Treasurer Scott Morrison has highlighted the difficulty of reaching today’s public, declaring Australians have “turned down the volume on Canberra’s noise”, ignoring both politicians and the media.
“After 10 years of political brawling, Australians are fed up with the ‘politics-as-usual’ approach”, he said.
“This means that outside the bubble of Canberra, it is increasingly not about the conflict of partisanship. These are old political fights and battle lines that hold little if no interest to everyday Australians.
"Australians are increasingly non-partisan. They have their own tribes, which usually have nothing to do with politics. And their views do not always fit neatly into our partisan boxes, and nor do they care”, Morrison told the Liberal party federal council at the weekend.
His comments reflect the concern in the government at the difficulty it is finding in cutting through to the electorate and its deepening fear that voters have stopped listening, which is working against its attempt to sell messages including from the recent budget. If the electorate has already tuned out, the Coalition’s task of trying to turn out the negative polls become even harder.
Despite his point about people being fed up with partisanship, Morrison launched an attack on Bill Shorten, saying under him Labor represented “the same old self-interested politics – vested interests, special deals, protecting the big unions and their big deals that work against workers, machine politics, Shanghai Sam, John Setka and the CFMEU”.
Morrison said politics around the world had been “turned on its head. In election after election we have seen conventional politics and conventional politicians left standing at the polls”.
“Entrenched cynicism. Widespread disconnection. Broad-based economic frustration. Feelings of disempowerment. Distrust of mainstream institutions and conventional approaches, and not just by governments and oppositions. Media, banks, big business, utilities companies, just to name a few, are also in the firing line.”
He said the government and the Liberal party must “face and embrace” the new reality. “It means we must be careful not to slavishly follow past political orthodoxies, simply because they worked before. The political and economic times have changed.”
The fall in earnings after the global financial crisis had made people feel more vulnerable, and also more acutely aware of essential services including Medicare, the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, schools funding and income support.
“For many Australians, the lack of progress in their own personal economic situation has led people to conclude that our economic system is not longer working for them. In frustration, many are turning away from fundamental economic policies as they search for alternatives to ‘business as usual.’” This had led some to turn to protectionism, he said.
“It is our job to give these Australians hope. To assure them that they have not been forgotten”, just as Robert Menzies had done 75 years ago when he spoke of the “forgotten people”.
“The twist for today’s forgotten people, though, is that they have chosen to forget us, the political class, making them much harder to reach”, Morrison said.
“Australians have collectively reached for the remote and turned down the volume on Canberra’s noise, which includes more than just politicians. The media are similarly ignored.
"They are giving up on politics holding any value for them because in their eyes, too often it is simply not relevant for them.
Morrison said people were demanding to be better heard, better understood; they wanted politicians to focus on what mattered to them and deliver results.
"The challenge for us as Liberals is to come to terms with the fact that it is no longer about convincing Australians to be on our side, but to convince them that we are on theirs.
"To crack through this thick ice, we must communicate candidly and with authenticity”, he said.
“The challenge for us is not to differentiate ourselves from Labor, but to differentiate ourselves from being the party of ‘politics as usual’, which Labor represents.
"We need to show how we are pragmatically acting to change government, turn over the tables, reset the rules. We need to demonstrate how we are breaking the mould and siding with Australians on the issues that are seen to be working against them”, he said.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra