“Moving forward” to the final countdown

Mercifully for everyone, the dog-eat-dogging and gratuitous slander of Federal Election 2010 is drawing to a close. In a few short hours we will probably have a fairly good grasp of just who is going to be running the country for the next three years. It has been a strange federal campaign; one in which both major parties have proven to be shackled to the budgetary circumstances that they find themselves in. One gets the impression that the driving motivation behind the decision of both major parties to not announce many significant new spending measures is a desire to curry favour with an electorate feeling wary about Australia’s budget deficit and the general economic situation, rather than any deep throbbing vein of fiscal conservatism. As much as this election has reminded us all that Australia is a fairly socially conservative nation, as Tom Switzer points out, it has also reminded us all that the differences between the major parties on economic issues are in realistic terms, quite slight. Whether for reasons of conviction or reasons of political expediency, big government is alive and well in Australia; where the Labor and Liberal parties differ is how they spend the money.

There has been quite a bit of talk in the media regarding whether this has been a “boring” campaign. Like Tim Dunlop, I’m a bit sceptical about this point. This has been a disappointing campaign on a number of levels, but election campaigns are not, strangely enough, meant to entertain us. This is not a reality TV show we are talking about. Democracy is not necessarily meant to be an exciting thrill ride from start to finish; in fact, quite the opposite. Election campaigns frame the orderly decision that every elector in Australia has to make when they cast their ballot, a decision that will decide who will run the country for the next three years. Despite all the flotsam and jetsam that’s cast around by political parties of all stripes during campaigns, the collective decision that Australians make is actually rather important.

If the government changes, the country changes. In my view, it changed for the worse during the Howard years. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, and there were things I would have preferred were done differently, but it changed for the better during the Rudd years. Whether or not the still hypothetical Gillard years really do “move us forward” remains to be seen, but what is certainly clear is that any hypothetical Abbott years would certainly move us backward, or in the very least, halt any further progress for three years. That would be a shame.