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Voters Left Little To Work With: Canberra Times Election Editorial

The Canberra Times says this year’s election “is perhaps the worst offering Australians have had at election time for 40 years”.

In its election editorial, the paper says the choice “is perhaps the least important” and “the least stark” of recent times.

Editorial from the Canberra Times, November 9, 2001.

CT

Voters Left Little To Work With

Politicians frequently portray whatever election they are fighting as “the most important” for decades. They frequently argue that the choice voters must make is a stark one between them and their opponents. Never has this been less so than at this election. The choice Australians must make tomorrow is perhaps the least important of any election in recent times. And the choice is perhaps the least stark.

That said, it is perhaps the worst offering Australians have had at election time for 40 years.

Both sides support the immoral treatment of asylum-seekers and the folly of shoulder-to-shoulder support of the United States in its ill-directed attempts to bring to justice those responsible for the terrorist attacks on September 11. Even if a voter were minded to decide on those issues, there is nothing to suggest that Kim Beazley is any less capable than John Howard in dealing with foreign policy or defence matters. Indeed, Mr Beazley’s experience as defence minister and Mr Howard’s hitherto concentration on economic issues and lack of interest in foreign policy would give Mr Beazley the edge. Mr Howard’s foreign policy has left Australia in a position where the leader of its nearest neighbour will not return his phone calls.

So it is to domestic issues that voters must turn.

The Howard Government deserves some credit for its economic management. The Budget has been brought back into surplus. A lot of government debt has been retired. Interest rates are low. These are critical matters affecting the well-being of Australians. However, nearly all of the good work was done in the Government’s first term and the first part of its second term. In the past 18 months it has squandered its reputation for good economic management, along with the bulk of the surplus. It oiled squeaky doors on a spending spree to buy votes perhaps best exemplified by underwriting the Alice Springs-to-Darwin railway.

It introduced the goods-and-services tax in a way that has made it hard for small business.

The large corporate collapses in the past 18 months do not inspire any great confidence in the Coalition as an economic manager: Ansett, One.Tel, HIH and Pasminco. And the treatment of the question of workers’ entitlements after the collapses was ad hoc and hypocritical compared with the treatment of workers of National Textiles, the company of which Mr Howard’s brother was director.

The Government has misdirected health funding with its tax rebate for health insurance. It has directed too much money to wealthy private schools at the expense of public schools and less-well-off private schools. It pandered to corporate media interests over the interests of viewers on digital television. Its policy has failed.

Labor’s offerings are not especially inspiring. It has hemmed itself in by going along with much of the Coalition’s policy folly for fear of losing sectional votes or support: education funding, the health rebate, media policy, and petrol tax relief, for example. Combined with the commitment to keep a surplus, it has meant Labor has been constrained to do virtually nothing in its first term except slightly change direction in the hope that increased revenues will allow greater effort in future years. The Coalition, on the other hand, wants to hand increased revenue back as tax cuts.

There must be concern about Labor’s plan to change industrial relations. The Coalition’s reform has yielded higher wages and fewer days lost in disputes.

On the symbolic questions of reconciliation and the republic, Mr Howard and Mr Beazley may be apart, but Liberal Deputy Peter Costello sees the need to move forward, so in the long run there will be little difference.

In the end, voters must decide whether they want to risk confirming with a third term Mr Howard’s social conservatism and inward foreign policy as the way we and the rest of the world define Australia in return for marginally more responsible economic management, or whether they want to accept the economic risk that might come with Labor’s long-term spending plans and industrial-relations changes in return for a more optimistic and confident national outlook.

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