19 April 2015
The last Federal election was notable as one in which a wealthy business figure bought parliamentary power. Although not the main story of the election, it was far from insignificant. What drew more attention was the election as Prime Minister of a man whom most Aussies disliked, some more vocally than others, all because his rival was part of a long-running leadership squabble that turned people off everywhere.
Elections in which voters can’t abide either government leaders or their opponents aren’t unheard of as such. In those circumstances, voters invariably look elsewhere. And sometimes minor players get elected, occasionally with the balance of power in parliaments and virtually the final say on whether or not government legislation is passed.
Over time, various minor political players have ended up with power over parliamentary chambers and the passage of legislation. The Democrats enjoyed such power for many years. Of late the Greens have enjoyed such power. Both federally and at state level, various minor players have enjoyed this kind of power at one time or another.
But has anyone ever known of advertisements, either on television or radio, going to air for these minor players at election time? Until 2013, I’d never seen or heard such ads, so I suspect that they’ve never been made, although I stand to be corrected on this.
What made the 2013 Federal election so different was the airing of ads for a minor player on the political scene. Normally at election time we regularly see and hear ads for the major political parties, namely Labor and the Coalition parties. But in 2013, voters saw and heard lots of ads for a political party set up by Clive Palmer, a billionaire who made his wealth in the mining industry. Given his immense wealth, he ended up highlighting what’s long been a costly election hurdle for minor political players.
Palmer’s ability to spend a fortune to get his political party much airtime, especially during television news bulletins, when people were most likely to be watching television, was arguably an advantage unprecedented for minor players. Getting a television ad to air must cost a fortune, especially during the most watched periods of the day, even if the ad itself costs little to make. I lost count of the number of times that I saw Palmer talking, straight to a camera, in television ads during news bulletins. Palmer just said a variety of simple sentences, strung together by blurring images, to make voters think that he could do a better job of running the country than either Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott. I’d never before seen so many ads for a minor party, though there weren’t more of those than there were for the major parties.
Voters were definitely disillusioned with Rudd and Abbott. Rudd was popularly elected as Prime Minister in 2007, and he remained popular for years, but after a few months of sliding popularity, Rudd was rolled in a surprise coup in 2010, with Julia Gillard becoming Prime Minister. Because the coup was such a shock and never really explained, voters hated it, and they revolted to the point of almost tipping Gillard out of office at an election soon after – disliking Abbott probably stopped voters from throwing Gillard out. Brooding over the coup, Rudd sniped away and undermined Gillard’s leadership, though Gillard herself didn’t do a good job of winning voters over to her, and Rudd ultimately won a leadership challenge to return as Prime Minister. Having almost beaten Gillard in 2010, and embittered at only just failing, Abbott went on to behave with relentless opportunism and negativity. Abbott had long peeved voters with his combative style as a minister in the Howard Government, but after he’d become Opposition Leader, the Rudd-Gillard saga made people look at Abbott more often.
In the meantime, Palmer became disillusioned with governmental processes and saw fit to start his own political party. Using his wealth and capitalising on voters’ disillusionment, he won a large chunk of the vote across the country – enough to win three Senate seats among what became a crossbench of eighteen Senators. Several other minor players also won seats.
Since then, two of Palmer’s Senators have left his party for various reasons. Time will tell whether they end up as credible politicians. But they wouldn’t have entered Parliament without support provided by Palmer. Some irony would probably exist in the notion, which may or may not come to pass, of two respected political careers having begun because of a man whose wealth highlighted a costly election hurdle that minor political players invariably face.