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This Election Is An Opportunity To Recalibrate The Direction Of Australian Politics

22/04/2016 6:44 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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Andrew Meares via Fairfax

This election is an opportunity to end Australia's policy sclerosis and recalibrate the direction of Australian politics.

The upcoming election is about more than who will run the country for the next three years. The result will fundamentally shape the style of policymaking Australian voters will see in their future government and parliament.

The past two and half years of conservative government in Canberra have been at best disappointing; at worst, a failure. Two years were wasted backpedaling from a politically disastrous 2014 budget that struck at the core of the Australian sense of fairness and opportunity, shattering then Prime Minister Abbott's mandate to lead.

But since the change of leadership last September, the government has pressed pause on the policymaking process. Instead of leading the debate, it has outsourced thought leadership to the federal opposition which has seized on the policy vacuum in Canberra and put forward its own credible agenda for reform.

The achievements touted by the government are as crass as they are insubstantial: repealing environmental legislation, launching a Royal Commission into their political adversaries, and claiming sole credit for several free-trade agreements that have been advocated on a bipartisan basis for years.

Turnbull has attempted to recapture the imagination of the Australian public by launching an "innovation agenda" aimed at delivering an "ideas boom" and fueling a new Australian economy.

But the reason the Australian economy needs reigniting is because of an over-reliance on the previous 'boom' in mining, which, now that it is tapering off, has left Australia ill-prepared for its necessary economic transition.

The government is setting its hopes for the future of the Australian economy on a $1 billion investment in innovation ($28 million of which is an advertising campaign selling its virtues), despite spending its first two years in office considerably de-funding science, education and research and development programs that are essential to encouraging innovative thinking in a new economy.

If Turnbull's hopes for Australia's future economy rest squarely on a billion-dollar 'boom', he is thinking wishfully.

And now, the Australian parliament has been recalled (at considerable taxpayer expense) in order to attempt -- but fail -- to legislate a regulatory body (the ABCC) aimed at constraining the political power of a leading union, and to remove an independent regulatory body, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, whose mandate is to ensure Australia's roads are safer.

With the Senate rejecting the ABCC bill for the second time, Turnbull has the constitutional trigger to call an early election, which he has now confirmed will occur on July 2.

The government is bizarrely entering an election campaign after using the parliament to attempt to implement a regulatory body to monitor their political opponents, and remove another that aims to ensure the safety of Australia's roads. Not on the back of a substantial reform agenda, but on a false sense of momentum buoyed by disrupting the political clout of their union opponents, have they chosen to head to the polls.

As disheartening as the previous two and a half years of Australian politics have been, this style of leadership would only continue under a re-elected Turnbull government.

The most concerning aspect of this term of government has been the shift towards an Americanised style of policy debate -- one that recycles debates of old to create new political opportunities.

In the United States, Roe vs Wade, the supreme court decision legalising abortion, is still vigorously debated in contemporary politics, some 43 years after the debate was fought, won, and settled. The current Australian government's willingness to undo policies that had been fought, won and achieved community consensus is alarming.

This is most notably represented by the government's rejection of the Gonski education reforms. The Gonski agenda was sound public policy that achieved community consensus and was, at the time, bi-partisan. But once in office, the government set about undermining this legislated reform agenda that had been accepted by the Australian public.

Gonski isn't the only example. The government has also spent its energy threatening to significantly raise higher-education costs, and undermine the Australian public's confidence in medicare. Instead of understanding the threat caused by climate change that is increasingly accepted in the Australian community, they have offered an insubstantial and expensive environmental agenda that has countered a global push at tackling emissions and divided the Australian public.

And this is after two and a half years.

In a further Americanisation of Australian politics, the government is placing its election hopes purely on the shoulders of the popularity of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, not on his party, which is splitting at the seams.

But instead of a head-to-head, presidential style contest between leaders the government is relying on, this election is very much one between Turnbull and a united Labor Party, not just opposition leader Bill Shorten.

This election is about more than who will lead the country for the next three years. It is an opportunity to reject the policy sclerosis that has defined this government, open the door to new reform agenda, and reject the Americanisation of Australia's political debate.

The choice between the Liberal-National Coalition and the Federal Labor Party has never been starker.

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