A Coalition meeting was today told by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that overseas travel is a no-no from now until the election. It is an interesting strategy and could tell us more about the political situation in Canberra than we think. It could also be just as much the case that the move is a prudent strategy in terms of connecting with the Australian electorate.
In announcing the overseas travel ban to his colleagues, Mr Abbott cited the possibility of an election at any time as reason enough to prevent his MP’s from journeying around the world. Of course Prime Minister Gillard has already announced that the election will be on September 14, which leaves plenty of time for travel between now and polling day. So it does appear a little odd, the alternative Prime Minister putting a stop to the jet-setting travel habits’ of MP’s.
But stranger things have happened. A Rudd return might actually have slightly more chance than Buckley’s. Kevin Rudd has ramped up the PR assault over the early part of 2013 and that has escalated spectacularly over the last 24 hours. Of course the chances are still remote, but it’s politics and a lot of intriguing things have happened over the last 5 years.
If there were to be a second stint from Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, Labor would want to make a quick transition from a Rudd return to a federal election. If a Prime Ministerial switch were to happen, calling an election would likely be an immediate move. In that event, the Coalition would want to have all MP’s ready and available to hit the campaign trail from the moment the election is called.
The move also has a not insignificant subtext. N0 overseas travel also implies a focus on promoting domestic policy concerns rather than “learning” about obscure nations that mean little to nothing for us in a diplomatic and political sense. Also, international travel is far from necessary for all MP’s. Indeed, most MP’s do not need to engage in travel.
Blocking overseas travel may be a prudent move, not just in terms of electoral readiness, but in terms of cutting down the potential for a public relations disaster which might annoy the public. The general public is at the very least suspicious, even downright against politicians embarking on ridiculously blatant junkets and so-called “study tours” overseas.
Okay, banning travel for a short period of time is probably not a massive vote winner, but it is a sensible move that might translate into some votes on election day.
A limited group of Liberal and National Party MP’s should however be exempt from any travel ban. Those in mind are the Opposition Leader himself, his deputy Julie Bishop who also happens to be Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, any other MP with a shadow portfolio which has an overseas focus, and parliamentarians on committees which require travel that would be in the national interest.
Restrictions on these representatives should still exist, but some reasonable leeway given.
In fact, while they are at it, the Coalition should plan to introduce tougher restrictions on MP travel. But of course they will not. The travel bug is a virulent thing. Politicians are struck down by it constantly. In many cases they could avoid the illness by not exposing themselves to so many perks. But why would they want to change that? The consequence is that they will continue to be infected.
We now see the underlying intent to focus on domestic issues. The next step is to put the policy meat on the bone. This should be a gradual thing as we move toward September.
That will be easier communicate with politicians’ feet firmly planted on Australian soil.
Today at the National Press Club the Prime Minister revealed something quite surprising and very rare in Australian politics. An election has now been called – well unofficially, but official. Not since Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister has an election been called so early. In fact today Julia Gillard broke Menzies’ record. Robert Menzies, on three separate occasions, informed the voting public of his intention to have an election in 3 months time. Today Prime Minister Gillard bettered that mark by more than double the time.
We can now look forward, or perhaps not, to an election on Saturday September the 14th after the longest campaign in Australian political history. In 225 days we will know the exact results of the 2013 election, seat by seat.
Out of the announcement today and the ensuing robust and at times acrimonious discussion, particularly on social media, arose multiple myths which need busting. False assertions were made. Of course, you are saying ‘well that’s politics’, but the realities of the political situation are what they are underneath all the spin.
The first myth is one perpetrated by the Prime Minister. In making the unexpected announcement of the 2013 election date, the PM asserted that it was not to kick off the world’s longest election campaign.
The Prime Minister is right in a sense. Julia Gillard has not kicked off the world’s longest election campaign with her announcement today. The campaign effectively began way back in 2010 after Australian’s almost handed government to the Coalition. It has already been the world’s longest election campaign and we now have almost eight more months of it before the big day arrives.
But the Prime Minister is also very wrong in her assertion. Now that there is an election date, the campaigning will just continue to accelerate and become an even more regular part of our daily existence. Politicians will increasingly crisscross the country and seek out as much media attention as possible in the coming months.
The second myth was again brought to us by Julia Gillard. The PM contends that now the unofficial campaign which she did not want to commence has indeed begun, the opposition will now have to begin submitting their policies for costing. Ms Gillard could not be more hypocritical in this assertion.
The reality is that all oppositions, regardless of political hue will often delay submitting and revealing their costings for as long as possible. This is both a political move and a sensible policy move. The budget is an ever-changing and challenging beast, so political parties in opposition need to adapt their political priorities to deal with fiscal realities. In any case, to submit a wide array of budget items for review so far out from an election is, to be frank, unheard of.
Today a few MP’s have pointed out that the election day will fall on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. And they are not particularly happy with Julia Gillard for choosing the holy day for the 2013 election.
It is a myth that this will drive down the Jewish vote. Everybody has to attend a polling booth. People have been able to vote before election day in the past and will be able to again this year. And funnily enough, pre-poll queues are actually significantly shorter than those you can expect on election day. To top it all off, senior Jewish officials have today said that there will not be an issue with Ms Gillard’s choice of election date.
The situation does however get a bit tricky for Jewish MP’s and there has been a mixed reaction, with Michael Danby issuing a statement saying that in accordance with his faith, he could not take part in election day activities. Effectively this rules out a day on the hustings greeting voters at polling places. However, it is unlikely to make a difference to the vote of any member of parliament if they happened to not be visible on polling day.
Fans of football have raised similar concerns with the choice of election day. Preliminary finals will be on, both in the afternoon and evening. Suck it up football fans. You can vote early if you are concerned that you might miss out on attending your precious game of football because you are performing a much more important duty.
So there you have it, some election myths busted and realities revealed.
The path to the 2013 election has already been a long one, but now we know when it will all end.