Leopard spots…and the political landscape

3 Mar 2013

Ray Gibson

The following comments are the personal views of the writer and do not necessarily represent ADSO policy

So now we have an election date… some 200+ days away…Oh joy!

A week is a long time in politics, so the old saying goes. That being the case, the coming months will resemble an eternity, not just for the politicians but for all of us who will be inundated with facile media coverage of the election campaign: countless media releases concocted by political spin doctors, lightweight radio and TV interviews, and staged photo opportunities of politicians feigning interest in things that matter to their constituents.

Indeed, the phoney circus was underway well before the election date was announced. No sooner had the New Year begun and there was our smiling PM regularly appearing on the nightly news, and MPs around the Country jostling for media attention to portray themselves as champions of the causes that matter to their electorates.

OK, so I have a jaundiced view of election campaigns, but Im not alone. Most of the people I talk to are equally sceptical and they refuse to be duped by the very predictable charade of pork-barrelling and other grandiose promises to enrich our lives in exchange for votes for one politician or another.

As you have probably gathered, its about now in the election countdown that I stop listening to all politicians.

Leopards dont change their spots, so another old saying goes. Rather than choosing who should govern our Nation based on a grab-bag of snake oil promises during an election campaign, a more reliable indicator of what we should expect from the next Government can be found in the track record of the Parties and their politicians over the life of the current Parliament.

Using that yardstick, and putting the spotlight on the Defence community, it is difficult to view the ruling political elite in a positive light. Regrettably, there have been too many examples of Government action and inaction over the past few years that have disadvantaged current and former members of the ADF and their families. These matters have been covered by the Fair Go campaign in the past and if you wish to refresh your memory, I invite you to explore the various pages of the The Adso website.

A more troubling sign is the reticence of Defence Portfolio Ministers to seriously engage with veterans organisations on such matters, and the all too common practice of using standard form letters, replete with inaccurate facts and tiresome spin in response to personal letters from veterans. It speaks volumes about the prevailing attitude within senior Government ranks towards those who have served their Nation in uniform.

The one exception of course is the political interest in military commemoration activities, but I suspect for many, this has more to do with the positive photo opportunities generated by such occasions than any genuine empathy for members of the military family.

So, if the current Government is returned for a further term, why on earth should we expect anything different in terms of policy approaches to veterans issues?

And what about the Coalition? Being in Opposition makes it more difficult to judge likely Coalition performance in the next term if it is to form Government.

It must be said that the Coalition record in veterans affairs when last in Government was less than inspiring. However, the Shadow Defence Portfolio Ministers in the current Parliament are a very different lot to their predecessors. They have raised and forcefully advocated many veterans matters in Parliament, and they have vigorously opposed Government measures that were considered detrimental to the Defence community. Dont take my word for it. Its all there in the Hansard Parliamentary Record for anyone who wishes to become more informed.

Importantly, Shadow Ministers have shown a keen willingness to genuinely engage with veterans groups and individuals to grasp the significance of the things that matter to veterans and others in the military community.

Future budget uncertainty and fiscal responsibility might initially limit the extent to which a Coalition Government would right the many wrongs inflicted on veterans by past Parliaments, but at least there is acknowledgement that genuine grievances exist. This is a refreshing first step, and a light-year ahead of where the current Government chooses to be.

For me, the choice on 14 September is a no-brainer.

Ray Gibson