If there is one thing that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement of an election date on September 14 has done, it has highlighted the need for reform of our electoral process.We need longer terms – four or even five years between elections – and we need them to end on fixed dates rather than on a Prime Minister’s whim.
Whatever Gillard’s reasons – whether she really thought it would bring certainty for business and quell endless speculation about when the date would actually be, or whether it was a ploy to put the Opposition on the back foot and cement her position as leader – the reaction in the media has been almost unanimous and quite predictable.
“Australia’s longest-ever election campaign” was gleefully hailed by one outlet after another. As far as most political journalists are concerned we have entered election mode and that’s how they will covering politics from now on through to September.It suits them because with Australia’s ridiculously short three-year terms federally, there is precious little time for any introspective reporting on whether a particular policy or initiative is good for the country or not. The Government announces it, the Opposition attacks it, and so the ping-pong ball goes back and forth until the media tires of it, or the next item is produced for the treatment.
We spend more time on reporting on whether or not a particular MP misused his credit card years ago, or whether a spouse should or should not have undertaken a journey on government expense (and how this will affect the outcome of the next election) than we do on the actual art of governing. I am not saying the aforementioned incidents are unimportant or should not be exposed, just that we spend far more time on them at the expense of other worthy political issues.Short terms have been exacerbated by the 24-hour news cycle to the point that many journalists see political reporting as only a contest between Government and Opposition, with the next opinion poll as the all-important measure of who is on the front foot and who is on the ropes. More importantly, this is also beginning to affect politicians who are becoming more interested in backroom machinations and the quick fix than visions of where a well-governed country should be headed.
Longer, fixed terms are not the silver bullet, but over time they will at least provide the framework for a saner, more rational style of governing, rather than the three-ring circus into which we are currently descending.