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June 28th 2016 print

Christian Kerr

Voters From Another Planet

The polls say the government is ahead, but only in margin-of-error territory. Meanwhile, a clear majority – around 54% – believes the government will be returned. By this time next week they might well have come to grasp that protest votes really do matter

money drainCitizens, en garde! We are on the cusp of an exciting new era in our politics. They are – remarkably – set to become even more ridiculous. At least that’s what the opinion polls show us. Politics is about to catch up with policy.

Since serious economic reform came to an end in this country in the wake of the last recession spawning what has become generations of special interest groups in need of being lovingly nurtured on the taxpayer teat. Wasteful welfare spending has proliferated, first thanks to the policy lassitude induced by the balmy warmth generated as the China boom cranked up under the Howard government, followed by the sheer mania of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years.

Money, or so it appears voters believe, can be lavished on them without thought for the sources; inded, it must be lavished. As for thoughts about the consequences of all this, the notion that there might be consequences is barely entertained. And just as voters believe we can spend without consequences, it now appears they also believe they can vote exactly the same way.

The poll aggregates give the government a narrow lead, but one which is only in margin-of-error territory. Yet, at the same time, a clear majority of voters – around 54% – believe the government will be returned. There is an inherent contradiction here. Voters appear to be saying that they are prepared to cast a protest vote, but do not expect it to have consequences. Yet the closeness of the two-party-preferred vote indicates any protest vote could be highly consequential indeed.

Heaven knows, there is enough ill will to punish both major parties. Indeed, it looks as if that is precisely what electors will do to them in the Senate. But there seems to be a basic disconnect in the House of Representatives, about who will be able to form a government after July 2. Voters are indicating that they will cast their ballots one way while expecting an entirely different result.

It takes time for governments to run out of money. Election results come far more swiftly, even for the tightest polls. What may appear like a good idea today may take on a very different guise this time next week.