Sunday, March 13, 2011

Courting Public Opinion

Labor have been bandying about a line recently that the Coalition will close the local courts that serve our community.  Given I have a lot to do with the local court in my day job this has obviously attracted my attention, and is a perfect example of the vacuous campaigning that we, as voters, let parties get away with every election.

This is how Labor justify the line.  The Coalition have a policy headed "Complete audit of the NSW Government's Financial Position" (available here:  In short, what the policy explains is that "over the last 10 years expenses have grown by 6.6%" so the Coalition government will "conduct a complete audit of the NSW government's financial position".

Now, for what it's worth, that policy sounds more like the Coalition getting ready to start giving reasons why promises can't be afforded when the ghastly true state of the budget is revealed, but we'll leave that aside for the moment.

What Labor have done with this policy is to construe it as a willingness to cut the number of local courts in NSW.  Nowhere in the Coalition policy are the courts mentioned, and there is absolutely no suggestion from anyone that the local courts are in need of a trim.

Nevertheless, on Friday Attorney General John Hatzistergos was at Windsor Local Court demanding that O'Farrell quarantine community-based local courts (whatever that means) from the audit. The news of the speech was breathlessly reported on the Labor website:

It seems likely that there are two reasons that the local court system was chosen to be the alleged target.  First of all, it allows Labor to trot out the line that the last Coalition government "closed 73 local courts, including 39 in just one day."

Further, no doubt some focus group or phone poll taken in Western Sydney suggested that this would be a good idea.

It is, between you and me, politics at it's absolute worst. Take a perfectly sensible and reasonable policy from the other side, misrepresent the policy to a point where it is wholly unrecognisable, and then desperately fling it at voters to try and get them scared about the other side.

The worst thing is that the Coalition can't engage on the issue because if they do, not only will it inflame the issue and make the accusation seem credible, but further any promise to actually quarantine the courts from the audit would result in "Humiliating Backdown from O'Farrell on Planned Court Closures" or something equally specious.

The Coalition hasn't it seemed, done much of this kind of campaigning this election.  That's not to suggest that they have a higher moral standing - the Federal Coalition's relentless campaign against the carbon tax is a case in point.  It's just that, in my opinion, the Coalition is not going to win any more voters off Labor - their job between now and next saturday is simply to make sure that the inevitable drift back to Labor over the course of the campaign is kept to an absolute minimum.

They can do so by being calm, sensible, and reasonable - a task they are accomplishing quite well in the face of the rising hysteria from Labor, best optimised in the disgraceful speech Keneally gave on Friday.  The text doesn't need any commentary, so I'm going to copy and paste it in below:

''Take care of your neighbours because there will be fewer police to do that for you,''
''Take care of the old, the sick and the vulnerable because when the health budget gets cut, there will be fewer nurses and there will be fewer community care workers.
''And, as grim as it is to say this: be sure to follow up on the child who has gone quiet, who is out of character, who is withdrawn, because you can no longer assume that that child is protected. Please help any family with a disability, because what is now, today, a public priority will once again become a private problem.
''And be sure to read to your children as a good public education becomes a memory as our teachers join nurses on the unemployment queue.''

A despicable low in O'Farrell's words.  I'd say he's right.

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