Category Archives: Identity

“The Hierarchy of Political Pain” and “The Slippery Slope of Doom”

In previous posts, I have attempted to describe some of the dynamics in relation to voter’s dramatic loss of respect for the ALP. I described how the Coalition had used the carbon tax and all the emotions associated with it to infect every other policy area like a virus in a negative way for the ALP. I also attempted to describe the predisposition prism in which Prime Minister Gillard is viewed and how people have stopped listening to anything she has to say.

In this post, what I intend to do is attempt to explain how the Coalition have facilitated an environment where the ALP can’t get any traction on issues and how the ALP have fallen right into the communication mechanisms they use to create their political material.

I have two structures to describe what the Coalition are doing. For this post, I thought about describing it in just one structure but I’ve decided to try to explain both as there are various nuances that are unique to each structure and both of them connect together. More on that later.

The first structure is an ascending hierarchy of emotions focused on the content and context of what voters feel and the second is a descending hierarchy of behaviours by the ALP over this term of parliament. I think the Coalition’s communications people are using something similar to these two models in order to construct their messages.

The Hierarchy of Political Pain

Imagine a hierarchy. The levels at the bottom are core emotional trigger points in voters. Each level above the bottom has been constructed on top of the previous level. The higher up the hierarchy you go, the more complex the emotional system in people’s minds and the more entrenched it becomes in people’s belief and values systems.

The Pyramid of Political Pain

At the very bottom of the diagram, we have truth. The Coalition’s game plan during this term of parliament has been to trash the Prime Minister’s reputation in the electorate by focusing on the line “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.” They’ll replay this line over and over and over again because it is a direct quote and it works. It has nothing to do with the policy, it has to do with the Prime Minister’s character and what that represents to people in their lives. Truth is everything to the Coalition. Any backflip, lie, false accusation or anything else that relates to truth is jumped on immediately and hammered home with a ferocious and fanatical zeal. More on this later.

Once they have solidified that stage of the hierarchy, they’ll build on it by focusing on trust. They’ll do this by highlighting backflips on policy, deals, agreements, mistakes, inconsistencies, hypocrisy and so on (this is amplified by the hung parliament scenario). Once that’s solidly in place, they can now focus on fear which we’ve seen in the form of the carbon tax scare campaign and the rhetoric around asylum seekers. Then they go to the next stage and so on.

What the ALP might think is that all of those stages the electorate have experienced can be spun as the Prime Minister’s virtues of “toughness”, “resilience” and “getting the big things done.” That’s why I’ve listed “consequence”, “burden” and “disengagement” as the higher levels of the hierarchy. The “consequence” is everything below that level, which is solidly in place and that leads to the electorate being burdened by the Prime Minister and ultimately leads to disengagement from the political process and the life being gutted out of politics, policies, issues and the national conversation.

Each stage builds on and incorporates the previous stage. For example, when the Coalition are focusing on trust, they have constructed that message on top of truth. When they focus on “the consequence” they’ve constructed that message on top of hate, fear, trust and truth etc. The more complex the system becomes the more difficult it is for the ALP to beat it.

The Slippery Slope of Doom

Imagine a slippery slope. Now imagine it being used as a metaphorical communications system to destroy a political party and it’s leader’s credibility. I’ve used an upside down triangle to list in descending order behaviours the Liberal Party is on the look out for from the ALP so they capture and frame it into political communication. The stages at the bottom are built upon the stages at the top.

Slippery Slope

At the top, we have lying and blaming. These are straight forward. If anyone in the ALP lies or blames, the Liberal Party just amplify the message. People consider the government to be the most powerful institution in the land. Any sort of lying or blaming demonstrates that the government isn’t in control of circumstances and if the government isn’t in control of circumstances they have little reason to be trusted (which connects to both the first and second stages of “The Hierarchy of Political Pain” above).

The next stage is anything that creates uncertainty in people. This tends to come in the form of economy and bad news related to it e.g the budget deficit, raising taxes and so on. Uncertainty can also be in the form of sociocultural things which the Coalition have focused on relentlessly in relation to asylum seeker policy. Again, they don’t care about the policy issues, all they’re focused on is people’s emotions.

Then we have confrontation which is anything that is seen as divisive. For example, the Coalition used the ALP’s rhetoric about the “North Shore of Sydney” (think about that for a moment) to emphasise class warfare and they used the vitriol sprayed at Kevin Rudd from certain senior people within the ALP to amplify confrontation, disharmony and disunity. Once that’s solidly in place they’ll go to the next stage which is selfishness which is what you see every time the Prime Minister or anyone else on the ALP leadership team uses the words “Labor values” or “Labor government.”

What all this inevitably leads to is what the Coalition wants people to associate with the ALP: pain … Labor equals pain. Economic pain, sociocultural pain and most importantly personal pain. What the advertisements I’ve linked to below are attempting to do is grease “The Slippery Slope of Doom.”

Notice that the Liberal Party aren’t saying anything. This is all material the ALP have given them. What that does is give and element of truth to what is being said (which again connects to the stage of Truth on “The Hierarchy of Political Pain” I’ve shown above).

The more of these sorts of advertisements the Liberal Party produce, the more material they tend to be given. It turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby everything the ALP doses goes straight up “The Hierarchy of Political Pain” or straight down “The Slippery Slope of Doom” and ends up in the Coalition’s communications mechanisms to produce political material.

It’s gotten to the point now where Tony Abbott can act bipartisan on policy and still activate all the vectors that damage Prime Minister Gillard’s credibility. The politics surrounding the National Disability Insurance Scheme this week were a perfect example of this in action. Abbott’s now dictating the framing of the policy as “a positive monument of this parliament” and “Gillard getting some of ‘her legacy.'”

Once these sorts of communication mechanisms are firmly established, it’s very difficult to overcome them. They have completely eroded Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan’s political capital so that whenever they say anything, it gets filtered through these kind of Liberal Party communication mechanisms and it ends up as annoying background noise to voters who are now disengaged (the highest stage of “The Hierarchy of Political Pain”).

In my view, there are three ways to counter “The Hierarchy of Political Pain” and “The Slippery Slope of Doom.” The first is to have your act together from the beginning. The second way is to destroy these communication mechanisms the Liberal Party are using by objectively identifying the root causes of the problems (in this case, it’s the people making the same mistakes over and over again), getting rid of them and giving the electorate what they really want in a way that communicates at an emotional level …

Winning the psychological game

“The purpose of wedge politics is to define and limit the political space within which Labor must operate” – Andrew Norton

Paul Keating has often said that in federal politics a general rule of thumb is the ALP have a structural primary vote of 38% and the Coalition have a structural primary vote of 43%. The “structural vote” is the amount of the electorate that can be relied upon to support either of the political parties at an election.

If the ALP consistently goes above a 38% primary vote and the Coalition goes below a 43% primary vote in the national polling, you can say the ALP are winning the “middle ground”. If the Coalition’s primary vote consistently goes above 43% and the ALP’s primary vote goes below 38%, you can say that the ALP are losing their “base” vote.

Right now, the federal ALP’s primary vote is consistently below 38% (well below 38%) which we can take to mean that they are losing their base vote.

With that in mind, what I’m going to address in this post is the subject of winning.

Winning federally to the ALP is anything over a 40% primary vote. You could make the excuse that the ALP could win federally with a primary vote of 38% or 39% backed up with preferences from the Greens and other minor parties but any victory from that position is always a very narrow one. The ALP have only won two federal elections on a primary vote below 40%: 1990 and 2010 and both were won by the skin of their teeth.

A 40% primary vote for the federal ALP goes a long way to securing victory.

That’s the simple part. The hard part for the ALP (for some anyway) is what winning entails.

If your structural vote is 38% and you need a primary vote of over 40% to secure victory, you need to face a few realities.

Firstly, it’s very difficult for the ALP to win with a defensive, passive, risk avoidance strategy. In the current situation of the hung parliament, that is especially true.

Politics is meant to be a contest of ideas. What the ALP have done over the past three years or so has been to abandon the ideas contest in favour of talking about processes. For example, the carbon price has never been explained or spelled out in terms of addressing dangerous climate change: the greatest moral challenge of our time, transitioning the economy into the modern world or making the future safe and secure for our children and their children. Far from it!

All we’ve had is the mechanics and the process of the policy: the price will be $23 per tonne, it will be imposed on the 500 biggest polluting businesses, households will be compensated in order to deal with the rise in electricity prices etc etc etc. This is not the language of victory!

There isn’t even any talk about how an issue like climate change invalidates half of the Liberal Party’s ideology of “let her rip” free market fundamentalism and what that should mean to people in relation to what they value in their lives. It’s just been boring lines that mean nothing to nobody.

Put simply, the ALP have failed to engage the Coalition ideologically, let alone define the Coalition’s positions on issues or limit the political space in which the Coalition operate within.

Take compulsory superannuation. The idea that the ALP have created a $1.5 Trillion financial services industry in Australia is something that would emotionally trigger many people inclined to support the Liberal Party. “Wealth creation” and “saving money” are ideas that attract many people to support the Liberal Party yet it was the ALP who created and built the industry in Australia from the ground up and it was the Liberal Party who opposed it every step of the way.

What’s more, an issue like compulsory superannuation goes straight to the psychological jugular in relation to why the Coalition exist politically. Do the Coalition oppose the idea of every person in Australia being responsible for their own retirement or do they support the idea of having an extremely large cohort of elderly people depending on the government pension after they retire from the workforce? Do the Coalition oppose the idea of every person in Australia being a financial capitalist? On this policy, the conventional framing on the economy has the potential to be completely reversed but the opportunity always seems to be missed by the ALP as they’re simply not in that head-space.

Consider the mechanics of the Coalition’s Paid Parental Leave scheme. Tony Abbott has known since the time he became leader of the Liberal Party that one of the big personal issues running against him has always been that women don’t approve of him and he tried to neutralise it by offering a ridiculously generous parental leave scheme.

When pressed on the issue in April last year on the John Laws radio program, he conceded the word game by calling it a tax, yet the ALP didn’t capitalise on the key point: the ideology, not the policy. This is a policy Abbott talks about that offends people in the business community and yet the ALP can’t score points on it because they are too timid or simply uninterested in targeting that sort of constituency. “They aren’t “Labour rusted ons” so why bother” tends to be the misguided rationale. In this particular case it’s not the word “tax” in and of itself that was the issue but the emotional values and the associations behind the use of the word (not the word, but “the use of the word”).

It’s the same deal with the Coalition’s Direct Action policy. Professor Ross Garnaut gifted the ALP a line in February 2010 in relation to it being akin to “Soviet Union style resource allocation” yet the ALP only figured it out last month: 3 years after the fact! … 3 years too late!

The ALP don’t seem to grasp the potential for dividing the Coalition at an ideological level. It’s just processes all the way down to them.

There is no understanding of the values or the emotional triggers underlying the policies and how to influence them so that they make a significant difference in the ALP’s favour.

The Coalition by contrast appear to “get it” (at the present moment). They aren’t afraid to go after the ALP’s working class constituency because they understand the misery it’s causing the ALP psychologically and how that translates into the rest of the national conversation. They know that if they get the ALP trying to salvage their structural vote (38%), that translates into people on the far left splintering off to the Greens and the Coalition being able to claim more of the middle ground (anything above 43%) for themselves.

What the ALP need to do instead of thinking in terms of merely “winning the next election,” is focus on destroying the Coalition’s ideology forever. That sort of mindset has a few implications. For a start it means thinking on a huge scale and being big picture focused. It also means being secure about issues like industrial relations. What the ALP failed to do after 2007 was destroy the Coalition on the issue once and for all. Instead what they’ve done is attempt to create a contest where one didn’t need to exist in order to appeal to a rapidly declining constituency.

Another implication is that the ALP would need to create a foundation and a narrative that transcends and includes the Coalition’s ideology, in effect making them a redundant political force. This is true right now, but the ALP never spell it out both because they don’t seem to know how, or worse, they deliberately would prefer not to do it for internal organisational reasons.

Instead of going on about things like “Labor values” and such and such is a “Labor policy” they need to talk in terms of the country and spelling out the big picture in a persuasive way so that the community can digest it.

I could go on a very long tangent but I’ll try to land the plane.

Winning the psychological game from the progressive “side” of politics requires having your act together psychologically. That means organisation, energy, belief and thinking on a very big scale. The real reason why people vote for the ALP is to get the big things done and to make the economic and societal transitions necessary for the country to preserve and prosper from the future.

Australian’s have very high expectations in relation to how their governments perform and when those expectations aren’t met, it is often greeted with mass disapproval. The way to overcome it is with repeated psychological victories and playing in order to win rather than accepting noble defeat.

You can’t exceed the people’s expectations or win by adopting the Charlie Sheen approach to victory: mindlessly posting updates on twitter with hashtags that reflect various psychotic states of delusion …

While the thinking and the actions of the federal ALP remain small, internal and process driven and generally treating politics like a football game or a crude television show such as The West Wing (just the thought of that show makes me want to vomit), you can expect their primary vote to remain well below 38%.

Firing blanks on industrial relations

This week has seen the ALP attempt to galvanise the union movement to fight for them in order to prevent the Coalition from winning the next federal election. This has meant that union leaders such as Paul Howes have featured prominently in the media.

I thought I’d take a look at how unions are viewed by the Australian public to see if this would have any benefit to the ALP. Firstly, I’m going to look at how the public views unions, then I’m going to look at how the public views industrial relations as an election issue and finally how it all plays out in the national political debate.

Firstly we’ll start with some issues polling from Essential Media Communications from September 10th 2012.

Q. Overall, do you think unions have been good or bad for Australian working people?

19 Mar 2012

This week 10 Sept 12

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Work full time

Work part time

Total good

48%

45%

67%

30%

74%

47%

51%

Total bad

17%

20%

4%

36%

6%

22%

18%

Very good

12%

11%

20%

4%

28%

11%

12%

Good

36%

34%

47%

26%

46%

36%

39%

Neither good nor bad

28%

27%

24%

30%

13%

25%

21%

Bad

11%

12%

3%

20%

5%

12%

11%

Very bad

6%

8%

1%

16%

1%

10%

7%

Don’t know

6%

8%

6%

4%

7%

5%

9%

This is fairly straight forward. A majority of respondents believe unions have been good for Australian working people. Next we’ll look at the importance of unions to Australian working people today.

Q. And how important are unions for Australian working people today?

19 Mar 2012

This week 10 Sept 12

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Work full time

Work part time

Total Important

56%

52%

72%

34%

82%

52%

56%

Total Not Important

35%

38%

21%

58%

11%

42%

33%

Very important

19%

16%

28%

6%

37%

19%

15%

Quite important

37%

36%

44%

28%

45%

33%

41%

Not very important

27%

28%

19%

40%

9%

31%

25%

Not at all important

8%

10%

2%

18%

2%

11%

8%

Don’t know

9%

10%

6%

8%

7%

6%

10%

Again, pretty straight forward. A majority of respondents appreciate the importance of unions to Australian working people. The next question is where things start to get a little interesting.

Q. Overall, would workers be better off or worse off if unions in Australia were stronger?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Work full time

Work part time

Total better off

39%

58%

24%

71%

40%

40%

Total worse off

30%

17%

47%

9%

35%

24%

A lot better off

13%

24%

7%

20%

15%

13%

A little better off

26%

34%

17%

51%

25%

27%

A little worse off

15%

13%

20%

5%

16%

12%

A lot worse off

15%

4%

27%

4%

19%

12%

Make no difference

15%

12%

18%

7%

16%

15%

Don’t know

15%

14%

12%

13%

9%

21%

This result shows a majority consider Australian working people would be better off if unions were stronger, but it’s not as intense as the response to the previous two questions. A decent chunk of the response is either indifferent or simply doesn’t know. If we were combining the results we could say 60% of respondents consider Australian working people would be worse off, no different or unsure about whether they’d be better or worse off if unions were stronger. If we look at the intensity of response, we can see that only 13% of respondents believe Australian working people would be a lot better off if unions were stronger compared to 26% who believe they’d be a little better off. This is not very encouraging news if you believe in the importance and good that unions do.

Next is another Essential Media Communications Poll from October 22nd, 2012 which looked at trust in organisations and institutions.

Q. How much trust do you have in the following institutions and organisations?

Total

trust

26 Sep 11

Total

trust

12 Jun 12

Total trust

22 Oct 12

A lot of trust

Some trust

A little trust

No trust

Don’t know

% change

The High Court

72%

60%

63%

26%

37%

21%

10%

6%

+3

The ABC

46%

54%

59%

20%

39%

26%

8%

6%

+5

The Reserve Bank

67%

49%

53%

16%

37%

28%

12%

8%

+4

Charitable organisations

61%

50%

53%

9%

44%

33%

10%

5%

+3

Environment groups

45%

32%

36%

8%

28%

35%

24%

6%

+4

The Commonwealth Public Service

49%*

30%

33%

6%

27%

41%

16%

10%

+3

Your local council

na

na

32%

4%

28%

39%

22%

6%

na

Religious organisations

29%

27%

31%

7%

24%

28%

35%

6%

+4

Newspapers

na

26%

31%

4%

27%

45%

20%

4%

+5

Online news media

na

23%

28%

4%

24%

45%

20%

6%

+5

TV news media

na

21%

26%

5%

21%

44%

26%

4%

+5

Federal Parliament

55%

22%

26%

4%

22%

37%

32%

5%

+4

State Parliament

na

na

25%

4%

21%

37%

33%

5%

na

Business groups

38%

22%

25%

3%

22%

45%

21%

9%

+3

Trade unions

39%

22%

23%

5%

18%

32%

36%

9%

+1

Political parties

na

12%

16%

2%

14%

36%

42%

6%

+4

What this table shows is that unions have a very low degree of trust in the Australian community. Very similar levels of trust to the business community. That might be due to the larger dynamics in relation to the changing nature of the Australian economy or it could simply be how the public are viewing the fight between business and unions in the debate around industrial relations issues i.e come to consensus rather than tear each other apart.

Next we’ll look at another Essential Media Communications poll from July 30th, 2012 on public views in relation to the Fair Work Act.

Q. Business groups have said that Australia’s industrial relations laws favour workers and unions and should be changed so that businesses can increase productivity and have more flexibility with their workforce. Do you think Australia’s industrial relations laws favour employers or workers or do they balance the interests of workers and employers?

6 Feb 12

Total

30 Jul 12

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Full time workers

Part time workers

Favour employers

25%

20%

25%

16%

33%

22%

16%

Favour workers

24%

26%

12%

43%

14%

29%

24%

Balance the interests of employers and workers

34%

34%

49%

26%

26%

33%

37%

Don’t know

17%

20%

13%

15%

26%

17%

23%

This result shows the majority believe the current industrial relations system balances the interests of employers and workers, but what’s interesting is the partisan responses. Labor and Greens respondents believe the current laws favour employers more than workers and Coalition respondents believe the laws favour workers more than employers, yet there seems to be a fair amount of agreement across the partisan spectrum that the laws find a balance between both groups. This suggests that a message that transcends the partisan divide from either political party would get a positive response from the community. I’ll talk about this a bit more in a minute.

Next we’ll look at industrial relations as important election issue and which political party is more trusted to handle it. For this I’ll use both the last Newspoll and Essential Media Communications poll that asked these questions. We’ll start with Newspoll from February 2013:

Thinking about federal politics. would you say each of the following issues is very important, fairly important or not important on how you personally would vote in a federal election? (issues rated as very important)

Interest Rates Health and Medicare Education National Security Leadership IndustrialRelations The Economy Climate Change Asylum Seekers arriving in Australia Unemployment
% % % % % % % % % %
1-3 Feb 2013 38 80 77 57 62 39 74 35 48 56

This result shows Industrial Relations is not high on the list of important issues in terms of what would decide how one would vote at a federal election. Then we get:

Which one of the (ALP, Liberal and National Party Coalition or someone else) do you think would best handle the issue of industrial relations?

Liberal/National Coalition ALP Someone Else None Uncommitted
% % % % %
1-3 Feb 2013 36 41 4 3 16

This result shows more respondents think the ALP are best to handle the issue of industrial relations but not by much. This is a bit alarming given how often the ALP talk about the threat of a Coalition government bringing back WorkChoices and other forms of draconian industrial relations legislation.

Next we’ll look at the Essential Media Communications results on important election issues and the political party best to handle those issues. These results are from February 11th 2013:

Q. Which are the three most important issues in deciding how you would vote at a Federal election?

Total

11 Feb 13

19 Nov 12

30 Jul 12

5 Dec 11

6 June 11

25 Jan 10

Management of the economy

62%

66%

64%

62%

61%

63%

Ensuring a quality education for all children

29%

35%

26%

22%

26%

23%

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

52%

57%

47%

47%

49%

48%

Protecting the environment

14%

14%

11%

13%

15%

16%

A fair industrial relations system

12%

8%

12%

11%

8%

na

Political leadership

14%

15%

25%

18%

17%

23%

Addressing climate change

9%

9%

9%

10%

15%

16%

Controlling interest rates

9%

11%

9%

11%

13%

15%

Australian jobs and protection of local industries

40%

32%

41%

36%

32%

33%

Ensuring a quality water supply

4%

5%

3%

4%

5%

12%

Housing affordability

11%

14%

13%

13%

16%

14%

Ensuring a fair taxation system

21%

17%

18%

16%

17%

14%

Security and the war on terrorism

6%

5%

5%

4%

8%

9%

Treatment of asylum seekers

6%

6%

10%

8%

5%

na

Managing population growth

9%

7%

8%

8%

12%

na

There are many more issues for respondents to choose from in this poll than the Newspoll but again it shows “A fair indutrial relations system” not high on the list with only 12% considering it an important election issue.

Q. Which party would you trust most to handle the following issues?

Labor

Liberal

Greens

Don’t know

Diff
11
Feb
13

Diff
19
Nov
12

Diff
18
Jun
12

Management of the economy

31%

46%

3%

21%

-15

-14

-18

Ensuring a quality education for all children

37%

35%

6%

22%

+2

+5

-2

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

33%

36%

6%

25%

-3

-3

-6

Protecting the environment

20%

21%

39%

20%

+18

+16

+17

A fair industrial relations system

39%

33%

4%

23%

+6

+9

+6

Political leadership

29%

37%

6%

29%

-8

-12

-16

Addressing climate change

21%

24%

29%

26%

+5

+9

+7

Controlling interest rates

27%

41%

3%

30%

-14

-11

-18

Protecting Australian jobs and protection of local industries

33%

36%

4%

27%

-3

-2

-6

Ensuring a quality water supply

21%

27%

23%

29%

-6

-7

-12

Housing affordability

27%

33%

5%

35%

-6

-5

-11

Ensuring a fair taxation system

31%

37%

4%

28%

-6

-9

-10

Security and the war on terrorism

25%

38%

4%

33%

-13

-15

-22

Treatment of asylum seekers

20%

37%

14%

30%

-17

-18

-20

Managing population growth

21%

33%

7%

39%

-12

-15

-19

This table shows that one of the only issues where respondents trust the ALP more than the Coalition is industrial relations. But even then it’s only by a margin of 6%. It’s not exactly the margin many in the ALP would like to see in relation to this contest given the amount of time they’ve spent hammering on the issue.

If there’s one issue Tony Abbott has been very clever with, it would be in relation to his political tactics on industrial relations. Many in the Liberal Party would like to see a return to WorkChoices. It’s a reason many people join the Liberal Party in the first place: to shift the policy needles in favour of the business community and crush the union movement. What Tony Abbott has done by contrast is take a different approach.

Instead of advocating for a return to WorkChoices, he’s attempted to position the Liberal Party as the party that favours a fair and balanced industrial relations system. So whenever he talks about flexibility, it’s framing the issue in terms of the pendulum being tilted too far in one direction. The polling above shows many prefer an industrial relations system that balances employers and workers interests. His message is framed towards this group: the middle. So whenever the ALP say he’ll bring back WorkChoices if he becomes Prime Minister, all he does is say he’s for a fair system and the ALP are for an unbalanced system.

Then he associates himself with people from the trade union movement such as Kathy Jackson who are seen as extremely dodgy to Labor people because he’s trying to frame his message in terms of how the ALP behave rather than what he does. It’s part of the reason he’ll also advocate for the reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. People in the union movement know what that means but communicating it with all the noise and framing it in a way that makes him look extreme is extremely difficult when he’s framed it around the way the ALP and the union movement behave.

And to drive the dagger in as firmly in as possible, he then addresses the National Press Club in January and says things like:

“As my personal history shows, I’ve never been anti-union.

I support unions that are honestly managed and genuinely focused on a fair deal for their members.

That’s why a big part of the Coalition’s workplace policy will be tackling the rorts we’ve seen in the Health Services Union and the Australian Workers Union.

These are the sorts of measures that a less-compromised Labor government could introduce and that decent Labor people would support.

I have never believed that Australian workers are overpaid and will never begrudge the decent working people of our country a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

That’s why our workplace policy will ensure that changes have to benefit a business’s workers as well as its owners, managers and customers – because you can’t have a successful business without motivated workers”

http://australianpolitics.com/2013/01/31/tony-abbott-address-to-national-press-club.html

This sort of rhetoric completely floors people who support the ALP and the union movement as it’s the exact opposite of their message that he’ll bring WorkChoices back and worse. It looks like the “Evil Bunny” all over again but this time, it’s the ALP using the tactics.

The ALP: “A government lead by Tony Abbott would bring back WorkChoices”, The Public: “So what? Look at the way you behave!” … That’s pretty much the dynamic Abbott’s trying to create around this issue and I’d say he’s been quite successful at it.

The problem is only exacerbated when the Prime Minister says things such as the passage below

“I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party.

I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party.

I’m not the leader of a party even called the socialist democratic party.

I’m a leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately because that is what we come from.

That is what we believe in and that is who we are.”

http://australianpolitics.com/2013/02/18/julia-gillard-speech-to-awu-conference.html

All this sort of rhetoric does is allow Tony Abbott to firmly plant the Coalition as representatives of the middle in terms of industrial relations and other issues in the national political debate.

Then you see people like Paul Howes on Lateline and the point becomes more profound.

In my opinion, what the ALP should be doing is emphasising the socially democratic, progressive, moderate side of the party. A party with unions attached to it but not one where they’re calling the shots. After all, collective bargaining is a democratic right! It’s not just a plaything for political parties to score points. These are people’s lives and living standards we’re talking about!

The union movement during the Hawke and Keating governments did three very important things that were painful to their membership but were in the best interests of the nation:

1. The Prices and Incomes Accord

2. Ending 100 years of Centralised Wage Fixing and shifting to Enterprise Bargaining

3. Compulsory Superannuation

If you listen to Paul Keating as often as I have, you’ll eventually hear him talk about how he had to put the union movement in a headlock and pull out their rotten teeth with a pair of pliers in order to get some of these things done and he’ll include extreme amounts of praise towards Bill Kelty who was the head of the ACTU at the time for making those sacrifices for the greater good of the nation.

These reforms allowed the union movement to survive in this age as well and made certain that even with the massive cultural and economic changes, the purpose of unions and the right for employees to collectively bargain was enshrined in the Australian social contract.

I think a lot of this history is either largely forgotten by the current ALP or is simply not understood or appreciated.

A lot of the rhetoric from the ALP on industrial relations is filled with good intentions. Fairness is very important to Australians but at the same time, most of the political points being made against the Coalition are simply firing blanks and while Abbott maintains the framing that the Coalition aren’t going to bring back WorkChoices if they form government (regardless of whether people believe him or not), that will continue to be the case.

Exclusion leading to concerned indifference

“I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party, I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party, I’m not the leader of a party even called the social democratic party. I’m the leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately, because that is where we come from, that is what we believe in, that is who we are.” – Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Australian Workers Union National Conference, February 18th, 2013

When I heard the Prime Minister utter these words last night on Lateline, I felt a twinge of anger and despair in my stomach, not because of the words but because of their intended political purpose.

As someone who identifies with words such as “social democrat”, “progressive” and “moderate” and considers the Australian Labor Party to be the natural home for someone who believes in all of those approaches to issues, I felt quite alienated. I believe that emotion is the opposite of the very foundation of what the Australian Labor Party is meant to be about!

Many times Prime Minister Gillard has spoken about “Labor values” without specifically defining what they are in terms of what people value or values systems people have established throughout their lives.

I consider inclusion to be a core value of the Australian Labor Party and the words uttered by the Prime Minister last night were exclusionary and go a long way to explaining many of the political problems the party is currently experiencing.

Leaving aside words such as “social democrat” and “progressive”, the fact the Prime Minister would disassociate herself from the word “moderate” is a major mistake!

Many people who are supporters of a so called “centre-right” agenda identify themselves as “moderate.” These are people who need to vote for the ALP in order for the party to win the next federal election and they have many trigger points that will turn them away from the Liberal Party such as asylum seeker policy, an emotionally reassuring, pragmatic and optimistic approach to the economy, addressing dangerous climate change and the extreme social and economic positions of their current leader to name a few.

When many of these “moderates” see Tony Abbott, they feel a deep sense of concern. When they hear Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan dissociate themselves from the word “moderate” and “the middle ground” in order to re-appeal to the old anvil of the blue collar manufacturing base and the old economy of the industrial age, many feel passively indifferent about him.

They don’t lose the feelings of concern, they simply disassociate themselves emotionally from what is happening in the national conversation.

Whenever the ALP attack Abbott or any of the other Liberal state Premier for being extreme all it does is intensify this emotional state of concerned indifference.

There is a lot of talk right now that suggests the ALP should adopt the successful campaigning methods from the Democrats in the USA in order to win the next federal election. The exclusionary rhetoric on display last night is inconsistent with what the Democrats were doing during that campaign and why it was successful.

I have never once seen Barack Obama disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Bill Clinton disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Bob Hawke disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Paul Keating disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Kevin Rudd disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

In short, no one who wins elections at a national level either in Australia or the United States says what Prime Minister Gillard said last night!

Many people in the ALP wonder why the party has struggled since 1996 to consistently get over 40% of the primary vote at a federal level. I believe excluding people in the community in order to play to the ever diminishing base vote goes a very long way to understanding why this is and has been the case for such a long time.

The Prime Minister and her people should think very long and hard about the effects of this exclusionary rhetoric before engaging in it again. It will not win the next federal election for the ALP and it’s extremely damaging when the party needs to be opening itself up to the community and the people living in it so they can win as many votes as possible rather than closing itself off and engaging in an ultimately self defeating race to the bottom with the Coalition parties.

“Too many people in the Labor Party don’t like the society we created” – Paul Keating in conversation with Kerry O’Brien in 2011

Mr Keating has a very unique way of summarising situations and people in a single sentence. I think this one as applied to what was said last night is dead on the money!

Policy exemplifies values, connection, authenticity, trust and identity

A key component of this years political debate will be who can communicate their vision for the nation to the public in a way that can persuade swing voters to vote for them in September.

You’re going to hear a lot of predictable talk about policies but what’s really going on is far more complex.

Ronald Reagan’s pollster Dick Wirthlin figured out that voters don’t vote for policies, they vote for who they measure as superior in the five areas I’m about to summarise and how the policies they advocate for exemplify them.

Values

Wirthlin defines values as the measures by which individuals determine their worth or importance of matters of concern in their lives.

The big mistake many politicians make, especially on the ALP “side” of politics is to confuse policies with values. The best example of this is whenever you hear Julia Gillard talk about “Labor values” you will always hear the word “education.”

Education isn’t a value. It’s a process and a policy area. The real question the ALP should be asking is why value education? Is it because we value opportunity? Is it because we value excellence? Is it because we value equality and social justice? Is it because we value creating a sustainable world? Is it because we value greater degrees of freedom? The deeper question on values never seems to be addressed by the Prime Minister.

The Coalition by contrast make it very clear where they stand on values. Every piece of communication they produce is targeted towards the values of individual success and freedom as well as respect of national history and what they define as an “Australian” identity.

There are also stages of values which I’ve gone over at reasonable length in previous posts that can be found here and here.

Connection

When I first visited Canberra, at a gut level I felt a reasonable degree of disconnection with the rest of the country. I’ve heard this is a common experience. There is a cold, artificial, bureaucratic feeling about the place.

Connection is an area many seem to have difficulty with on both “sides” of politics.

I think it’s fair to say that both Gillard and Abbott don’t connect too well with the electorate. Sure Gillard did connect with many women and men when she lashed out at Abbott’s repeated misogyny last year during Question Time, but that was merely one reactive speech that had been a very long time coming. Besides that one time, Gillard has been unable to connect with many people due to the inescapable negative prism she’s created for herself and most of her political decisions are viewed by people accordingly. It magnifies a lot when she says things like “we are us”, “a line has been crossed” and “I’ve made a ‘Captain’s Pick.'”

Abbott, although incredibly unpopular, initially connected with the public’s base level desires in relation to resolving the perceived uncertainty of the hung parliament, promising to get rid of the carbon tax, the mining tax, “stopping the boats, ending the waste” and bringing back the “golden years” of the Howard government.

As time has gone by many people see his platform for what it is: a fraud and they no longer feel that connection as people have more complex and difficult concerns to deal with and Abbott has shown that he doesn’t understand the public by constantly disregarding how they live their lives.

If normal people did what he has done over the last three years, they’d be fired from their job immediately!

Abbott’s new way of connecting is making everything he says about how bad the Labor Party is and how they need to be booted out of office as soon as possible. It has nothing to do with the policies, it is a very partisan message and it’s directed straight at Gillard, Labor and anything they touch. It connects with people because he has control of the way the national debate is framed and Labor appear too stupid to counteract what he’s doing.

Authenticity

It’s fair to say both Gillard and Abbott are seen to be inauthentic on many issues.

In the case of Gillard the obvious examples revolve around marriage equality and asylum seeker policy. On marriage equality, the authenticity issue arises due to her history as a progressive activist, her de-facto relationship and her atheism. How could someone who lives their life that way and hold those positions on “the big questions” possibly justify being against marriage equality? Sure, she can attempt to justify the position, but getting people to believe it is another matter entirely.

In relation to asylum seeker policy, Gillard advocates for “protecting lives at sea” yet the actual policy of locking refugees away in another country violates basic social justice and progressive principles of humanitarianism. It ends up looking like a desperate attempt to win votes in Western Sydney and pockets of Queensland. Whenever this is denied, it looks inauthentic.

In the case of Abbott, he’s spent his entire political career convincing everyone that he’s a crusader for the conservative cause. He has rejoiced in the nickname “Captain Catholic,” emotionally baiting “left wingers” and feminists as well as the negativity and cut and thrust of machine politics. Now he’s attempting to convince the public that he’s a crusader for taking action on dangerous climate change, women’s rights and social justice. Give us a break!

Trust

Trust is a fundamental component of political success. It’s often referred to as “political capital.” How much a government can do in office while maintaining their popularity in the electorate is heavily reliant on how much political capital they have stored in the bank. The more trust is broken by the government, the more unpopular they tend to become.

The trust issue with Gillard has frequently appeared during this term of parliament. Whether it has been the deal with the Greens and Independents on the “Carbon Tax” (saying it’s a carbon “price” is a big authenticity issue because every time it’s said, people think it’s spin), whether it’s been breaking the mandatory precommitment legislation deal with Andrew Wilkie, whether it’s been asylum seeker policy or whether it’s simply been internal ALP politics, it all comes back to trust, political capital and how that relates to certainty.

“How can we trust you given what you’ve done before?” is what it all comes down to and whenever there’s been an attempt at an answer it always gets framed in a negative light because that’s the predisposition towards Gillard’s decisions as Prime Minister.

The trust issue has been used with devastating effect by Tony Abbott (or should I say, Mark Textor) during this term of parliament. Everything they’ve said communicates “you can’t trust Labor and this Prime Minister” in one way or another. Most of this message now is in code as they’ve gone off the direct message and gone into a mode where they want to be seen as positive and constructive when in reality what they’re communicating is exactly the same as what’s been said over the previous three years of this term of parliament.

This will of course come back to bite Abbott big time if he ever becomes Prime Minister because there are very real and complex issues in relation to how he plans to repeal the carbon tax after it has been in operation for over a year and all the complexity that comes with that in relation to what’s happening around the world, how he plans to repeal the mining tax given how Australian’s view the issue and many other areas where he’s drawn a line in the sand without thinking about the long term implications of those promises.

In short, if you make a promise, make sure you keep it or look out!

Identity

Identity is interesting in relation to the two major parties. On the one hand, Labor is defining itself through it’s industrial relations agenda whereas the Coalition are defining themselves based upon anything that isn’t Labor unless Labor falls for their framing.

On the question of identity, I believe the most successful political parties are able to find points of agreement with their opponents as well as identifying those areas beneath the surface where the base are disillusioned with the political party they support and exploiting them as much as possible.

During this term of parliament, Abbott has made it his goal to split the ALP from their working class, blue collar, manufacturing base by linking the ALP to the Greens and playing hardball on the issue of border protection and asylum seeker policy.

The ALP by contrast seems to be making minimal impact in splitting the Coalition from the business community. This is probably due to the ALP’s rhetoric in relation to “Clive, Gina and Twiggy” as well as deliberately conflating various economic and industrial relations issues with a return to the time before Bob Hawke and Paul Keating revolutionised the Australian economy.

In my opinion, instead of declaring war on these wealthy people and accusing them of being evil and in control of the Coalition, the ALP should demonstrate how they made these people into what they are and without the policies of the Hawke and Keating governments, the cooperation of the union movement and the policies that saved Australia from recession during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and 2009, these people wouldn’t be anywhere near as wealthy as they are today!

As Paul Keating once said in a conversation with Malcolm Turnbull in 2008 “I made you rich!”

To make it brutally frank: the ALP are nowhere near as open to this disenfranchised group of generally Coalition supporters as they should be.

The five areas I’ve touched on above are what comes before we can get to a real policy discussion on any issue because they deal with people, knowing where one stands and being real.

To sum it up in a phrase: policy exemplifies values, connection, authenticity, trust and identity.

It’s all well and good to say you want to copy the sophisticated tactics of Barack Obama’s victorious 2012 US Presidential campaign, but if your policies are out of sync in relation to each other or they’re not communicated in a manner that is consistent with what you believe, it won’t work!

The party that is consistent in relation to this concept and injects optimism and inclusion into everything they communicate is the party that usually wins elections.

Self-referential processing

As someone who has been very introverted and socially isolated for a lot of my life, I have a bit of an understanding of what “self-referential processing” is, what it does and why it’s dysfunctional.

Put simply, “self-referential processing” is where you ascribe personality traits to yourself and they become your fixed physical, emotional and mental identity. When you’ve got no one to give you feedback or communicate with, you give feedback to yourself and you literally create a view of the world based around your identity regardless of whether it’s accurate or not.

This process can lead to very deep levels of depression, anxiety and social isolation if it becomes pathological and if it does it takes a lot of work to get out of in order to become or regain the ability to be a normal functioning person.

The main way recovery occurs is through reconnecting to something larger than oneself. Usually your community or maybe some sort of self actualised project that makes a difference. It’s often found that people who self referentially process tend to find a lot of benefit in helping and being of service to others. From personal experience, I know this is true. At times you feel like you can’t do it, but once you begin, things get progressively better and you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Meditation and handwriting also help a lot on a personal level but that’s another subject for another day.

From what I observe, I see a lot of pathological self-referential processing occurring on a much larger scale in both of the major political parties. In the ALP and their supporters it tends to be views in regards to their opponents and the media’s ability to influence public opinion. In the Coalition parties and their supporters, it tends to show up in the siege mentality and their fear that the world is on the verge of collapse unless they’re in control of the government.

I think these views (“core beliefs” might be a more realistic term) are inhibiting a functional conversation and contest of ideas because both views are full of internal contradictions and emotional baggage.

Getting over it is not something that can be done at the click of one’s fingers because when things become systems they become awfully difficult to break out of.

The clip below is of Bob Hawke when he was the leader of the opposition at the National Press Club during the 1983 election campaign. What it shows is someone who is charismatic, engaged, optimistic and relatable on multiple levels e.g interpersonally and in terms of the larger issues confronting the nation.

I think the cure to this self-referentially processed malaise that has infected Canberra, the major political parties and the national conversation is a confident articulation of the big picture, how things are getting better and the feeling that people can do something wherever they are to in order to make a difference. Otherwise all we get is the self-referential bickering for the sake of bickering that so often occupies social media, newspapers and television in relation to anything political rather than anything constructive and purposeful which is what people really need and want.

“I think a budget surplus is important to myself and my country but I approve of the budget being in deficit”

We constantly hear talk from both sides of politics about the need for the budget to return to surplus for various economic reasons yet at the same time we know the public demands the government enact all kinds of policies to look after pretty much every community issue under the sun. The two major reforms people want right now seem to revolve around the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the reforms in relation to education funding recommended by David Gonski’s review.

So there becomes a conflict between the government getting the budget back to surplus and community demands on what they want the government to do for them and given the way things are experienced at the present moment in relation to the economy, this tends to create massive amounts of uncertainty for people.

This is one of the reasons why both sides of the national debate are now focusing on aspirational promises in relation to what they’ll do if they win the next federal election rather than real ones because on one level or another, they both believe it’s in both their political interests as well as the national interest to tighten the nation’s fiscal belt.

In December 2012, Treasurer Wayne Swan decided to back down on a promise to deliver the budget back to surplus by 2013.

This week, Essential Media has conducted a poll asking respondents various questions about the budget surplus.

Firstly we will start with how important the surplus is to people in terms of the well-being of the country and their well-being personally.

Q. Thinking about the Federal Government budget, how important do you believe it is for the budget to be in surplus…?

Total important

Total
not important

Very important

Quite Important

Not very important

Not
at all important

Don’t know

Total important – 2 Oct
12

…for the country as a whole

69%

26%

28%

41%

22%

4%

5%

68%

…for you personally

54%

39%

20%

34%

29%

10%

7%

46%

As we can see, the majority of respondents judge the surplus as a concept to be important for both the country and themselves personally.

The next question in the poll was a slightly different one because it asked about the approval of the decision not to return the budget to surplus.

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the Government’s decision not to return the budget to surplus this financial year?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Total approve

42%

64%

29%

55%

Total disapprove

37%

12%

57%

25%

Strongly approve

9%

18%

5%

8%

Approve

33%

46%

24%

47%

Disapprove

27%

11%

39%

22%

Strongly disapprove

10%

1%

18%

3%

Don’t know

21%

23%

14%

20%

What’s going on here? On the one hand, a majority of respondents think the surplus is important for both the nation and themselves personally, yet at the same time a majority approve of the government’s decision not to return the budget to surplus this financial year.

Last but not least we have a question about a future Coalition government lead by Tony Abbott in relation to this issue.

Q. Do you think that if Tony Abbott and Coalition win the next election, they will deliver a budget surplus in their first year of Government?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Probably will deliver a surplus

19%

10%

31%

14%

Probably won’t deliver a surplus

60%

74%

52%

66%

Don’t know

20%

16%

18%

20%

Huh?

So the respondents to this poll consider a budget surplus important for the nation and themselves, yet they approve of the government’s decision to abandon the surplus and they mostly believe a Coalition government under Tony Abbott’s leadership probably won’t deliver a surplus in it’s first year in office.

Maybe the respondents to this poll understand what’s going on in the economy in relation to the various long term revenue raising problems the government is experiencing and will continue to experience in the future. In my opinion something about this seems a little irrational in relation to where things stand at the moment politically

Here’s something even more startling. Newspoll published a poll this week that showed which parties respondents trust to handle issues. According to this poll, on the issue of “handling the economy” the Coalition were more trusted than Labor by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

If we believe the results from the Essential Media poll that show respondents approve of the ALP government’s decision to not return the budget to surplus as well as the view that a potential Coalition government lead by Tony Abbott in it’s first year probably won’t deliver a surplus either, why are the Coalition so far ahead of the ALP on the issue of who’s the better party to handle the economy when they are constantly raising the surplus promise issue in the national conversation?

I think the reason has to do with identity on both a national scale and a personal scale. The reason the surplus is important is not because of it’s pragmatic use to the economy, but because of the emotions it represents to people in relation to how they see Australia. These include emotions such as peace of mind, safety, security, freedom as well as values such as responsibility, hard work, self reliance and so on.

Whenever the Coalition talk about the government’s failure or broken promise to bring the budget back to surplus, that’s merely code. What they’re really saying is this government creates emotional feelings of distrust, insecurity and of course uncertainty (the big theme through this term of parliament). Whenever the ALP try to counter this message by talking about the facts they’re missing the heart of how people feel about the budget surplus which is the identity the Coalition have created in voters minds and souls around it.

Many ALP people wonder why the Coalition repeatedly hammer them when it comes to views on which party is best to handle the economy even when the ALP have saved the country from recession during the global financial crisis, have allowed the economy to experience remarkable levels growth, low levels of unemployment compared to other countries around the world and lower interest rates than they were at any stage during the Howard government. I think identity goes a long way to explaining the reason for it. First the conservatives start with the budget surplus and once it’s firmly ingrained in people’s souls, they go for everything else.

“No budget surplus and a carbon tax!”

“No budget surplus means higher costs of living!”

“No budget surplus means higher interest rates!”

“No budget surplus means national pride!”

It doesn’t matter to the conservatives whether it’s true or not. All they’re concerned with is framing Labor negatively on the economy and establishing an identity people can relate to which is favourable to their views of the world.

It’s all well and good to talk about the facts but if you aren’t engaging people at a deeper level of their being, all they hear is noise and they tune out.