With the dawn of an election year the political operatives get down to the task of developing a policy or two with which to try and convince a skeptical public that their leader is something more than a cynical politician trying to preserve his own rewarding lifestyle.

Finding “the vision thing”, the operatives call it, and the purpose is to provide a coating of idealism around the more naked vote-buying promises that are the key components of campaigning.

Many voters, you see, like to pretend that they are motivated by more than grubby self-interest when filling in the ballot paper.

It sounds better to tell the workmates you vote Calathumpian because that is the party that will build a better future for your children than to admit that the motive is to grab their promised $5000 child support rebate. A disguise of idealism is an important electoral component.

Important, maybe, but difficult to find. It is not every election that a Bob Hawke can wrap his bribes with talk of bringing back together an Australia that Malcolm Fraser wrought asunder as in 1983.

John Howard and his team tackle the task better than most. Their version of a safe and secure island nation protected from dangerous foreigners who would throw their own children to the sharks was truly visionary. Saving mortgage payers from the ravages of rising interest rates did not have the same idealistic ring but it sufficed in Labor’s absence of anything better.

This time the vision most needed probably has to involve the future of the planet because every climatic anomaly these days – hot days, cold days, floods and droughts – is put down to global warming.

Politicians needs to show they are concerned and have an answer that does not involve actually having to do anything where success or failure can be judged during their years in office.

Quite a difficult assignment for the operatives, but I suspect that the task has been made easier for those on the Liberal Party side by the path-breaking work in the United States by Newt Gingrich who is back at the task of influencing the Republican Party with his 21st century contract with America.

In his latest newsletter Gingrich outlines what he call his “Bold Solutions for Energy to Help National Security, the Economy and the Environment” and right at the top of the list is creating “a series of incentives and prizes to develop a hydrogen economy and return the Middle Eastern oil supply to being a petrochemical feedstock.”

I can hear already Prime Minister Howard explaining how a hydrogen economy would be better for Australia and the whole of the free world. A hydrogen economy would be better for the environment (no carbon loading of the atmosphere). A hydrogen economy would be better for the Australian economy because it would keep at home all the cash we are currently sending to the Middle East.

While working to develop a hydrogen economy, John and Newt could say in unison, there should also be an interim strategy to include incentives for conservation and for renewable fuels, including wind, solar and biofuels.

It is better to send the money, they chant, to Australian and American farmers than to send it to foreign dictators.

A truly wonderful vision.

Peter Fray

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