Hewson's view: The campaign is not resonating

If you were a seven-year-old, in Year 2, and the cool kid who has never had anything to do with you all of a sudden came up to you and offered you half his devon sandwich, you'd be suspicious wouldn't you? In fact, you might even wonder what was really in it!

You'd also probably want to know what motivated his change of heart. Also, what did he really want from you? And how long would this new friendship last?

If a seven-year-old gets it, how is it that our political leaders don't? Do they really believe that voters won't be cynical about their promises and spending commitments, day in day out, as they move around key marginal seats through the election campaign?

If these commitments are worth making, it begs the question why they weren't done earlier in the life of a parliament.

Moreover, when the standing of our politicians and our major parties is lower than it has ever been, and there has been a significant loss of trust and belief in them and in our political system, how can they believe that these 11th hour promises and spends will change votes? Why shouldn't voters doubt their sincerity, and be offended at being taken for granted yet again?

When an increasing majority of voters are struggling to meet the mounting costs of living, with their wages flat lining, their savings being exhausted, with record debts, and their house prices now falling seriously, why shouldn't they be offended that so much money is being committed, mostly to win or retain marginal seats, rather than to assist them?

Indeed, all our politicians are offering to the average family is some token tax relief that, sure, they'll take, if and when it comes. But neither side is actually addressing the causes of the increases in the costs of living - they offer no "solutions" re housing affordability, electricity, gas and petrol prices, childcare and aged care costs, the cost and coverage of medical insurances, and much more.

Many voters simply don't believe lower tax commitments, especially those running out over several years, and particularly given the very large, unfunded, spending commitments running through the 2020s in areas such as the NDIS, defence and infrastructure.

A turn-off: Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Oppostion Leader Bill Shorten have spent most of the time so far taking shots at each other about costings and impacts of their policies.

A turn-off: Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Oppostion Leader Bill Shorten have spent most of the time so far taking shots at each other about costings and impacts of their policies.

Many voters simply don't believe lower tax commitments.

In these terms, the boast of our politicians that they have returned the budget to surplus may not resonate as they expect as many voters would feel that that surplus could have been better spent on key government services.

The government's focus on "how well we are doing economically" will also not resonate with households and small businesses struggling with the costs of living.

There is also mounting survey evidence that there has been an important shift in voter attitudes, expressing some willingness to accept higher taxes, if it can be demonstrated that the money is being effectively spent on services. Indeed, many are now also questioning the wisdom of the past privatisations of essential services, where costs have run out of control.

Most voters are tuning out of the campaign, as our politicians have spent most of the time so far taking shots at each other about costings and impacts of their policies. This is all pretty much dull and indecipherable "background noise" as voters struggle day to day to make ends meet.

Voters are also concerned by the lack of longer-term strategic thinking, as our politicians seem obsessed by short-term point scoring, and focus on delivering populist slogans/sound bites/stunts, rather than providing any sense of what they would like our society to look like in say 20-30 years.

So issues such as climate policy are emerging as defining issues in many key seats in this campaign, after the cost of living.

Although Labor is offering somewhat more, while Morrison attempts to straddle both coal and renewables, and poke fun at electric vehicles, neither has really detailed an effective transition strategy to a low carbon Australia over the next several decades.

Climate is an issue that resonates with both the young and old, both aware of the inter-generational consequences of not responding decisively and with urgency.

Is it any wonder that voters are extremely cautious and cynical about the "sandwiches" being offered all of a sudden?

I suspect, barring a major stuff-up by either side, the campaign won't make much difference to the election outcome, as many seem to have all ready made up their minds.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.