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Canberra Today 3°/7° | Monday, May 20, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Bait and switch: power of the political wedge

The National Convention Centre… an excellent setting for a dystopian ’80s apocalypse film. It desperately needs to be expanded and modernised.

“A good wedge gets voters off  the fence. Voters become very much engaged and very much angry. Time to take that anger out at the ballot box,” writes political columnist ANDREW HUGHES.

As the clock ticks to the October election, the Canberra Liberals are starting to discover the error of the small/no-target strategy of recent years: despite some decent policies being put up of late, no one is moving their vote. 

Dr Andrew Hughes.

The transport policy announcement, with a re-announcement on capped public transport pricing, was a good one. There was depth, good ideas, and a commonsense approach to one of the bigger issues in this town. 

Yet it is never going to be a wedge issue unless the government makes another foray into, say, reducing school bus timetables. The response will be rapid, blunt and very hot. 

That response is the key to a good wedge because it gets voters off  the fence. Voters become very much engaged and very much angry. Time to take that anger out at the ballot box. As some say in marketing, bait and switch. 

Federally, we’ve seen this done well over the years. Immigration? Perfect. A carbon tax? Oh, yeah. Mediscare? Perfecto. Death Tax? Pass me that how-to-vote card right now! 

In all cases, the wedge, or its sibling, the scare campaign, works on the theory that if just a small percentage take the bait, then that could decide the outcome. The mess can be cleaned up once the champagne has been emptied on election night. 

However, as the electorate becomes more aware of these methods they become harder to do. The proliferation of social media no longer guarantees amplifying a message, it can just as easily dilute it, as what happened with the “Yes” campaign during the Voice referendum. 

Positive policy announcements, such as the one on transport, quickly fade into the information blur of 2024. There is little impact, and being so far out from the election, it just becomes a tab on a website somewhere. 

But wait a minute… Canberra Stadium, you say? And with the icing of the Convention Centre? Now this is getting closer to the wedge. 

Labor is lukewarm on it thanks to the Budget, but not until after the Olympic opportunity disappears in 2033. A decade from now. For context, a decade ago the iPhone 5 was it, the number one song was Happy by Pherell, and Katy Gallagher was still calling the shots on London Circuit. 

But the Greens and the Liberals aren’t. They’ve seen the opportunity of the wedge, with the Greens going for the “we-could-do-so-much-more-with-that-money” strategy, a near cut-and-paste from the party’s Tasmanian campaign. 

The Liberals have gone all-in on “let’s build it now”. 

Thing is, sport is one of the most adversely affected activities in the ACT in recent years and is in desperate need of government funding.  

If anyone has done the ultimate Canberra winter rite of passage, that is seeing a Brumbies or Raiders night game post-Anzac Day, would know the hypothermic experience is as awful as the smells that permeated there only recently. 

Both the Raiders and Brumbies struggle to attract anyone but the diehards for the better part of a season. Sport is the original crowd-funding model. Just ask Canberra United, who struggle. 

Female change rooms at suburban grounds are rare and often in no state to encourage anyone to turn up again the following week. 

As for the Convention Centre it is like going to a museum. It would make an excellent setting for a dystopian ’80s apocalypse film. It desperately needs to be expanded and modernised so the arts community has a venue to attract some decent acts year round to Canberra. And Visit Canberra, so hard working but under-resourced, can hit the conference and convention market hard. 

Okay. Stop for a second. Think. Are you already up in arms about some of this topic? Stuff the stadium? Build it? Stuff them both and just spend the money on [insert what you want here]. You have just been wedged! 

See how easy that was? And see how easy you considered your vote and who it should go to. Sure, not everyone reading this noticed it. Or cared. But elections in 2024 are often decided in single-figure swings. So if just five out of 100 people reading this felt the wedge, then job done. 

Problem is there aren’t too many wedges in Canberra that can move the entire city. Fewer even in each of the electorates. But, like a Jack-in-the-box, the moment one’s opened, the fun starts. 

Dr Andrew Hughes is a lecturer in marketing with the Research School of Management at ANU where he specialises in political marketing and advertising, and the use of emotions in marketing and tourism.  


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