ELECTIONS are an awesome responsibility for everyone involved; they test more than political parties and candidates, they also test voters on the level of trust they can have in political parties, specific candidates and democracy in general.
Locally, Labor and the Greens went to the last election promising to deliver light rail. This was not a particularly popular policy amongst many Canberrans. It was opposed by the Liberal Party and was subject to serious criticism. There are still many sceptics. However, the government stuck to its guns and have delivered.
Even those who disagreed, including the Canberra Liberals, have not tried to undermine the project. Of course, there will always be healthy, sceptical examination of the details by the opposition. That is a key element of their job. However, by and large, the promise was made, tested and delivered.
Will the same be true at the Federal election? The Labor Party has promised a significant injection of funds into Medicare with a specific focus on cancer. There are sceptics – notably Liberal Health Minister, Greg Hunt. He claims the promise will cost an additional $6 billion and put a huge hole in the Budget.
And here’s the rub. The claim fires up that awesome responsibility. Making a judgement about who is telling the truth, the extent of spin and just who can be trusted becomes a key obligation of every voter. And that’s just one issue.
How often have we heard a new government come into power and suddenly “discover” there is not as much money available as the previous government had claimed.
“Oh dear, because of the incompetence of the previous government we can no longer deliver on our promises!” No wonder ordinary people lose trust in politicians, political parties and the system itself.
Before the last election, the coalition warned that a Labor government would not be able to protect our borders. “Stop the boats” was the catchcry of people such as Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton. And they did deliver. In the same manner as many ACT residents were concerned about or opposed to the tram – so too, many citizens opposed the hard line taken by the coalition. However, they were not cowered. They delivered on their promise.
Labor has seen the writing on the wall regarding boat people and has adopted a similar approach to the Liberal and National parties. However, the difference (and, coincidentally, the power of independents) was demonstrated by Labor support for Kerryn Phelps’ legislation to ensure appropriate medical treatment in Australia for offshore refugees.
Indefinite detention is an anathema to our democracy, to human rights and jurisprudence. Detaining someone beyond Australia’s borders is one thing. Not knowing the length of the sentence is simply cruelty. It is barbaric; the action of a bully.
For some voters the question will be: can Labor be trusted to protect our borders. For others, the question will be: can Labor be trusted to adopt rational human rights approaches while still protecting our borders. For others, this simply will not be an issue.
The government has also been asking voters if they can trust Labor with the economy, while singing their own praises and their good fiscal management. They claim to have brought the Budget into black. But can they be trusted? They have benefitted from increasing commodity prices and, even so, it is simply not true to argue they have brought the Budget into surplus. To be trusted, they ought to have argued predictions in the forward estimates indicate (if commodity prices remain strong) that the Budget will come into surplus in the out years.
The conservatives claim fiscal management as a strength. In the 2013 election they lambasted Labor for building net debt to just under $175 billion. While in government, Liberal net debt has reached $536 billion. Net debt may not be the best indicator of the state of the economy. However, the government’s own political spin came back to bite it.
Who should be trusted on the economy, on border security, on health? Who should be trusted with our democracy? Voters have some tough decisions.