I write this two weeks before the Australian people go to vote, and it’s now, more than ever, that the fear of what our political sphere will bring is settling in. Regardless of your political alignment, it’s hard to disagree with the idea that our leaders are not committed to their core values but instead simply interested in winning elections. Gone are the ardent politicians like Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, and Gough Whitlam. It’s evident that today conviction politics is absent – so what are we left with?
University students seem to be one of the most severely affected victims of populist politics in this election. The third National Day of Action last Tuesday continued the students’ fight within this ongoing battle. The government’s Better School’s program has led to significant cuts in tertiary education and the NDA was a combination of Industrial action by the academics union over pay negotiations at 10 universities. This program is a perfect example of exploiting a politically fashionable issue to win votes. It is altogether ironic that taking money from one form of education to give to another more popular form of education is okay. But both major parties are allies on this front – “As far as school funding is concerned, Kevin Rudd and I are on a unity ticket” said Tony Abbott in regards to his commitment to this program.
It’s incongruous that in an interview with this very paper back in 1979, Abbott, then president of the Sydney University SRC, said “I think too much money is spent on education at the moment” and suggested that the Philosophy and Political Economy departments at USYD should be the first to go. For Abbott, his year of presidency was actually a time of conviction and a time where his personal beliefs were married with a lust for power quite perfectly. He lived at the catholic men’s college, St John’s, and his political base was drawn from the ultra conservative and vehemently anti communist Democratic Club on campus. Homophobia, sexism, and even violence (remember that punching incident?), were so obviously present in Abbott’s student politician days.
Today, we hold the positions of power Abbott once did. The foundations of our future beliefs are being laid. Perhaps Abbott’s opinions have shifted very slightly towards the opinions of the mainstream, but if he were to become Prime Minister, his real ideals would begin to shine. He won’t be able to legislate the values of the 1950’s into Australian society, but he will be able to stop the progress.
However, students are also major stakeholders in this election. Most of us do not have phone landlines and therefore our opinions are not recorded in the polls. As a result of the populist politics, our concerns are not being heard.
All politicians believe in something – it’s optimistic to think that this is why they began their careers in the first place. But it’s disappointing that popularity so easily trumps commitment to one’s beliefs. What is even worse than this hypocrisy is the fear that there is nothing there at all – that we are being led by someone with no core belief and the ability to make decisions on a whim. In his student politician days, Tony Abbott was true to his fundamental ideals, however frighteningly problematic they were. He has now donned a veil of populist policy in the lead up to the election in order to become the leader of Australia. However, after September 7th the real Abbott will show himself and it’s a bleak future ahead.