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We Don't Have A 'Choice' When Both Parties Look The Same

We now effectively have two Liberal parties.

23/06/2016 9:26 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST
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"They are both saying the same thing and trying to convince us that their way is the best way."

Despite its brief flirtation with extremism during the Abbott years, the Liberal Party has been steering a course down the centre for many years. Labor has tried to stay to the left, but with the threat of the Greens, other minor parties and independents in recent years, they have been panicked into a shift to the right. So much so that we now effectively have two Liberal parties.

Bill Shorten's pragmatic leadership has been focussed on removing the differences between Labor and Liberal and his line seems to be: "Don't worry, we are the same as the Libs, but we'll do it better". Turnbull has a similar approach, but is more intent on hiding his right-wing puppet masters from public view by pretending Abbott's policies are not still in play.

Traditionally, the Liberals have always plodded along their middle course, clinging to the past or actively trying to take us back there. At their best, the country doesn't change much at the end of a Coalition term and no real damage has been done. At their worst, they make someone like Tony Abbott their leader. But at least they showed they are willing to replace madness with relative sanity and, despite no change to their policies, the swap did make the plodding more palatable.

They are also hampered by the homespun backwardness of the National Party, who, although essential to forming government, stick like a piece of used chewing gum to the sole of the Liberal shoe. The Nationals are an annoying necessity, yet a problem the Libs will need to deal with at some point in the unlikely event they ever decide to move forward.

Labor also plods along in much the same way, huffing and puffing about progress and innovation while edging closer and closer to the centre to join the Libs in a mighty quest to achieve the status quo and not upset the applecart. They also perennially struggle to counter the myth that the Liberals are better economic managers. Long term, they will form a coalition with the Greens, but only when that party grows and also heads for the middle ground.

The two major parties, of course, still cling to a little of their origins. The Liberals steer a firm course, usually in a circle, steadily handing out money to the rich in one manner or another, while Labor also distributes largesse, though their hand-outs are to the poor. In this way, the regular change of government ensures nothing ever changes over the long term, so I suppose you could say Mission Accomplished for both of them.

In fact, apart from the direction of the money, the two parties are now hardly distinguishable. Even their leaders look and sound the same. If Turnbull turned up to give a Labor speech, or Shorten to a Liberal function, I am not convinced the audience or the press would notice. They are both saying the same thing and trying to convince us that their way is the best way. But unfortunately, there is only one way being presented.

Turnbull and Shorten have an identical mantra: "This election is a clear choice," they say. But presenting two things that are fundamentally the same is not a very good definition of choice. That might be a little unfair, as there is technically some choice. If you are rich, vote for the Libs and they will give you back the money Labor took from you when they were last in power. If you are poor, vote for Labor and they will return the money the Liberals took from you last time. But if you are financially 'comfortable,' all you need in the voting booth is a blindfold and a pencil. You really can't go wrong.

There is no greater illustration of the current blurred lines than the treatment of refugees. Both parties now think it is okay to send refugees to offshore concentration camps, where they fall prey to abuse, third-world conditions, hopelessness and mental illness. This policy was no surprise from the heartless Abbott government, but Labor's hand in the formulation of the policy and bipartisan support for this gross violation of human rights shows how far traditional values and Australian fairness have fallen -- though Labor politicians do at least appear embarrassed and uncomfortable when the subject is raised. Someone cynical like me might conclude that the policy has not been implemented and supported because it saves lives at sea, as is unconvincingly claimed by both sides, but actually because not enough refugees drowned on the way here.

The two parties are now driven by fear. They are frightened of their traditional differences. They mimic each other and try to differentiate themselves by the minor and unimportant policy details of the same policies. And they wonder why voters are bored and disengaged. They have jointly become Fifty Shades of Grey without the sex.

While the Liberal and Labor parties have been building this new 'me, too' Australian political landscape, they have failed to notice that this is an environment that alienates many people. The minor parties and independents have been busy speaking to people and formulating diverse, innovative and forward-thinking policies and ideas. You know, the things we -- perhaps over-optimistically -- expect from politicians and from political parties.

So, suddenly, the major parties are running scared. They learned nothing from the last hung parliament, treating it as a one-off brain explosion by the voting public. But now their polling tells them it was actually a preview of the future. A warning they ignored. And so they are now striking out in panic. They are facing the fact that the status quo isn't quo any more.

The attacks by the Liberals and Labor are amusing. Despite what happened in the current Liberal and previous Labor governments, they claim the minor parties and independents are unstable, taking hypocrisy to glorious new heights. They would have us believe that we should not risk voting for anyone but them because we don't know what these people might do. They might influence government policy and force unrepresentative change to Australian life and introduce an unpredictable climate to Australian politics.

But this, in a nutshell, represents what a growing number of people yearn for. A shake-up. Change. Diverse choice in leadership. A long term vision. Intelligence. A clear plan. All the things lacking in our current two-party, Coles-and-Woolies, dumb-and-dumber political environment.

The Greens, Nick Xenophon and the other independents, though hardly perfect, are the only parties and politicians talking about the bigger picture with conviction, intelligence and compassion. They have stepped into the huge Australian political leadership void and engaged the public.

And so, if we wake up on July 3rd to a hung parliament and/or an Upper House controlled by the Greens, Xenophon and an eclectic mix of the peoples' senate representatives, I will have only one thing to say to the Coalition and Labor: Congratulations on a job well done.

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