Tomorrow is election day.
I know, you already knew that.
You know how I know you know?
Because, like me, you’ve realised that that bloody ad – you know the one, and you can’t make me sing it – has stopped playing, meaning we’re in the ad blackout period that comes a couple of days before the polls open.
And you can relax – I’m not going to take a view, or tell you who to vote for.
That decision is up to you.
I’m not even going to do a sneaky ‘… but here are the policies you should care about, and here’s who is behind each one’ that some editorialists like to engage in.
I am going to share some election thoughts, though.
In part, it’s a plea for better politicians and better policy.
In part, it’s a window into how I think about elections.
And, in part, it’s a lament for the election campaign that we might have had.
See, I miss the days of “conviction politicians”. Of people like Hawke, Howard, Keating and Hewson.
I miss the days of ‘Bomber’ Beazley, Barry Jones, Tim Fischer and ‘Jumping’ John Fahey.
They weren’t perfect. I didn’t always agree with them (which is easy, because they didn’t always agree with each other!).
But you didn’t question their conviction or commitment.
We have too many pollies who stand for nothing. And others who stand for something… but only after the focus groups tell them it’s a good idea.
And if they have a vision for the Australia they want us to become in 10 or 20 years’ time, they’ve kept it carefully hidden, or expressed it in such vanilla, non-threatening terms, it’s all-but useless.
But, for better or worse, there’s a decision to make tomorrow.
Frankly, it might be a good election to lose. Australia’s economy is sailing into some headwinds and choppy waters, and the next parliament will be (unfairly) tarred with responsibility for same.
And for the winners?
I hope, desperately, that they grasp the nettle.
There are some serious challenges in front of us, which will require intellect, skill, and careful consideration of departmental advice. They will require courage and communication.
And – I hope they’re sitting down for this bit – some hard decisions.
The circumstances won’t afford them the opportunity to stand for nothing. Or, if they do, we’ll wear the consequences.
So, I wish whoever wins the best of luck and I hope they have the fortitude to do what’s going to be required.
They will need to actually tackle housing affordability, despite both parties’ Mickey Mouse ‘policies’ on it.
They will need to reckon with a mounting government debt and a structural budget deficit, so we have the ammo to tackle the next crisis.
They will need to address the cost of living pressures that are taking large chunks out of the spending power of all of us, but especially those on fixed incomes like welfare recipients, pensioners and self-funded retirees.
They will need to reckon with a more serious response to climate change, including support for those put out of jobs as our energy mix changes.
They will need to address productivity and industry policy, winding back excessive support in some areas and redeploying it in places that need help to gear up for the world we’re heading into.
If those things were – seriously – mentioned (with an actual plan for meaningful impact on real outcomes!) during the campaign, I might have missed them.
And there are plenty of other issues, too, that barely rated a mention. Hopefully, in government, the attention – and ambition – of the winning party widens and grows.
I should add, though, my absolute pride in, and admiration for, our political system. Years ago, I worked for the Australian Electoral Commission on polling day. It was one of the better days of my life – I got to be part of our wonderful democracy.
I checked voters off the electoral roll. I initialled their ballot papers and directed them to polling booths. I counted the votes, observed by volunteers, and gave them to the returning officer of our polling station.
None of that is remarkable… because we’re Australians. But democracy is an enormous privilege, and we should never, ever take it for granted.
Churchill was right that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
We should cherish it, and fight for it, and guard it zealously. We should resist, with all our might, those people and forces who would seek to diminish it.
I don’t always love our candidates or elected representatives, but I love the system that gives us the choice, and the independent Australian Electoral Commission; a national treasure that saves us from some of the more egregious hijacking of democracy that we see elsewhere.
Now, I promised you I wouldn’t try to tell you how I think you should vote. Or to sneak in a recommendation in sheep’s clothing.
And I won’t.
But I will tell you how – not for whom – I’m planning to vote.
I want a government, and a parliament, that cares about the long term future of Australia. Not the next week, the next opinion poll or the next election.
I want a government that says, like John Howard’s remarkable success with gun laws, ‘this is right, and we will do it’.
And pollies like Rob Borbidge, the then Queensland premier, who lost the next election, in no small part due to his support of those laws.
How many of our pollies are prepared to lose their seats in service of the greater good?
Now, to preserve political impartiality one day out from the election, let me also invoke Paul Keating, who told Kerry O’Brien that – to paraphrase – you build up political capital to spend on things that are important. Political capital, for its own sake, is vanity and does the country a disservice.
My vote, like, I suspect many others, will come down to the few differences between the parties on second-order issues, given first-order issues are either completely unaddressed or are all ‘I’m with him’ policies.
Neither major party is likely to earn my first preference, and my two-party preference will go to the least worst option.
I’ll vote for the candidate/party I think has the best long-term vision for our nation, and policies to address our challenges.
And I’ll cherish the democracy sausage tomorrow and everything that goes with it.
I’ll take my 9 year old with me. He’ll be bored, and wonder what it’s all about, but I’ll tell him that we’re lucky to be Australians and to have the opportunity to vote, free of threats or coercion.
I’ll tell him that despite our challenges, we have a bright future ahead of us. And I’ll tell him that, individually and together, we can make a difference.
P.S.: What does this have to do with investing? Everything and nothing.
It invokes the same long-term thinking, the same optimism and the same opportunities that come when we’re all at our best.
And it recognises that, in my view, our investments have the best chance to flourish in a country in which democracy reigns and our elected officials keep their focus – like ours, as investors – on the horizon.
Plus, we’re citizens first, and investors second. Some things are bigger than investing, and sometimes those things are worth writing about. I hope you agree.