Let us hope that in future elections, the media concentrate on policy issues rather than trivia, such as the inordinate attention given to the fact that Tony Abbott twice called a spade a spade, or that Malcolm Turnbull actually raised an issue for debate in the cabinet. Quelle surprise! How else do cabinets work?

Surely the media realise that so much prominence, space and comment for every wretched poll for months and months is boring the public. Gerard Henderson, for one, refuses to be transfixed by them, warning that it is unwise to write off John Howard because of them.

And while the debates receive more attention than they probably merit, they at least serve the purpose of letting the electors see hitherto obscure shadow ministers.

Not that the real arbiters at this election, the undecided and the less interested, would have actually watched the debates. While attending to matters more important, such as giving their children dinner, they may have seen glimpses of some or other debating shadow minister on TV. They won’t have heard much of what was said – a journalist will have drowned that out by in announcing his or her interpretation.

These TV news broadcasts are of course the principal or even only news source for a vast proportion of the population, and especially, of those election arbiters. Some don’t even rely on the news. A young lady told one newspaper recently that she obtained her election information from such sources as The Chaser. If an older voter were to tell her of the massive disruption to the nation caused when the unions ran the country, as Greg Combet puts it, she would wonder. After all, that wasn’t on The Chaser.

Whatever the polls are saying, a significant proportion of these election arbiters will only decide how they will vote close to the election, some as they go into the polling station. That they will determine the future direction of this country is the consequence of compulsory voting where people are less educated than previous generations. (They of course have been in educational institutions for longer periods than before.)

In the remaining days Labor will tell the election arbiters that they have reformed and are now safe: “aren’t our policies almost the same? Just look at our Mr. Rudd.” The Coalition will tell them that this is the same old Labor franchise which has performed so lamentably, for example, delivering third world conditions in NSW hospitals while keeping hundreds of “unattached” surplus bureaucrats on the payroll doing nothing. They will remind them of the Labor’s profligacy, of their massive debt which forced interest rates up, and whose policies will provide clear disincentives to employment. The debt Labor owes the unions, if only for the anti-WorkChoices campaign, will ensure that.

What the Coalition dare not do is remind “working families”, as John Stone does, that they have never had it so good, whatever economic indicator is chosen — employment (almost half a million jobs since WorkChoices), unemployment, real wages (well up against the decline under the last Labor government), real living standards, motor vehicle ownership.

Paul Kelly’s conclusion that if Kevin Rudd plans to concentrate unprecedented power in his hands could mean that the first days of a Rudd government would be a replay of Whitlam’s, where massive changes were made before the Caucus could meet. But in the medium term the Caucus will insist that the real agenda is followed, as Peter Garrett has been seriously warning. And Caucus must prevail, a prime minister being only first among equals.

It is the duty of the serious media to examine these issues, but so much is left unexamined as they continue to give Kevin Rudd a dream run. For example, is Paul Keating right and Costello’s tax free package for superannuation will not survive? Will business have to absorb a massive 66.6% increase in superannuation contributions as 2GB’s Ray Hadley was told by the shadow minister’s office. (His lively interview interview with Nick Sherry is a gem.) And how will the wall-to-wall Labor governments use the absolute power that some jurists argue they will have under the Australia Acts? These are important issues, untouched or inadequately examined by the serious media.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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