Engaging with the media to reach a wider audience for the ideas and debates generated by our work is one important part of the work of The Brisbane Institute.

All media releases sent to media outlets are simultaneously published here, along with articles or news items published or broadcast about the Institute.  Media professionals seeking further information should contact Karyn Brinkley at The Brisbane Institute at karyn@www.brisinst.org.au

17 March 2012

The Courier Mail, Insight, p.47

Voters can’t make good decisions in policy vacuum

Last October, knowing a state election was imminent and taking at face value the claims of both candidates for Premier that they wanted to focus on policies, not personalities, The Brisbane Institute invited the ALP and LNP to take part in a series of public debates in key policy areas.

We received no response.

We received no response to any of the requests we issued over the following months. Changing tactics three weeks ago, we appealed to specific representatives with specific dates, times and venues. Only Vicky Darling, Member for Sandgate and Minister for Environment, would commit to debate the issues in what must, with health, education and transport, be one of the most important policy areas for Queensland in the next three years.

We had the venues booked, expert panelists on hand, hundreds of citizens eager to hear what the candidates seeking their votes were proposing for our collective future. All that was missing was the candidates, debating their policies.

Policy matters. Democracy – that ancient Greek notion of citizens playing a role in determining public policy – matters.

How can citizens responsibly play their role in a policy vacuum?

There’s no doubt some voters have had some opportunities to hear from Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman. Personally, I wanted an opportunity to hear what’s proposed in key policy areas by the people who’ve been nominated by their parties to speak on those issues, before I vote. It’s not enough for me to be told, as I was earlier this week, that if I don’t like what they do, I can vote them out next time.

I can understand the LNP candidates not wanting to debate policies. Common albeit cynical wisdom suggests all they have to do between now and next Saturday is keep their heads down and their mouths shut and wait for “their turn”.  But for me, as a voter committed to making an informed and conscientious choice, it’s not enough to hear I should vote LNP because the other lot have been in there long enough. I want to know what the LNP intends to do, and how they’re going to pay for it.

I can understand the ALP candidates – the honourable Ms Darling aside – not wanting to debate policies, too. They’ve been in power and made mistakes, and we voters are an unforgiving lot. George Negus said it best this week at a Brisbane lunch: we elect people just like ourselves and expect them to turn into overnight experts on everything. But I want to hear what the ALP have learned that makes them worth considering. I want to know what they intend to do differently.

If we are to ditch the cult of the personality in our politics we need two things: we need more than two opposing personalities (and I challenge you to name all eight of the respective spokespeople in this election for health, education, transport and environment), and we need a willingness amongst those spokespeople to actually speak about the policy areas they ostensibly represent. Otherwise we don’t have an election of the people by the people. We have a tedious game of last-one-standing when the mud supply’s exhausted.

Unwilling to engage in rich policy discussions with your constituents?  A plague on both your houses.

Karyn Brinkley is Chief Executive Officer of The Brisbane Institute.