26/08/2010 - 00:00

Message tailored for a small target market

26/08/2010 - 00:00


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Don’t try and hide if you’re among the undecided 10 per cent come election time; they will find you.

CAN we blame science for what has become of our elections?

Whatever your views on the results of the weekend’s election, I have to say that the campaign was horrible to witness – like a throwback to decades past as politicians tried to buy votes without any coherent policy strategy.

The difference, of course, was that this vote auction was only held in a handful of marginal seats, the places where about 10 per cent of the voting public really choose the government.

In the past, politicians had to buy-off huge parts of the electorate to be sure that they’d hit this sweet spot. It was risky politics and an expensive business because it often meant paying for votes you already had in the bag.

These days, pollsters and marketing experts know much more about the electorate than political parties could have ever dreamed of a few decades ago.

Computer-driven data mining, more accurate survey techniques and precise communication methods have made sure that the electorate can be sliced and diced to wafer-thin degrees.

This election my household, sitting in a safe seat for one party, has not received one piece of targeted political messaging. No leaflet, no doorknocker’s calling card, not even a pre-recorded telephone message from a party leader.

Progress in marketing, which is at the heart of political campaigns, has gone from being an art to a science.

Politicians no longer need gut feel or to be physically in tune with the electorate. Instead, they rely on boffins with charts, media monitoring summaries and bullet-pointed messages to establish what they need to say or do at a particular moment and, importantly any particular place.

No wonder they seem plastic and contrived. The messages are not aimed at anyone, like me, who has made up their mind well before the election. They are for the undecided, the people who can’t make up their minds until their vote is bought by the highest bidder, or diverted by some trite mistake.

Science is also dragging the main parties closer to each other.

If 10 per cent of people make all the difference, why bother with the rest? But targeting policies to these people means that both major parties are tugging for the same heartstrings.

I guess we have to live with this but it does make me worry about where democracy is headed if power can be fought in a similar fashion as we increasingly see modern day warfare – remote-operated and clinical.

Next time you see a scientist, blame them for what has happened.

Back to business

WITH the election out of the way, let’s hope that we can now have some certainty that will get business moving again.

The past year (or two, in fact) has been dismal in that respect. After the battering from the GFC we could all have expected that we’d be allowed to rebuild and consolidate as Australia rebounded from the worst of the crisis.

Instead, though, we’ve been put though the ringer of policy shocks. That started with the calamity of the emissions trading scheme as Kevin Rudd tried to bully us towards his self-imposed deadline designed to give him a triumph at Copenhagen.

Then there was the mining tax debacle, which stopped investment and led to Mr Rudd’s axing. Nothing stops business like a coup.

After that we have had an election campaign. At least that was short.

This uncertainty has caused much consternation and I suspect it will linger as we discover how the new structure of the federal parliament plays out in so many important factors.

Nevertheless, knowing the colour of the party in charge will give a degree of certainty for the next three years. Tony Abbott may have been trying to escape the WorkChoices bogey by saying he wouldn’t change anything but there’s no doubt there was more than a grain of truth in his excuse.

Business is tired of IR changes. I even know IR consultants who have had enough of it. It is like red tape and taxes for small business, often the hardest thing is changing behaviour and grasping the new way of doing things. That is where reform has a cost.

Let’s hope that, after such a tumultuous two years that the new government understands that we all need time to regroup before dealing with anything shiny and new again.

GESB roll-call

LAST week, I was afforded a luxury denied to all but a privileged few Western Australians.

I was able to read of a copy of a review into the mutualisation of government superannuation fund GESB by Rod Whithear – a document that remains confidential.

Perhaps there are very few people who would want to read this document but there is no doubt there are many lessons for government in it. Mr Whithear reveals a process, which, on the evidence he presents, would have cost the state dearly.

I had some insight into what Mr Whithear would find because I followed the GESB story for more than two years and had a reasonable understanding of the arguments taking place, often in secret, about its future.

Nevertheless, I have found the report illuminating.

The obstacles that ultimately caused the mutualisation to be stalled and then abandoned did not emerge at the last minute. There involved a huge cost and risk to the state and there was no clear benefit to the members.

There seems to have been a concerted effort to make the privatisation happen despite this.

I credit Eric Ripper, then Labor treasurer, for stopping this exercise when doubts emerged, even though it was his baby and he risked egg on his face. Perhaps, as an experienced politician, he saw the even bigger downside of going ahead. To be fair, Treasury ought to get the same credit, even though the mutualisation almost occurred under its watch. Troy Buswell, the Liberal who took over from Mr Ripper, should also be credited for abandoning this process.

While there is no doubt that all of these people should have been more vigilant prior to June 30 2008 when the privatisation was halted, at least they took the hard decisions from that point on.

But where there is credit apportioned should there not also be some blame? No heads have rolled for this debacle, which has cost millions, could have cost hundreds of millions and has left almost 300,000 people with their superannuation locked away for years longer than needs be.

• mark.pownall@wabn.com.au



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