In a matter of days, we’re all to trek to the polls and cast our votes as to which political party will govern for the next three years. In the red corner, weighed down by numerous chips on his shoulder, is Kevin Rudd. In the blue corner, buoyed by comprehensive polling and positively light on his feet due to a lack of policy constraints, is Tony Abbott.
I’m voting Liberal, and I’m not happy about it. I’m even less happy about being unhappy about it. I would in fact, rather watch the spaying of adorable puppies than embrace this decision.
On the ideological level, I’m not conservative. I’m a liberal. My natural party was the Australian Democrats, until they got offended with Meg Lees doing exactly what a good centrist liberal should do and working with the Howard government to make the GST better. Once they stepped from the middle to the left, they lost their way and the Greens were simply better at being a left-leaning party than the Democrats. In the absense of the Democrats, the left wing of the Liberal party is the only ideologically comfortable place in the Australian spectrum for me. I quite like the LibDems in the UK; am fond of David Cameron and Boris Johnson too and would have gladly voted for Mr Obama both times if I was an American, though Mr Romney would have also been fine as a President in my view (I inherently distrust his Mormonism though).
This is crucial, because whilst a lot of my friends are happy to note that Labor is not only divided by Labor Right and Left, but it aims to cater to socialists, workers, and socially conscious, progressive middle class voters. Labor, it seems, can be nuanced but the Liberal party is a bunch of bigoted conservatives who hate anyone who isn’t white, hetero and Christian.
Bearing all this in mind, I’m unable to bring myself to vote Green and loathe to vote Labor. Rudd isn’t a collectivist; as the Economist notes, he’s a Blairite Centrist (though they were too polite to call him a flagrant narcissist, a sociopath, or any number of appropriate adjectives). But he presides over a party that are collectivists. To define what I mean by this, I would suggest you look to the framing of their policies and how they speak to the media and in parliament. They assume government, in its simplest terms, knows best. One size fits all, and all that. My choice as an individual, as a liberal, is secondary to the need of the collective. “Ordinary working Australians” is not just an on-message saying; it’s a convenient generalisation about whom large chunks of policy can be made without consultation.
The other concern I have is that, frankly, the Labor party is stacked with well intentioned but otherwise useless, inexperienced people who do more harm than good in the pursuit of good things. The path for many an ALP member of parliament is to get a Bachelor of Arts degree; work for a trade union (or public service, or in public education), and then get parachuted into a Labor seat. It gives them a disconnect with “our” reality which is difficult to overcome.
Firstly; if you work for an institution in which you are responsible for delivering a widget on time and failure to produce could result in you losing your job, you tend to try and do better at your job to avoid this. You’re more innovative, more efficient. The private sector therefore acts to weed out inefficiencies by tying output to performance.
If your job is more or less unassailable and secure, you’ve a disincentive to produce at the same level. Every time I see a trade union official demanding job security, I wonder why “blue collar” workers should get it and we private sector workers don’t.
In terms of government, it institutionalises inefficiency which is why we make the jokes about government services being what they are. If your model promotes this, how are you going to be any good at delivering policy outcomes? What experience are you drawing on? From every project I’ve seen my employer run, it’s been a process of stakeholder engagement based on knowing who the best and brightest are, and how to get those people at the same table and on the same page. If that’s learned by experience, where do Labor politicians get that experience?
The NBN, in my view, is a perfect example of this. Great idea hamstrung by the hubris of one Senator Stephen Conroy. Our internet is astonishing poor relative to the standards our economy suggests – and there’s costs to this. So a radical overhaul of infrastructure, something John Howard really should have done more of, wasn’t a bad idea. But instead of starting with a phased implementation than saw fibre to the node rolled out before fibre to the home, they opted for the bigger, more expensive program and royally cocked it up. No business case was made prior to approval being granted and money being apportioned – probably because Conroy thought a case was self-evident, having no idea what a business case actually does.Costs blew out, deliverables were few and far between… And so on, and so forth.
Gifted with some extraordinary policy “wins”, such as the mining tax, the NBN and the carbon tax, Labor has floundered and failed. I simply do not believe that Labor is capable of effective governance where vision is required. Abbott may not be either, but after six years of internecine Labor struggles which make some coups look civilised, I’m willing to give him a chance.
However – I’m still really, really unhappy about the choices this weekend. I’d probably embrace a choice between herpes or syphilis with more enthusiasm.