Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Liberal Party’s “Action Plan”: Six points in search of a policy

Today the Liberal Party has released its re-election strategy , all nicely worked over by focus groups. The key phrase is “action”; their overriding message is “real action”.

They have accompanied the strategy with a brochure that you can download and distribute to your former friends and neighbours. Straight after watching Insiders I went to the Liberal Party site and tried to download the brochure, and was greeted with the message: “the file is damaged and could not be repaired”. Don’t you just hate the way impersonal computer language can sometimes be absolutely spot on.

imageThe brochure contains a “Six Point Action Plan”; Lenore Taylor on Insiders today rather nicely pointed out that the Libs actually have a policy for only 1 of the 6.

Let’s have a look at the six to see what the Liberals think the public cares about (because election campaign material is not actually about what the Parties want to do, but what they think they need to talk about to win an election).

Tim Dunlop on twitter noted to me that the language used was quite interesting in itself. All except Number 4 (which deals with asylum seekers) use “present participles” – ie passive verbs without a subject and ending in “ing” – “reducing”, “encouraging”, “protecting” etc.

Whenever you see such language you know that you are reading focus group mush. The passive voice is great to use when you don’t actually have any thing to say or anything to support what you are saying. The media use it quite a lot – eg “It is being speculated that Julia Gillard will challenge Rudd after the next election” – So who exactly is speculating? Well the journalist and most likely no one else. If there was anything to the story, the sentence would be “Labor insiders believe that Julia Gillard will challenge Rudd…”. Passive voice allows you to say things without saying who will do what you are saying (or in the case of the Libs’ plan – how).

The other aspect of the present participle is the lack of a tense. “Reducing”, “encouraging” etc sound present tense, but on their own, they’re not. For example:

Last year the Government was reducing debt
Today the Government is reducing debt
Next year the Government will be reducing debt.

So when used like this, it doesn’t tie the opposition into anything; just some vague “we will do something about these things at some stage, but we hope you will think we’re doing something now” statement.

So let’s break them down:

1. Reducing debt: To safe guard future generations

Firstly it’s based on the false premise that Government debt is always bad. Personally I think future generations would prefer their parents had a job, rather than were unemployed because the Government said “no we can’t go into debt”.

But how will they reduce this debt? So far all we know is they will try and sell Medibank Private. Why are they privatising this – is it for increased productivity? Is it to improve the lot of those who are members of Medibank Private? No it is purely to pay of this debt – kind of like selling your car to pay for you home loan – a home loan you can afford to repay without selling your car.

2. Encouraging Small Business: To create real jobs and prosperity

I do like a good motherhood statement. But how will they do this?? I clicked on the “Small business” link on the Liberal Party website, and I was greeted with:

“Tell us how we can support small business”

Yep, they have no policy. So the only thing I can think of that the Liberals will do to “help” small business is remove the unfair dismissal provisions for small business. Oh and “WorkChoices II”. And in absence of any policy, that’s what the ALP will be telling everyone as well.

3. Protecting the Environment: And not just a great big tax

No not a great big tax, just a policy that assumes fairies live at the bottom of the environment and they will something to reduce carbon emissions. This is the one of the six for which the Libs have a policy and it is pathetic, does nothing, costs masses amounts of money and believes that big polluters will change the way they operate because, you know they just need to be given some encouragement.

It is also a policy that refutes the effectiveness of price and the market – thereby contradicting points 1, 2 and 5 – that debt needs to be reduced because it increases the price of borrowing, that small business needs government regulation reduced so they can operate more effectively, that means testing the Medicare rebate will increase the price of Private Health insurance, thereby reducing the demand for that product.

In short, don’t try and search for a coherent logic here.

4. Stop illegal immigration: To protect our Borders and keep Australia strong

The only one not to use a present participle. No mention of asylum seekers or boats (but we know that’s what they mean). No explanation of how stopping illegal immigration “keeps Australia strong” – would love someone to explain that to me. And no mention of a policy. Last week Abbott said he would deny permanent visas to any illegal immigrant, but by the end of the day his office had to backtrack, especially as it was pointed out that even under Howard illegal immigrants did end up with permanent visas.

Intriguingly this backtrack in one day got little media attention – but come the election campaign, the ALP will be betting that Abbott will have more of these “speak first, think later” moments and they will get huge attention then.

But do the Liberal Party actually have much of a policy on asylum seekers yet? I tried to find it on the Liberal Party website, but to no avail. Apparently they are “not ruling anything out", but it would be nice if they would rule something in.

5. Protecting Private Health: To ease the burden on the public system

So their big “action” on health is about the Medicare rebate being means tested. Geez. And if this statement doesn’t scream – “We don’t give a stuff about public hospitals” then I don’t know what does.

OK, the Libs think they have a winner on the Medicare means testing, I don’t think it is that big an election loser, as it does not hurt the ALP heartland, and it is also pretty logical and should have been in place for years. But the big thing is talking about private health insurance will mean a huge focus on the Liberal’s policy of selling Medibank Private. And I think that idea will go down like the proverbial bad smell in an elevator.

6. Securing Water: To protect our future and return prosperity to the bush

Well finally the National Party gets a mention. Any mention of how? Any mention of when? Nope.

[UPDATE]. “Laocoon” on Poll Bludger reminded me that the Liberal Party has a policy of holding a referendum on the Murray-Darling system; a policy that the National Party are not exactly in favour of, and one that seems more doomed to fail than any Health-takeover referendum. I’ve still yet to have explained to me why voters in WA, NT and Tasmania should have a say over a river system that does not go through their states.


So that’s it; kind of a fill in the blanks action plan. No mention of education. No mention of IR (unless you read between the lines). No focus on public health. No care of infrastructure.

A lot of holes, and a lot of ammunition for Gillard and Tanner come Question Time in May.


Pollievoy said...

"Action" has featured in almost every Lib utterance since Abbott first strutted his budgie smugglers for the cameras. Just as frequently Abbott and every Lib who can get near a microphone have labelled Rudd "all spin and no action". This Action Plan is clearly meant to draw the shattering contrast to the attention of voters who may have slept through the daily barrage from Abbott and troops.

Can't work out if the Liberals' 6 point Action Plan is a deliberate irony or a nasty joke being played on inattentive voters - an Action plan devoid of policy is so obviously the most audacious spin effort we've seen.

Anonymous said...

Hi Grog

Thankyou for another interesting piece.

The flyer looks like something a 12 year old would design.

Love your dissection.

To be expected from the Liberal party.

Tony Abbott has been very quiet over the weekend.

Did you know your column, is posted on:

Cheers Lyn

Grog said...

Cheers Lyn - yeah have noticed the blogotariat links - it has lots of good blogs all nicely aggregated.

HillbillySkeleton said...

A couple of points:
1. The obvious use of colour theory in the choice of which colour to go with which 'Action'. The Immigrants got the Ice Blue treatment.
2. I have actually heard Tony Abbott & Scott Morrison(what a disappointment he has been in his latest job of Attack Dog against 'Boat People'), enunciate what the Coalition's policy will entail in order to 'Stop the Boats'. Firstly, they have re-badged 'The Pacific Solution', and called it 'Universal Offshore Processing of Asylum Seekers'. Second, the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas. Thirdly, Captain Ahab, er, Abbott, would have the Navy do his dirty work for him in 'Turning the Boats Around'.
Edifying stuff, huh?

Grog said...

I recall hearing some 4 point plan to stop the boats, HS, but I coudln't find it on their website.

I remember Turnbull and Sharman Stone had one, it was much the same TPVs etc

linley said...

Grog, those verbs aren't passive. What kind of English PhD do you have?? I agree that this flyer is damaged, though.

PS my favourite is #3, which fails to in any way rule out "a great big new tax".

Grog said...

Hmm, you might have got me there Linley. They are verbs without a subject, but present participles are indeed active.

eg you can't write "the mat was being sitting on by the cat"

The big thing is that by themselves using present participles in statements like "Reducing debt" are sentence fragments, because they don't have either a subject or a verb with a defnined tense.

But you are right, I'll have to hand back my PhD, forthwith!

Anonymous said...

What happened to the $2 billion maternity leave policy. I would have thought that a commitment on that scale could have made it onto the flyer.