Dear 2018: be more good
Dearest beloved subscribers of my heart and my soul,

As promised, this is (probably) the last column until the new year, unless something insanely politically noteworthy happens - which seems likely given the unpredictably silly 12 months we've already endured. 

And while there are plenty of pieces around looking over The Year What Was, I'd like to look to 2018 and give a little bit of advice to the major parties based on what 2017 has told them, over and over and over and over and over again.

And it's this: boy howdy, Australians don't like either of you one little bit.

It was shown in the WA election. It was shown in the Queensland election. It was shown in the Bennelong by election and every single poll that's run this year. 

Yes, Labor have been in a landslide-victory position in all the polls, but barely squeaked into power in Queensland and crashed in Bennelong (WA was another story, admittedly) and both the Liberal National Coalition and Labor are basically sitting on a primary vote in the high thirties - which, in Australian political terms, is shithouse.

Meanwhile no-one has seemingly fallen in love with the government of Malcolm Turnbull - he's had a great couple of weeks and the polls haven't moved in any meaningful way - but they're not flocking to Labor either. 

And, as the astute and soon to be much-missed Sean Kelly of the Monthly pointed out, the (negative) approval ratings for both Turnbull and Labor leader Bill Shorten seem to move in lockstep up and down, almost as though Australians have stopped giving a shit about either of them - or, more worryingly for both, no longer distinguish between them.

And that's possibly why Labor haven't been able to capitalise on their lesser unpopularity. After all, most of the big things that the government has done this year - notably voting for marriage equality, the Gonski education funding reforms and calling a royal commission into the banking sector - were Labor proposals. It's hard to make a case that you should be the government when the actual government keeps enacting your best policies. 

The Liberals, meanwhile, have spent the last five years furiously fighting among themselves - about free speech, about gay marriage, about who should be leader - ensuring that there's always a bunch of spot fires to put out. And now that the Liberals seem to have settled into something like an uneasy truce, this week's cabinet reshuffle has set the Nationals bitching at one another and threatening to quit.  

This time the petulant bat-ball-home-taker is dumped minister and Gippsland MP Darren Chester and not, for once, George Christensen - and since Georgie Boy has been all talk and no action there's no reason to think that his colleague's threats aren't similarly empty. Still, in the unlikely event that Chester has the courage of his convictions, that'd eliminate that one seat majority that the government has been struggling with. 

Labor, meanwhile, underperformed in the Bennelong by election despite a superstar candidate, raising the possibility that the still-unloved Shorten could yet snatch defeat from the jaws of an almost-certain victory.

This is especially true right now, as his factional buddy and serial fuckup David Feeney looks set to force a by election in Batman which the Greens are almost certain to win. And if that wasn't enough great timing, the Victorian Labor Party seemingly think now would be an excellent time for a factional war

So, what do the major parties have to do if they want to win at the next election (which, for a bunch of mainly state election-related reasons, is more likely to happen in 2018 than 2019)? I have two suggestions.  

First up, what say you at least look like fucking adults?

That means keeping the in fighting behind closed doors, government and opposition, and at least giving the impression that you'd like to govern the country. 

The more that the public are reminded that politicians are, for the most part, grasping egomaniacs who'd clamber over their colleagues' bleeding corpses for a taste of power, the more likely they are to put their vote towards people that don't act like politicians. And as Pauline Hanson and David Leyonhjelm regularly remind us, those people are generally lunatics.

Second, show some goddamn concern about what you're doing

There's a reason why Hanson and Leyonhjelm (and Lambie, and Hinch, and Roberts, and Culleton etc etc etc) appeal to the non-major-party voter: while what they believe in is often silly and dangerous, they do seem to actually care about it. 

That's important to people, because policies are often complicated and legislation is always dull so what we respond to is an emotional reaction as a way of indicating how we should feel about things. There's a reason why Penny Wong and George Brandis saw their popularity rise during the same sex marriage debates in parliament: for once pollies appeared to be doing something about which they genuinely, passionately, honestly cared.

And for Labor there's a really easy one: income inequality. 

While Scott Morrison is pretending that the economic numbers are looking great for the next four years (which is… um, why we need so many cuts to services for those at the bottom?) the fact is that wages are stagnant and tax avoidance by business is rampant - which the government is addressing by lobbying to give big businesses a tax cut. 

This is a pure Labor heartland stuff: workers rights versus rampaging corporate greed. The unions are already campaigning around this and Labor need to get the fuck on board if they want to convince people they're not just the Liberals in slightly cheaper suits and better haircuts. 

For the Liberals they have to stick to their guns on something - anything, really - since they keep talking about things and then backing down on them. Remember back when Turnbull had a different economic thought bubble every morning? Ah, what a time to be alive.

The environment seems like another easy area to differentiate around, especially while the Liberals and Nationals remain bafflingly committed to coal - a ship which isn't so much sinking as is already so far under water that it's being circled by James Cameron in a submersible. 

Today BHP - Bee Aitch Fucking Pee - announced they were leaving the World Coal Association and embracing cleaner energy generation going forward, while every single bank on the planet has agreed that the tumbling price of coal makes funding any project in the Galilee Basin a waste of money. If ever there was a safe time to go "renewable energy seems like a smarter move" it's right after a coal fired plant broke down and the SA Tesla battery kicked in exactly as designed

In other words, here's my prediction: whoever can hold their party together and at least appear to give an actual shit about things should be able to own 2018. 

Labor seem to have the better case for it, although their ability to start hitting themselves at exactly the wrong moment can never be underestimated. And Turnbull looks pretty confident right now, but there's only another three negative Newpolls before he hits the magical 30 that he argued proved Tony Abbott needed to be rolled. Those Telegraph headlines will write themselves. 

But let's be clear: our government has done barely anything this year, and what its done has largely been a disgrace. 

it's pathetic that we've spent years arguing over whether all Australians should enjoy the same civil marriage rights. 

It's infuriating that we're still umming and ahhing over whether climate change is real, or if education is a smart thing to invest in, or if following the US into the unaffordable debt hole of user-pays medicine might be a great plan. 

And it's heartbreaking that we've seen the entire offshore detention system collapse this year and yet are still determined to pretend it's working, somehow, and that punishing men, women and children for the crime of asking for help is somehow making Australian better. 

Hell, I don't know why we're not telling the Catholic Church that if they're determined to break the law regarding mandatory reporting of child abuse, then society is going to remove their tax exemptions and use that money to do the investigations that are apparently necessary. That we considered the question "rapists of children: are they adequately protected, or should we be doing more to ensure they don't face justice?" in 2017 seems like a massive leap backwards into a crueller and dumber time. 

But all that being said, we're still an amazing country .we're rich, we're educated, and we're peaceful. We have quokkas. We tend to use our words rather than our fists when disagreeing (although fists have been making an unwelcome comeback of late). We could be doing so, so much better. 

Let's all work toward that in 2018. Despite the uncertainty, it feels like there might be some opportunities to do some great things next year.

See you on the other side, friends.  Take the very best of care, and let's meet back here in 2018.

Yours ever, 


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