Win or lose, the government will want to reset the conversation very quickly after 14 October, as we pass the midpoint of this term of government. Should yes pass, it would be doing so with an unwritten understanding that government needs to return to “top five” voter issues very quickly – cost of living chief amongst them. Should the no vote pass, government will need to be very quickly resetting the agenda, so that Dutton can’t claim the loss as a decision on the government or the PM. So that begs the question, what is the “next” agenda, and how can you ensure you are part of it?
Before we dive into what the agenda may be, it is important to reflect on where we are in this political cycle. The Voice referendum marks about the halfway point in the current Federal Government term, this means that in December this year we have a mid-year economic and fiscal update (MYEFO), ahead of the budget which is being developed over the summer holidays, and will be announced in May. That budget will be the “election” budget – given we will go to the polls before another budget is presented. This is critical timing for all organisations to position, prepare and start their next round of election preparation – for bids, announcements, policies and similar. We have had the Labor National Conference, which sets the policy parameters, and the budget will set the fiscal parameters, which means all that is left is the political play.
There are also a few variables to consider: there will be some minor boundary changes resulting in seat changes in WA (who gain one), Victoria & NSW (who will each lose a seat) – already many think this change will impact some of the lower population “teal” seats, potentially opening options for the Liberal National Party to recover some seats, but also putting some more seats into “contest”. Likewise, inflation was headed in the right direction, until oil price rises and the devaluation of the Australian dollar resulted in an uptick in inflation again. Given elections are often fought around “the economy”, whether on cost of living or management, expect our Treasurer and Finance Minister to have a busy few months ahead.
At this point I pull out a magic ball and try to guess what may become topical post-October. At a macro political level, Labor knows it wins if elections are fought on topics like health and education, and the first 18 months of this government we haven’t heard as much as we would normally on these topics. If I was a betting man, I think health and education will come back to the centre – think announcements, funding, policies, pilots and similar – and potentially a close third will be housing, although we have had a flurry of announcement in this space, given the increased pressure facing government on housing at all levels, this may also be a topic. Finally, things like the infrastructure review will be completed, meaning a green light for announcements in various electorates leading up to the election.
So, knowing there will be a topic change post the referendum, it is important to get some prep work done now – prepare your two pagers on new ideas, or programs you want funded, ensure you map to party platforms, and continue to keep electorate data up to date.
A few critical reflections are needed at this point also. First, there used to be an adage that Australia always gives government at least two terms, and at least Federally we have seen that, however several States, who often set the trends first, have ejected first term governments. Second, the best time to get changes in policy from a political party is when they are in opposition NOT government, so if your issues are topical, you should be highly focused on opposition at this stage of the cycle to try and bring them forward on your issue of choice. Finally, all politics is local, and how you fit into that will make a big difference come election day, and this includes starting your election planning now.
Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy, and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research, and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. Neil is co-founder and director of Tanck, which focuses on better engagement with government, and regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems.