OPINION: We can’t stand the truth, so leaders avoid it at all costs

Tony Abbott. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Tony Abbott. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

VOTERS continue to fall for snake-oil salesmen and spruikers.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott preferred the flattery of shameless commercial radio hucksters.

Men at some time are masters of their fates.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

Substitute the gender-neutral “Australians” for “men”, and “political leaders” for “stars”.

The metre of Shakespeare’s blank verse would be wrecked, but the lines would accurately describe our political quandary.

Abbott told us before the election he could return the budget to surplus without raising taxes, cutting spending on health and education or reducing pensions. He could do it by cutting waste.

It was self-evident nonsense.

He avoided interviewers who would challenge him to square the circle and, not surprisingly, copped the soft-soap flattery of shameless commercial radio hucksters.

His solution was painless, simply a change of government.

There is nothing wrong with Australia that a mere change of government would not fix.

And a majority believed him.

Bill Shorten now tells us Abbott’s broken promises are a betrayal of our egalitarian ethos.

Well, so they are.

But he offers no hint of how to fix the gap between revenue and spending. No acknowledgement, even, there’s a gap to fix.

Shorten has learnt what Abbott learnt as John Hewson’s press secretary, when he watched Paul Keating demolish Fightback, and his boss lose the “unlosable” 1993 election.

It’s simple: the electorate will punish the tellers of hard truths, and reward the snake-oil salesmen, the good-news spruikers.

Talkback radio post-budget tells the story.

Media monitoring company iSentia said most who discussed a new election last Friday said they would vote for Clive Palmer if a new election was held.

That’s the Clive Palmer who told us a year ago we needed “good programs like the NDIS”, but without raising taxes.

The Palmer who told us that in government he would magically find $80 billion for health and hospitals and $20 billion for schools.

The one who, in election mode, said a 15 per cent income tax cut would generate more revenue in GST than it cost in cut tax.

Today Palmer tells us there is no debt crisis, “just more bulls--t”.

Before the election, I wrote about the people who determine elections – disengaged voters who, in democracies where participation is voluntary, probably would not bother to vote at all.

As far back as the 1980s, Melbourne University’s Sally Young pointed out Labor numbers men were describing these citizens as “ignorant and indifferent”, voting on instinct for, ill-informed and generally selfish reasons”.

That, of course, was a quote from an internal party report.

You won’t hear the political elite uttering such elitist sentiments.

They talk instead about the good sense of the people, how they can spot a fake a mile away.

Apparently, many of us can’t, or won’t — not if the fake is telling us what we want to hear, assures us we don’t need to work at global warming or that debts can be wiped by cutting waste, and deficits wished away by cutting taxes.

The polls say, we have decided the budget was unfair.

They are right about that.

They’re right, too, to complain about Abbott’s broken promises.

But surely it would have paid Shorten to admit the government was right that revenue was not matching spending — that taxes needed to be lifted or expenditure cut, or both.

If the poor, the sick, unemployed and disadvantaged are not going to bear the brunt of budget repair, who is?

Wouldn’t we reward Shorten for telling it like it is, and ask what he plans to do about it? No, we wouldn’t. The fault is in ourselves.

Jonathan Holmes is an Age columnist and a former presenter of the ABC’s Media Watch.