In two years, 5 months, 3 weeks and 2 days Victorians will head to the polls and vote on which party will lead the state for the next four years. I think Australians often forget that, unlike the US, we don’t elect whoever’s leading the party at the time – that’s how the Federal Labor caucus were able to replace Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard, and it’s why it’s so important to look at the ideologies of the party one votes for, as well as the fine pre-election speeches made by the leader of that party.
One way to assess the map a party will likely follow is to look at campaign promises. The most idealistic position is that all politicians are honest, altruistic, and primarily or solely motivated by the best interests of the people they’re elected to represent and govern. They make promises based on what they truly believe they will be able to do while in office, but sometimes the unavoidable need to negotiate, compromise, meet other promises, or changing circumstances mean those promises can’t be met.
This is the starting point of Aaron Sorkin’s wonderful series The West Wing, where even the magnificant Josiah Bartlet has to bend when he’d rather stand tall.
That, of course, is the most optimistic outlook – a more realistic perspective is that would-be Prime Ministers and Premiers promise whatever sounds reasonably likely and vote-attractant. In 1996 Australians were told by then Prime Minister John Howard that there are real, or “core” promises, and “non-core” promises – only the former actually count, but as Urban Dictionary points out:

It is important not to define what promises are core and what are non-core before the election itself.

Or after, even.
Certainly I don’t believes that any party will actually carry out all the promises made pre-election, because however sincerely the politicians or party may have been when the pledged was made; the reality is that actually governing is harder than it looks, particularly if transitioning from opposition. Instead of being pledges, promises or pre-election commitments, perhaps we ought to think of these utterances as non-binding intentions – all things being equal, part A intends to promote environmental reform oven short-term economic bolstering, while party B is more committed to business interests and short-term GDP, while party C never really expects to get into power but has a significant though narrow issue to promote (hence parties predicated on important but not universal concepts like the rights and laws around non-custodial parents , attitudes and laws about sex and sexuality, or legalising marijuana). This last group may have policies that extend beyond their primary focus, and could potentially win a seat, but have no real likelihood of achieving anything like a majority.
Intentions are lovely, but they’re not reliable. I’m sure I’m not the only person who would have a very different life had I performed as intended – I’d have a very different June 6th 2012 for a start: today I intended to get up at 07:30, exercise for an hour, tidy up the kitchen, not stall once during my driving lesson, write posts for this and my other blogs before lunch, transcribe a research interview, make inroads into my certificate IV assignments, go for a walk in the afternoon, not snack mindlessly in front of evening television, and have an early night.
I woke up (post-alarm) with 18 minutes to get ready before my driving lesson, so no exercise. I also went to bed late, so I was tired to begin with, which undoubtedly contributed to the several stalls (though I managed to perform a single three-point turn without stalling for the first time), I’m hoping to post this before the ABC news (but that’s looking unlikely, so thank you, TiVo) and haven’t even been to the other blogs, and I hope to have a proper dinner, no snacking and an early night, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
I believe the best way to predict behaviour in the future is by looking to the past – think not about what politicians promise but what they and their party have done in the past. All politicians will break promises, but how did they act in toto? Did they behave consistent with the underlying ideology of their party? Were they honest, above-board, and act with integrity?
We have no shortage of information on which to act when it comes to deciding about the Liberal Party come September 2014 – while I have the most knowledge and passion about how this party interacted with nurses during the Australian Nursing Federation’s EBA campaign, it’s like a little time travel when I look at what’s happening with education as I type – unprecedented dismantling of TAFE funding, significant changes for secondary teachers (and not even a gesture toward the clearly non-core pre-election promise that Victoria’s teachers would be the best paid in the country), and a simultaneous increase in provision of care for four-year-old kinder to 15 hours/week.
Tomorrow I will be wearing red and supporting teachers as they march from HiSense Arena to Parliament House. I don’t have children but I have significant respect for and appreciation of the work of teachers at all levels. I have no doubt, based on our campaign, that what I see is but the tip of the deception iceberg, and every weasel word, evasion and failure to negotiate reinforces my position that this is not a government that is motivated by the best interests of its people or the state’s future.
Tick tock, Mr Baillieu – 906 days and counting…