Australian voters downbeat as the 2019 contest heats up

22 April 2019

More than a decade of climate change inaction tops the list of frustrations among young Australians.

They worry the economy benefits established voters while they remain locked in the rental market.

First and second-time voters in particular feel browned-off by the much-trumpeted "strong economy" discourse which not only frames mainstream politics but dominates an increasingly mistrusted mainstream media.

In the first of The Australian National University's 2019 Election Panel Series on Wednesday 17 April, Canberrans of all ages expressed deep concerns about a wide variety of policy headings ranging from the economic to the social and legal, and the environmental.

Voters called for a greater emphasis on fairness or "social justice" noting there may be an untapped "altruism" in the electorate which would actually favour higher taxes if that meant better, more comprehensive services for all.

Although fascinated by the election contest, a common theme underpinning most grievances, was a sense that Australia's politics is broken, that political parties are too often "in it for themselves", and that overall, levels of transparency, accountability, and basic honesty among elected representatives, have declined.

In short, trust is waning, while voter cynicism has spiked, despite an election in 2019 in which the two sides are making clearer distinctions on policy than they have in previous polls.

As the panellists noted, voters are being offered a "trickle up/trickle down" choice. On one hand, there's Bill Shorten's strongly redistributive agenda of income tax cuts to low and middle-income earners and the closing of loopholes.

That's going head to head with Scott Morrison's formula based around the idea that smaller government and more generous tax cuts for the well-off in future years will deliver higher wages and increased employment in future years.

Participants in the sold-out event expressed frustration at politicians on all sides who think it's clever to get through an interview without providing straight answers, describing the tactic as an insult to the listening public.

On the policy front, few issues seemed to galvanise the audience like the failure of political parties on both sides to land a durable response to the scientifically established onset of global warming.

Expertly mediated by the former ABC and SBS chief political correspondent Catherine McGrath, the panel was made up of an elite, if diverse group of academics: Dr Katrine Beauregard, an expert on gender representation in politics, and the well-known political journalist turned academic, Mark Kenny - both from the School of Politics and International Relations.

They were joined by Frank Bongiorno, from the School of History, who placed the 2019 contest in a longer-run historical perspective, and Dr Andrew Hughes, a political marketing scholar who offered keen insights into the twin-track "heritage" and digital media approaches of the major parties.

After expanding on the first week of the campaign, the panellists fielded a series of incisive questions from the audience.

As Mark Kenny said during the wrap-up: "The warning signs are there for legacy politics.

"Younger voters who 'refresh' the voting pool in their hundreds of thousands between each election - more since the same-sex marriage survey encouraged enrolment - are distinctly unimpressed with the dull adversarialism of major party combat.

"They want, and frankly they deserve, future-focused politics, with imaginative solutions to the pressing problems of today and the unavoidable challenges of tomorrow."

Listen to the full ANU Election Panel 'The State of Australian Politics' here: