As the Australian Federal election campaign enters its last week, both sides are attempting to appeal to what they perceive as popular topics with particular slices of the Australian population. Meantime, there appears to be a common view that this has been an uninspiring election. Most people shrug and say that they are voting against or for the least disliked. Of course there are enthusiasts, true believers. Still, they appear to be a smaller group than usual.
Looking back over my writing on previous campaigns, I have railed against what I see as the supermarket approach to politics, the idea that parties put forward a series of specific offerings that voters then chose between; I have criticised the idea of mandate, that Governments must do just what they have promised to do at an election; and I have suggested that the idea that a popular vote at some point in time can somehow bind Parliament or Parliamentarians to either fixed agendas or specific leaders was a fundamental breach of representative parliamentary democracy.
Back in June 2012, Possum Comitatus had a rather interesting piece, What Australians Believe, that looks at certain sets of Australian views as measured by the polls. It may be over twelve years old, but it is still worth a read for the patterns and contradictions revealed actually frame aspects of the current election campaign rather well. For example, the conflict between the popular view that Government should do more and the equally popular view that Government is too large.
Now consider the following table. Even after all these years, the privatisation of icon Government enterprises is seen in negative terms. By contrast, the five following items including the GST are seen in positive terms. They each met with sometimes very strong opposition at the time, but are now seen in positive terms. Further comments follow the table.
The things I criticised in my second paragraph have the effect of locking Government into a straight jacket set by popular view at a particular time. The role of Government is to govern, taking changing circumstances into account. This includes taking unpopular decisions, not implementing blind promises made at a point in time regardless, With time, some of those decisions will prove to be right if still unpopular, others will gain net approval but in fact be questionable.
That's all part of our system. In the end, we give Governments power and expect them to exercise that power if with restraint. We do so, knowing that we can kick them out.