The Coalition's out of touch alternative reality

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

The Coalition continues to prioritise conservative ideology, often in direct contradiction to the wishes of the Australian people, writes Tarric Brooker

IN MODERN POLITICS and the associated political discourse in the media, there is increasingly a trend to reject reality, polls and statistics in favour of the continuation of a prescribed ideological narrative.

If a piece of quantifiable evidence comes to light that is damaging to a party or an individual’s political stance, it is often rejected out of hand without providing any factual argument as a counter.

Perhaps the perfect example of this phenomenon was a press conference held by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in September. When confronted by journalist Rick Morton from The Australian on the issue of Coalition budget cuts to aged care, Morrison simply responded

“No, I don’t accept that. If people want to put questions, they’re not allowed to put lies.”

Except Morton was correct in his assertion, the Coalition had cut $1.2 billion from the aged care budget over four years, as evidenced by the 2016-17 Budget review in the Parliamentary Library.

To paraphrase Mythbuster Adam Savage, Morrison had “rejected reality and substituted his own”.

This rejection of the facts in favour of attempting to preserve a fragile political narrative remains Morrison’s Achilles' heel, as the clock ticks down to the next Federal election.

An inability to accept the obvious seems to be a common thread throughout the modern Liberal Party, as demonstrated by the removal of Malcolm Turnbull. The leadership change came about despite every poll illustrating just how far behind the two top contenders of Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Dutton actually were as preferred leader.

Within the right faction of the Liberal Party, there is a growing belief that the Coalition’s low poll numbers are a result of the Government not being conservative enough, that the removal of Tony Abbott shifted the party too far to the left under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.

This unshakeable faith in the conservative ideology first and foremost often runs contrary to the wishes of the Australian people. In a number of instances where the LNP pressed heavily conservative policies, the reaction of the electorate illustrated just how unpopular the proposed changes were.

The Coalition ignores polling and LNP voters in favour of ideology based policy

When the Abbott Government attempted to deregulate university fees in 2014, a Fairfax Ipsos poll showed that just 28% of respondents supported the changes. Despite public opposition to the plan, PM Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey continued to advocate for the policy until it was finally voted down by the Senate.

The Abbott Government’s plan to introduce a Medicare co-payment of $7 to see a doctor received an equally frosty response from the electorate. An Essential poll showed that 69% of respondents thought that a co-payment to see a doctor would discourage people from visiting their GP, with 72% saying that the proposed co-payment would mean more people would go to emergency departments rather than pay a doctor's fee.

The Abbott Government was not the only recent Coalition government to display a “tin ear” on the issues. Under Turnbull’s leadership, the Coalition repeatedly pressed for company tax cuts, with the charge often led in Parliament and the media by then Treasurer Scott Morrison. Polling conducted by Research Now showed that a majority of Coalition voters did not prioritise company tax cuts over additional funding to health, education and other areas.

The Coalition refuses to change course

Despite the loss of Wentworth, one of the safest Liberal seats in the country, the Coalition remains committed to a raft of policies and ideological moves that fail to resonate with the wider electorate.

Scott Morrison’s speech after the loss of the recent by-election rammed home just how out of touch Morrison was, not only with the people of Wentworth, but with the reality of the Australian electorate itself.

It was a speech filled with bombastic heavily conservative rhetoric, reminiscent of former Treasurer Joe Hockey’s “lifters and leaners” comments during his speech on the 2014 Federal Budget. Instead of striking the conciliatory tone necessary to reconnect with an electorate frustrated and angry with the recent behaviour of the Coalition Government, Morrison went on the attack, ramming home just what the Liberal Party thought of those forced to “take a contribution” from the Federal Government.

If the Coalition is to be successful going into the future, the more moderate elements must wrestle back control of the political narrative from the LNP right faction, ensuring that the will of the electorate is not overlooked in pursuit of an ideological vision that lacks popular support.

Ultimately, if the Coalition refuses to change course and continues to press a heavily conservative agenda, the loss of Wentworth may be just the beginning of the LNP’s woes at the ballot box.

Tarric Brooker is a freelance journalist and political commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @AvidCommentator.

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