Better State – campaigning in a climate of certainty

Nov 9, 2010

You would have to completely disregard the polls, history and any semblance of common sense to predict a Labor victory in the March 2011 NSW election.

Although there’s no such thing as a sure bet in Australian politics, a NSW Coalition government in 2011 is about as close as you’re likely to get. (The bookies have Labor at $6.25 to win next year. You won’t find those sort of odds in any 2011 NRL fixture.)

This climate of certainty makes a traditional approach to election time campaigning impossible.

Typically election time campaigns rely on competition between political parties. Responsiveness from government and opposition stems from the belief that specific ideas or concerns in the electorate can swing the result one way or another.

But this doesn’t seem to apply in NSW at the moment. Conventional wisdom is that even if Barry O’Farrell reveals himself to be a reptilian shape-shifter in late February the Coalition will win in a canter.

Yet EMC’s client, Unions NSW, still represents the interests of thousands of workers and their communities and thus still needs to campaign.

Which is where Better State comes in.

Better State is all about going back to the basics: in 2010/11 what are the core principles unions want NSW to embrace?

The union movement will have to set out clearly and openly what its broad agenda is and make sure that it resonates with the community.

The aim is to step outside the winners/losers world of adversarial politics and play a role in shaping the wider public debate.

So in the lead-up to the ‘dead cert’ election 2011, Unions NSW will be asking all politicians of all stripes to pledge their support to the Better State 5 Point Plan:

  1. Invest in services
  2. Look after public assets
  3. Plan long-term
  4. Back our workers
  5. Govern for the common good

Each of these principles contains a more specific ask for a future NSW Government – ‘invest in services’, for example, means committing to increasing funding for services in-line with population growth. ‘Look after public assets’ is attached to a commitment to not privatise any state-run asset without an Act of Parliament.

These principles are critical for Unions NSW and its affiliates. EMC research also shows that they are important to the general public.

A key quality of Better State is versatility, which is handy when shaping a campaign for a peak body like Unions NSW with many affiliates.

The Better State 5 Point Plan has been appropriated by the Rail Tram and Bus Union, for example, as the Better Transport Charter.

The Teachers Federation is working on its own version at the moment.

Better State allows Unions NSW and affiliates to promote a cohesive and coherent agenda without playing the usual election games.

If the principles gain currency with the community, it will be good for unions and good for NSW.

– Anil Lambert, EMC