The shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, made a comment that made me think. He said “The role of opposition is not to put forward alternate policy. The role of opposition is to review what the government puts forward and support or oppose it.” And I guess that is a lot of what is wrong with opposition politics today regardless if it is the Labor party or the Liberal party.
I can see why this view is held. The experience of John Hewson is a lesson for all politicians. If you put a detailed plan forward with too much time to review it, the other party will point out all the things that people may not like. They can ensure you never get into power. In fact it is getting to the ridiculous stage now where in the last election, the opposition Liberal party only put forward their costings a few days before the election.
A modern opposition does not act like an alternative government. They do not put forward alternatives other then saying the opposite to whatever the government of the day proposes. Ask yourself what Labor would do about asylum seekers? All we know is that they criticise aspects of the government’s policy. If, by some miracle, they were in power tomorrow, we have no idea what they would do.
Life is a moving feast. I can understand that an opposition today cannot talk about something detailed they may do in three years. The world may be in a different place in three years to where it is expected to be. Proposing a change to a certain tax by a certain amount in 3 years time is both reckless and naive. But surely they can put forward an alternative.
Would an opposition gain more respect if they were proactive rather than reactive? If they proposed alternatives to government legislation rather they just say no. If they publicly stated that a need actually existed for legislation, but there was a better way to address the need than that proposed by government.
An opposition is also in a position to raise the longer term questions. How do we fund a change in the mix of working/non working people? How do we address increasing medical costs? They could surely gain more credibility by starting a discussion on these topics rather than just saying no to current legislative issues. Perhaps they are scared that starting a strategic discussion will take the focus off short term skirmishes.
So maybe I am an idealist. To look for a government that will talk about where we are going over the next decades and the decisions we have to make. A party that would gain my respect by discussing our long term future and the options to meet those needs. About the balance we need to find between government support and government revenue. It is sad that neither major party can talk about anything beyond the current headline.