Have you noticed that the first people to damn the poor and vulnerable for not taking “responsibility” for their lives are the very ones who blame every struggle in their life on the government?
There are a number of challenges ordinary Australians presently face – housing is flat-out unaffordable; energy prices have risen dramatically; the high Australian dollar has seriously hit export industries.
The weird thing is that we’re apparently determined to blame these difficulties on things that have little to do with them. The difficulty I have paying my mortgage or rent must be because of tax to fund “wasteful spending”! Couldn’t be because the Liberals halved capital gains tax, flooding the housing market with investors who doubled the price of housing in a few short years. Increases in my electricity bill must be because of the carbon tax! I’ll completely ignore that if I look carefully at my bill the carbon “tax” component is a tiny fraction of the increase and if I’m in the majority of Australians I’ve had a tax cut that more than compensates for that element of the rise. Tradespeople are now really expensive and we farmers are struggling! Let’s blame that on “red tape” and the “mining tax”, even though the mining sector is the main reason the country has a “two speed economy” with a high dollar and, as the mining industry poaches workers, an increase in the price of labour in the trades. Public services are struggling! Must be because of immigrants, particularly those who’ve arrived on BOATS, even though they’re a tiny fraction of immigrants, immigrants are far from a drain on our economy, and the most significant part of the public expenditure connected with refugees is the idiotic offshore processing regime on which both big parties insist.
Why do so many voters want to believe this? Not just happen to believe this, but desperately want to believe this and will resist learning otherwise?
First, it’s lovely to have a target on which to blame all your difficulties. It’s not that I’m over-spending or budgeting badly – it’s the government taking my money. It’s not that the government isn’t taxing me enough to fund decent public services – it’s that it’s wasting it on “boat people”. In short, people don’t want to be reminded that actually their power bills are going up mainly for reasons nothing to do with the “carbon tax” – because that reminds them that they’ll keep going up, and their federal election vote won’t make a difference. They don’t want to be reminded that in all probability their taxes as a proportion of income have actually declined, because that makes their spending choices their own responsibility again.
Second, it’s nice to have an easy fix. The Libs and their cheerleaders have crafted a powerfully attractive fantasy – everything wrong in the country can be easily fixed by “axing” the mining and carbon taxes, “stopping the boats”, and ending Labor’s “wasteful spending”. Easy. All we’ve got to do is make Tony PM and suddenly life will get much easier for all of us. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT! Tony as PM is a magic pill which will fix things and don’t worry that he won’t give any detail about what he’s going to do before the election because it doesn’t matter as long as he’s not Julia Gillard. All you have to do is vote for the LNP in September, and feel the satisfaction of punishing an evil woman who is responsible for everything wrong in your life.
By believing in the “Gillard has rooned the country” fantasy, we get to feel entitled and vent our frustrations, which is deeply satisfying, and we get to entertain hope that with minimal effort on our part life will suddenly get easier if we just make Tony Abbott PM, which is reassuring.
If Labor wants a chance in September, it needs to call bullshit on this half-thinking. It’s not that voters are misinformed by the Daily Telegraph and so on – it’s that many of us are actively choosing to buy into a satisfying fantasy, and will hang onto it for as long as possible.
The ALP needs to concede that punters are facing challenges – but it needs to help voters identify more accurately what they are. It’s not “boat people”, it’s not the “carbon tax”, it’s not “wasteful spending” – it’s challenges like housing affordability and a distorted two-speed economy. And these are things that would only get worse if the Liberals win government. When tackling the Liberals’ faux “solutions”, the emphasis must be on how false is the hope that they would actually help voters. Because many of us clearly really want to believe they somehow could.
And, seriously – unless you are significantly better off under Labor than you were under the Liberals, you’re not paying more tax.
UPDATE: Or to put it another way: leave us our careless fantasy! We can come up with a new one after September when we get what we thought we wanted and things actually get worse.