The election’s key question

Karin Sowada

"Who do people hate more - Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott?"

Out of the mouth of babes, for this was the sudden question uttered by my eight year old over breakfast this morning.

For that, indeed, is one of the key questions that will decide the election result.

The announcement of a federal poll to be held on Saturday 14 September surprised everyone. It was an unusual move, attuned as we are to endless months of election date speculation, while the government of the day weighs up the most opportune moment for a poll. As a supporter of fixed term parliaments, I am relieved that we will be spared this circular and pointless public conversation.

However, September 14 has now focused the electorate on the choices before it. Both leaders face issues, albeit different - for Gillard, there are questions over her judgement and truthfulness, in addition to the general malaise confronting the Labor Party. For Abbott, research indicates that he is disliked by women, there is a lack of depth on his front bench, and a large policy vacuum.

All these are significant and both leaders hardly enjoy strong levels of support. Yet this election is Tony Abbott's to lose.

Elections provide a great opportunity for heightened public engagement in the political process. This includes churches and individual Christians. A debate about values and civility in public life would be a good place to start.

Unfortunately, a values debate will be difficult for all religious faiths, especially the large, established Christian denominations, given the advent of the Royal Commission into institutional child sex abuse. To speak with any authority on the question of civility, Sydney Anglicans will need to carefully handle the Archbishop's election Synod, due five weeks before the federal election.

Many believers will focus on the 'usual' basket of issues, such as gay marriage. In addition, it would be good to hear Christian voices on poverty and economic management, focusing on job creation and building strong families.

Here are some ideas for Christians and churches, to maximise the next seven-plus months of the campaign

1. Pray for the outcome of the election.
2. Organize a meet the candidates forum in your church. The best time to do this is in the second last week of the campaign, with the most optimal day being the evening of Thursday 5 September. Contact the office of your local MP now to get the date in their campaign diary, and set up a small committee to organize the event. This should include venue logistics, local media, publicity etc. It doesn't matter if the other candidates are not yet known, the most important invitation is to the sitting MP.
3. Attend other similar forums, and go there with a written question in your hand.
4. Engage in the process by participating in other ways, such as expressing a view on talk back radio, social media, letters to the editor etc

I look forward to seeing you in the audience of Q&A!

Feature photo: yewenyi