Opinion: local candidates’ unwillingness to give straight answers on issues highlights why voters turned away from big parties

Opinion: local candidates’ unwillingness to give straight answers on issues highlights why voters turned away from big parties

NEARLY a week after we dutifully trooped to the polls, the final makeup of the 45th Australian parliament remains undecided.

Much has already been written about the rise of independents and so-called micro parties as Australians recoil, in ever-greater droves, from establishment politics.

The reasons for disillusionment are myriad but one of the biggest was writ large across a range of Community Newspaper Group publications in the run-up to the election.

For six weeks, we asked candidates in the seats of Tangney, Fremantle, Swan, Burt and Canning to share their personal views on a range of topics including the economy, education, health, environment, defence, seniors and social issues.

And for six weeks the major party candidates – or, more likely, their media handlers – elected to duck any question that could not be safely answered from the familiar comfort of the fence.

This was most evident in the “hot-button issues” segment, where we tried to prise a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to statements like “Weekend penalty rates should be abolished”, “The Federal Government should pick up the State funding shortfall for education assistants” and “Australia should increase its annual refugee intake to 30,000.”

Bear in mind, this whole exercise was pitched as a way for candidates to express their personal views and opinions to their electorates.

Of the 110 such statements put to Liberal candidates (many were duplicated across electorates), we received just 66 responses.

Labor candidates were only marginally more forthcoming, providing a straight answer on 77 occasions.

That is a strike rate of 60 and 70 per cent respectively.

Conversely, Greens candidates chose to take an actual stance in 103 of their collective 110 opportunities.

Only two independent candidates participated, but responded to 52 of 55 statements.

(In case you are wondering, elected Liberals Ben Morton and Steve Irons, as well as Labor candidate for Tangney Marion Boswell, were the worst offenders, combining for a dismal 40 out of 90 responses.)

The message, seemingly, is clear: For God’s sake, do not upset anybody with an actual personality.

How are voters expected to put their trust in major party politicians when, for the most part, we know nothing of substance about the individual people that make up those parties?

Modern day Australian politics have been boiled down to what is essentially a choice between two potential Prime Ministers and their views and values.

Well, purportedly their views and values, likely supplemented by a healthy dose of input from their respective party’s powerbrokers, donors and industry lobbyists.

If you are not lucky enough to live in a frontbencher’s electorate, you may as well be voting for a smiling stock image with a red or blue border.

At the Liberal Party’s official campaign launch ceremony six days before the election, Malcolm Turnbull had some advice for voters.

“If you only know the leader of the party, if you don’t know their policies or their local candidate, then don’t vote for them,” he implored.

Well Mr Turnbull, 25 per cent of us listened.