media that offends. Stylish, quick and so retro its super groovy. Its adhesive too so its not graffiti. Bet that will get some meme traction. The best 15 bucks of liberating fun.

    6 Host a dinner party intervention for undecided friends.

    7 sign these petitions



    8 Keep asking about Ashbygate wherever there is an ear or a microphone.

    9 And put your GAME face on. No one ever won by looking like they’d lost.

    If you wake up on the 8th and think I should have done something you will be right.

  17. I think I know how you feel Margo. Desperate times. But I think I also understand why someone might have to give up. Take my personal case: I so desperately don’t want and LNP government, and so I spend hours reading, responding, posting things – you know how it goes. I had to take stock recently. As an individual I can’t really affect the outcome of the election, but meanwhile I’m getting all stirred up about it. It’s not worth destroying our own equilibrium over something we cannot change. If Australia votes that way, we have to live with it, hard as it may be. I’ve cut back my involvement as a mental health strategy! I’ve still got a bit of hope and I want to keep it that way till the last moment!

  18. Jennie Harvie says

    I am one of those community members actively engaged in the locally focused policy campaigns – mine being the re-instatement of Supporting Parents Payments. Of the few responses I have received to my inquiries I have received almost generic responses which in no way answer my actual question but fill pages with platitudes and slogans. The issue has not been raised in the mainstream media and is generally ignored by the journalists. Your fears about disability definitions is absolutely spot on. The only way any savings are made is to tightly control the criteria for those who receive it. The sad story of the Disability Support Pension and its aims of returning to work through not punishing those who do work, has been completely betrayed, by, I think the bureaucrats who provide the advice. Same with the Supporting Parents Payment – someone in a bureaucracy with a bottom draw savings initiative to float would have had it. Shameful actually