I am encouraged to read my Senate colleague David Leyonhjelm’s Campaign Notes describing his party’s growing support. My experience has been similar with donations now also well into six figures. It appears the Liberals/Greens/Nick Xenophon changes to senate voting laws in an attempt to get rid of minor parties and independents hasn’t worked. Latest polling shows support for ‘Others’ is at record levels. David Leyonhjelm and I sit together in the senate chamber. We’ve been described as the ‘odd couple’ of the senate (not sure who is Oscar and who is Felix) and have developed somewhat of a yin/yang, libertarian/conservative presence. Being the conservative, I tell David Oscar Wilde’s joke that, ‘Only progressives become old fashioned, conservatives are always in fashion.’ Jokes aside, like my libertarian colleagues, conservatives acknowledge the achievements of previous generations. They are realists. They see what works and what doesn’t. And what works are free markets, property rights, the law of contract, personal freedoms and sound economics. The facts are on our side.
What libertarians like David, and conservatives like me, have in common is our message that governments are not all they’re cracked up to be. Governments are not benign; they’re control freaks. Worse still, they make us pay for the privilege of running our lives – how to speak, how to think, how to educate our children, how to work, how to live and what to eat; taxing us at every turn with income tax, payroll tax, company tax, property tax, goods and services tax, the Medicare levy, the deficit reduction levy, power and water prices, stamp duty, emergency services levies, tobacco tax, superannuation tax… As Kerry Packer famously observed: ‘They’re not spending it that well that we should be paying extra.’ At the moment, the Coalition has promised to spend a further $5bn and Labor $15bn when there’s already a $40bn shortfall in this year’s budget. To quote Kevin Rudd, ‘This reckless spending must stop!’
There’s an old saying, ‘Anything not based on economic reality is doomed to failure’. For the past nine years – since Treasurer Peter Costello and Finance Minister Nick Minchin were in charge of the nation’s finances, both major parties have been pursuing policies not based on economic reality – and the reality is people buy and sell things for their reasons, not yours. That is especially true when it comes to employment. Take penalty rates: the ‘penalty rate’ for working on a Sunday is $40 an hour, yet if an unemployed person is sitting at home getting $6 an hour on the dole, why should it be against the law for that person to work for $20 an hour if that is what they want to do? What right does anyone have to deny an unemployed (or underemployed) person the opportunity to work at rates which suit them? Not only is this economically foolish (costing the taxpayer and the economy a fortune), it is also morally wrong.
Back on the campaign trail, preference negotiations are an essential but time-consuming part of the job. Changes to senate voting laws (the abolition of group voting tickets) has changed the dynamic considerably, with boots-on-the-ground resources (ie the ability to hand out how-to-vote cards) now the major consideration. Parties like Family First which run both House of Reps and Senate candidates, and have a large, committed membership base, have an advantage over low membership senate-only parties as they can trade preferences in one house for preferences in the other. Contrary to what people think, preference deals are done not on the basis of a ‘descending order of like-mindedness’ but on what gives a party its best chances of being elected. The Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young doing preference deals with then coal mining mogul Clive Palmer at the last election is a case in point. Then there’s Nick Xenophon. The Liberals are in a panic over Xenophon as he threatens to take both lower and upper house seats from them. As I write, former PM John Howard is in town trying to hold back the NXT tide.
From candidate forum to forum, radio interview to interview, community group meeting to meeting – Liberal, Labor, Greens, NXT and Family First. Occasionally one of them doesn’t show up and the hosts turn that into the main story. I go on ABC radio and criticise government spending. I’m asked what I would do. I say I would abolish two commonwealth government departments – the department of education and the department of health. The presenter moves onto another subject.
I’m getting some traction drawing attention to the job-destroying effect of wind farms in South Australia which is also driving the cost of living through the roof. I was Deputy Chair of the Senate Inquiry which identified wind turbines as the primary cause. Worse still, the Inquiry exposed the potential harm of living near wind turbines, forcing the government to conduct further research and appoint a special commissioner to review wind turbine related complaints. Add South Australia’s ridiculously high water prices and it’s not surprising the State is losing its competitiveness. I take a break from my own campaign in support of those protesting against the devious use of speed cameras as revenue raisers. I get a few smiles and beeps from passing motorists. South Australia still allows corflute posters of candidates’ smiling faces to adorn every light and power pole in the state. I nearly get run over putting one up in a dangerous but great location.
Being seen by 10,000 cars a day is worth risking your life for. Well up to a point, Lord Copper. Getting the government off your back and out of your pocket is hard work.