The Age: Say-anything, do-anything election already wearing thin for Victorians. October 10, 2014 Farrah Tomazin, The Sunday Age’s state political editor.
Spring Street Wrap: Jobs policies a colourful affair
Dan Andrews won the race in announcing his party’s jobs policy first on Monday. And while the government presented the media with several glossy booklets on Tuesday, many were left wondering if there was anything new behind the colourful covers.
There are times when state politics drifts between painfully frustrating and utterly absurd.
Last week was one of those times, as the Napthine government and opposition sought to outflank each other with glossy brochures, ambitious job projections and grand promises to tackle Victoria’s unemployment woes.
Having heard that Denis Napthine was preparing to unveil a long-awaited jobs strategy last week, Dan Andrews did what any opposition leader would do: rush out a $1 billion plan of his own, forcing the Premier to catch up.
Like many of Labor’s policies, this one was light on funding detail but heavy on sweeteners: 100,000 new jobs over two years; payroll tax rebates for companies to take on young people; grants for high growth sectors and regional investment.
The government was rattled. First, it branded Labor’s policy a sham. Then it claimed some of the ideas were stolen anyway. And finally, it unveiled an agenda of its own: seven glossy documents that Napthine described as “the most comprehensive jobs plan in Victoria’s history”. If only it wasn’t missing key details.
In scenes reminiscent of ABC’s Utopia (a satire based on a government office that spends more effort launching things than actually doing things) this was an announcement with plenty of spin, but questionable substance.
There was $33.4 billion worth of initiatives – but about $27 billion comes from infrastructure projects previously announced in the May budget.
There’s a pledge to create 200,000 jobs over five years – or 40,000 annually – but that’s an optimistic one-third more than the current rate of jobs growth.
As for which parts are new, and which are recycled? Who knows. The Premier and Treasurer spent most of an excruciating 30-minute press conference refusing to address that very question, despite being asked almost 10 times.
And that’s where we are in Victorian politics. Pithy grabs instead of genuine answers. Secrecy over accountability. Soaring rhetoric over detailed debate. Promises we can only hope are eventually implemented.
Some might argue that politicians always manipulate the truth, spin the system, and do whatever it takes to gain the upper hand. But it seems to have gone beyond that in recent years, to the point where getting ahead, regardless of which side you represent, almost relies on deliberately misleading the public or treating them like the proverbial mushroom: kept in the dark and fed crap.
Put simply, voters are being taken for mugs. The assumption is that anything can be said before an election because we all have to vote eventually. Even with the rise of independents and minor parties (record numbers are expected to run at this year’s election) the thinking is that preferences will ultimately flow back to the major parties anyway. Quite rightly, people are tiring of the cynicism.
On Thursday, for instance, Napthine spent 15 minutes on talkback radio with Jon Faine, spruiking his plans for a new cardiac hospital in Clayton and promoting his jobs policy in the wake of Tuesday’s announcement.
‘Carol’ was the first person to call in. “All he did was spout, spout and spout,” she lamented.
‘Jonathan from Ringwood’ had a similar view. “I think Denis Napthine did himself a grave disservice by coming in anyway –he just spouted things without answering the question, particular in reference to the hospital. He sounded like a buffoon.”
And finally, a text from ‘David in Clayton’, who was particularly unimpressed by Napthine’s tendency to barrel through interviews, somewhat louder than most MPs. “I can’t wait to see the back of the Premier. Why does he have to yell and shout at me all the time?”
Mind you, Labor has also played a role in the crisis of faith in our political system. Indeed, if you want a few signs of the say-anything-do-anything approach to electioneering, the opposition has plenty: keeping Geoff Shaw in Parliament to suit its agenda; stealing a dictaphone to destabilise the government; back-flipping over East West Link contracts.
And while Andrews might not sound as scripted as the Premier does on radio or TV, he’s certainly known to avoid answering questions with standard lines such as: “We’ll have more to say about that before the election.”
The problem is, the election is only seven weeks away, and some of those questions happen to focus on how Labor might pay for its many expensive promises. Asked, for example, how he would fund his $1 billion jobs strategy – and whether it would require cuts to any others areas – Andrews declined to say, instead telling reporters: “The important thing to note is that this is fully funded, and of course all of our election commitments will be brought to book well before Victorians vote.”
But this is also being loose with the truth. MPs admit Labor’s full costings won’t be detailed until the Thursday before the November 29 poll – by which stage, more than 700,000 people will have already voted through early voting centres or postal ballots, according to the Victorian Electoral Commission.
It has often been said that we’re now in an era of post-truth politics, where democracy has been dumbed down to such an extent the details don’t matter, and the creation of appearances, at least for some, is far more crucial than actually delivering.
There’s depressing truth in that, but if both parties plan to campaign on the well-worn question – “Who Do You Trust” – they could start by being more open and honest about their policies. Voters aren’t fools, and don’t deserve to be treated as such.
Farrah Tomazin is The Sunday Age’s state politics editor.