Show this mob doubt

It is a tradition in newspapers to editorialise on election day in favour of a political party. It is a quaint relic of media power, a belief that readers might be told how to vote, that they might be waiting for the grandiose pronouncement of an unsigned column inch before exercising their suffrage.

In 2013, for instance, The Sydney Morning Herald endorsed Tony Abbott’s opposition. The editorial reads now as a lesson in high farce. “Australia is crying out for a stable government that can be trusted to deliver what it promises,” it began. “The Herald believes only the Coalition can achieve that within the limited mandate Tony Abbott will carry into office should he prevail on Saturday.” The piece concluded: “The Coalition under Tony Abbott deserves the opportunity to return trust to politics.”

In 2007 The Australian backed Kevin Rudd against John Howard. Again, the paper endorsed the very qualities their candidate lacked most, saying: “…we believe he has the administrative experience to manage constructive change”. The Daily Telegraph thought so, too, and wrote: “This is an unusual editorial in that it praises the leadership and legacy of our current prime minister – and calls for him to be thrown out of office … Kevin Rudd has shown discipline. He has campaigned with enthusiasm, ideas and energy. We believe that Kevin Rudd is the right man for these times.”

After an eight-week campaign, The Saturday Paper makes no endorsement of either major party candidate. This is not because such an endorsement would be anachronistic or self-important, although it would be that too. It is because nowhere in this campaign has the vision of either party shown itself to be sufficiently brave or large or consistent as to warrant commendation.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Thursday, Malcolm Turnbull crystallised some of this malaise. He identified in Australians a desire for common purpose.

“I believe they want our parliament to offload the ideology, to end the juvenile theatrics and gotcha moments, to drop the personality politics,” he said. “They want our focus to be on issues that matter to them – and an end to division for division’s sake. Australians are entitled to expect that of their parliament … My strong sense is that what Australians are looking for most from this election is a step up in political culture – strong, decisive, resolute leadership, yet with a focus on what unites rather than divides.”

As ever, Turnbull is wonderful at articulating problems and apparently uninterested in solving them. He describes a parallel politics in which neither he nor Bill Shorten appear present. He was right in every half-sentence, which is why this campaign has been so wrong.

Labor’s sensible reforms on negative gearing where cynically dismantled by the Coalition before they had even been properly described, as the Liberal Party’s minor alterations to Medicare were by Labor. In the last weeks of the campaign a phoney war has been fought over costings and boats and a privatisation agenda that does not exist.

Much could have been explained to the voting public in eight weeks, but little was. Both major parties are to blame for this. The campaign was a conspiracy of distraction.

In not endorsing a candidate, however, The Saturday Paper does not say today’s vote is unimportant. Australia faces significant challenges – economic, environmental and demographic – and badly needs for a government that can ably navigate these challenges.

Such a government was not apparent on the campaign trail. It can only be hoped it will be found in the parliament.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 2, 2016 as "Show this mob doubt".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on June 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.