Monday, June 18, 2012

Why Politicans Should Be Chameleons

Good news for Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and his inexperienced team of Ministers, MPs and advisors: You won. On March 24, there was a state election, and you won. You can stop campaigning now. You won.
The time for promising change, for impressing donors, for flattering supporters, for doing deals with lobbyists, for courting votes, kissing babies, shaking hands and smiling until your cheeks ache is over. You won. 
Here's the bad news: now, you have to govern. 
I know that governing was the point of the whole exercise, and that Mr Newman jumped right in on Day One announcing plans and looking busy, yet the LNP seems to be having trouble letting go of the campaigning. Perhaps being in Opposition for so long has left a legacy, a mentality that demands constant public positioning as the better alternative. Queensland believed them. The LNP won, so now it's time to stop trying to win.
For most governments, there's a window of opportunity when they can focus all of their energies on governing, and with a majority the size of Clive Palmer's ego, Campbell Newman's window is indeed panoramic. But when they confuse governing with campaigning, they undermine their own mandate, and end up looking petty.
Here's an example. Yesterday, the Minister for Outdoorsy Fun Stuff, Steven Dickson announced that they had "uncovered" more evidence of wasteful Labor Government spending in the form of a planned but as yet unbuilt $6m winter Olympics training facility at the Sleeman Sports Centre near Carindale. Sounds fair enough...except that the use of the word "uncovered" and the tone of the media release suggests that the wasteful spending had been hidden by a sneaky, inept Labor Government. 
But rather than being hidden, it was announced in early December 2010 by then Sports Minister Phil Reeves, and reported in the Courier Mail. Former Member for Chatsworth Steve Kilburn recalls being at two announcements about the facility. The real story is that the Newman Government has decided that the Sleeman Ski Jump training facility is an extravagance the state doesn't need and can't afford.
Mr Dickson is the Minister now; he gets to make those decisions, and with Premier’s Newman’s budget busting tactics, we know expenditure is being cut. We didn't need another barely disguised accusation of Labor's undisciplined spending; pointing it out now doesn't get him extra votes; his team already won.
But it's not the only example of continuous campaigning. Premier Newman's announcement last week that he was doing away with state-sanctioned civil partnership ceremonies was a direct appeal to Christian voters. He admitted it…but why do it? The majority of Australian are now in favour of same-sex marriage - ironically, it's about 64%, which is about the same percentage of Australians who self-identified as Christians in the 2006 Census.

Newman himself supports same sex marriage, so in changing the rules on same sex marriage, he is working against majority opinion, his own beliefs and existing legislation, to appease one lobby group that represents the minority position, but which has its hooks into the LNP....and he's already won the election. Premier Newman doesn’t need to appease anyone; he is now in a position where he can call the shots.
Perhaps this LNP groupthink is something they learned from the torturous 2010 Federal Election, which 22 months later, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is still trying to win. The situation is vastly different though. Premier Newman leads a record-breaking majority, while Mr Abbott has the slimmest possible margin separating him away from power. Why are they using similar strategies?
Just yesterday, Mr Abbott denied a pair which would have allowed federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to represent Australia at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio this week. Mr Burke won't leave the Government vulnerable by going to Rio without a pair, so the result of Mr Abbott's decision is to lessen Australia's standing as a global leader and influencer on environmental issues, and to make himself look petty. He has literally put party politics above the national interest. That doesn't just look petty; it is petty.
In Mr Abbott's case, the continual campaigning mode, identifiable by his reliance on the same three-word slogans he parroted during the official campaign, has made him a very effective and very unpopular Opposition Leader. It's time for him to change his approach: with just a year or so til the next Federal election, the electorate needs to see him as an alternative to Julia Gillard. Latest opinion polls suggest that isn't happening, although there is every chance that the Coalition will form the next government. Will “Prime Minister Abbott” remain as unpopular as he is now?
Politicians need to be chameleons. They need to know how to conduct themselves when campaigning, when in Opposition and when in Government, and fine-tune their approach depending on the situation. There’s little evidence yet that Premier Newman’s team has found its feet, and no evidence that Tony Abbott ever will. In the meantime, the electorate has had more than enough campaigning.
For now, please just get on with it.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely conveyed on behalf of a good portion of the population I think Sal.