Many underwhelmed by election campaign

3:26 pm on 20 August 2010

The election campaign in Australia has only a few more hours to run before voters go to the polls. But as Radio New Zealand's political editor Brent Edwards reports, many have been left underwhelmed.

Despite the closeness of the contest, many voters believe the campaign has been too presidential - with an emphasis on style, not substance.

Neither major party leader has been visionary, instead focusing mainly on making a series of spending promises in those marginal seats which will eventually decide the election outcome.

Many voters in either safe Labor or Liberal seats have never seen the political leaders and certainly their communities have not been recipients of the sort of promised spending enjoyed by marginal electorates in Queensland and in Western Sydney.

Australians are disillusioned with the political process and cynical about just what promises the parties will deliver on. But that cynicism is more a threat to Labor - the incumbent Government - than it is to the Coalition.

A promise, for instance, by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to spend $A2.6 billion on a new rail link from Epping to Parramatta in Sydney's western suburbs has done nothing to arrest the decline in Labor's support in those seats.

People in Sydney have been promised that new railway line by successive state Labor governments since 1998 and nothing has happened.

Ms Gillard's prospects have been hurt by the deep unpopularity of Labour governments in New South Wales and Queensland.

She has appealed to voters to look beyond their state governments but, ultimately, it appears to be undermining Labor's support in those seats in the federal election.

Labor's election to lose

This was always an election for Labor to lose and it is going perilously close to doing that, despite Australia being the only developed country to get through the global financial crisis without going into recession.

But the national affairs editor of Queensland's Courier Mail, Dennis Atkins, says Labor has not got any political kudos from its handling of the crisis. Many people wonder what the fuss was about, because they did not lose their jobs.

The Coalition has then been able to exploit that perception by arguing that Labor has wasted billions of dollars on its home insulation and school building programmes.

Not even an open letter from 50 economists praising Labor's stimulus package appears to have helped.

Ms Gillard has continued to argue, however, that Labor's choice was to save jobs, and says the Coalition would have let unemployment rise and has no economic plan for the future.

Meanwhile, her ousting of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd two months ago has overshadowed the campaign. She has been dogged by questions about Mr Rudd's dumping and it has fed a public cynicism about the current state of Australian politics.

Coalition fiscal policy criticised

On the other side of politics, the Coalition has run into trouble after refusing to allow its policies to be costed by the Treasury - an election process it put in place while in government.

Instead, it has released a set of figures which says it will produce a budget surplus in 2012-13, double the size of that proposed by Labor. As well, it argues it will reduce public debt from $A90 to $A60 billion within four years.

But it refused to release the assumptions behind its forecasts, leaving it open to plenty of criticism about the validity of its fiscal policy.

And as with Labor, the Coalition has been making plenty of spending promises throughout the campaign.

Greens could hold balance of power

But whatever happens on Saturday, whichever party is in government, Australian politics seems likely to change.

If the polls are right, not only will it be a cliff-hanger election - but the Greens could hold the balance of power in the Senate.

That would give the Green Party more leverage than it has ever had. It could also make history by having its first MP elected to the Parliament itself.

Its candidate in the seat of Melbourne, Adam Bandt, has a strong chance of winning and he says that would give the Greens the opportunity to start pushing some of its policies more strongly in the lower house.

All party leaders have a lot riding on the result - but none more so than Julia Gillard. If Labor loses, she will take the blame. Her ousting of Kevin Rudd would then become one of politics' great botch-ups.