Hewson's view: Our nation deserves better

Unfortunately, the first two casualties of election campaigns are the truth and morality. Principles and standards are all too easily sacrificed in the hope of winning - indeed, it seems that our politicians will say or do whatever they feel it takes to win.

In the US, President Donald Trump has basically dispensed with standards altogether, claiming his views prevail, and any others are dismissed as "fake news". Unfortunately, in the increasing "Americanisation" of our politics, some of our politicians are not too far behind.

Their media appearances are characterised by exaggeration, misrepresentation, even outright lies. Public debate on issues is now little better than a contest of slogans. None of the players seem willing to go much further, indeed going out of their way to avoid providing any significant detail to expand on, or to explain, their slogans.

Gone too are the primetime leaders' debates. The first debate this week was conducted in Perth, at 5pm, on a Monday evening, coverage confined to a lesser commercial channel.

Nothing to see here: Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten speak during the first leaders forum at the Seven West Media Studios in Perth on Monday night. Picture: AAP, Seven Network

Nothing to see here: Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten speak during the first leaders forum at the Seven West Media Studios in Perth on Monday night. Picture: AAP, Seven Network

The candidate "death-list" is already significant, as a series of candidates have been forced to withdraw, having made racial, ethnic, or other insensitive and indefensible slurs, or due to seriously bad behaviour.

The leaders promise to spend what seem to be enormous amounts of money on the issue of the day, almost each and every day, but they are mostly unwilling to explain or defend the actual cost of their "policies", nor how they will be implemented, nor their likely economic and social impacts.

The basic strategy of all sides seems to be to try to set and control their narrative on issues, then to attempt to maximise "fear and anxiety" about what the alternatives might be or do.

For example, Morrison claims to have created and to continue to protect a "strong economy" (even though mounting data might suggest otherwise), with the implication that Shorten is a "risk" to the economy, even possibly likely to push us into recession. Shorten promises to spend much more on education, health, childcare, etc. suggesting that the government has or will cut this spending, seriously reducing the availability and quality of these essential services.

Neither addresses directly the key elements of the rising cost of living - such as housing, power, insurance, petrol, and so on - simply offering some limited tax and spending "relief", which most voters will take, of course, if it is given, but remain skeptical about the likely benefit and its sustainability.

Some attempts at launching fear campaigns have been pathetic and ridiculous. For example, Morrison's claims that Shorten's policy on electric vehicles will see him "take your ute", and "steal your weekend", even though the government had made significant statements in the past in support of the transition to EVs. Or Morrison's claims, supported by some of his media mates, and "manufactured" modelling, that Shorten's emissions reduction targets will destroy the economy.

All of this fails to resonate across the electorate when climate is such a significant issue at this election, and the government doesn't really have a believable and deliverable policy response.

Where is the substance or morality in Morrison's earlier attempt to resurrect the scare of boat people, and its related "race card", wasting over $180 million in opening and then reclosing Christmas Island. It has been difficult for him to continue this campaign, and his anti-immigration campaign, post Christchurch, but he nevertheless has still promised to freeze the intake of refugees - "nudge, nudge, wink, wink"!

Also, where is the morality, or evidence of moral leadership, in dealings on preferences with Clive Palmer, without outing him on his failure to fully compensate workers from his failed nickel project.

Both major parties are also guilty of misrepresentation on preference deals with minor parties, desperate to shore up their chances of winning, and/or of governing with Senate support, if they do win.

Polling has also been "manipulated", for example, the latest Newspoll, which changed the assumed distribution of preferences to make it look as if Morrison was closing the gap on Labor, back to 51/49. However, the real lesson in that poll is that the combined vote for the major parties fell again, as support for minor parties increased.

Whatever happened to the idea that elections were a genuine contest of ideas and vision, in the national interest?

Whatever happened to the idea that elections were a genuine contest of ideas and vision?

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.