Make a Damn Case

What any reforming government needs is an electorate that has been shaped to be more likely to accept reform. Maybe not for any specific change; sometimes you just have to spring-it-on-them.

No, what is needed are voters with a feeling for the broad issue, and that some action is warranted, even if they aren’t sure what.

That requires a proactive effort to communicate to people outside the political class  the issues, the idea framework, the lessons learned from overseas. To reach someone other than the occasional reader of opinion pages or tabloid headlines.

In turn that needs strategic communication that addresses reforms that may be enacted in two or three years’ time.

The dominance of the baby-faced adviser is a real issue here. It invites the short-termism, smart-arsery and failure to make a case we see in the Baillieu, O’Farrell and Newman governments, and that has dominated the Rudd-Gillard government.

Making a case requires media advisers to do something other that issue a media release and hope that a quote or two will be picked up in the following 12 hours. Who do something other than respond to crises that emerge precisely because they haven’t taken the strategic view they should have.

It requires media advisers who can take complex information – wage trends, ratios of administration to delivery, rates of debt accumulation, workforce participation and so on – and build the graphics, videos, cartoons, billboards, iPhone Apps, guerrilla stunts and websites that create community awareness of the policy problem.

The announcement over the weekend of the NSW education spending cuts is a classic example of this. By all means ‘spring’ the announcement to minimise preemptive opposition.

But for God’s sake, build a case for change in a way that engages tabloid-readers and the politically disengaged. And I don’t mean Textor-driven three word slogans, I mean creative communications through multiple channels.

Fiscal and bureaucratic failure is a threat to all our standards of living, the disadvantaged more than others. The EU and US show us that. Public sector reform and reshaping people’s expectations of government are  the challenges of our generation.

Have we heard that from anyone other than the odd opinionista and blogger? Have we heard the facts on the waste that is increased education spending from anyone other than Christopher Pyne, who backed off big time?

Make a damn argument. Do something other than issue media releases. And do it for years.


Stephen Matchett beat me by a few days.

The only way to change the country is to explain a case and keep on explaining it – as Paul Keating did for a decade on the need for microeconomic reform and John Howard did over expanding the tax base. And the only way to win elections is to keep advancing ideas – both men lost office when they had nothing to offer than the status quo.

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