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HOW OFTEN in the reporting of politics do you hear that there is too much focus on personality at the expense of policy?


There are many reasons why this might be true: a fast-paced 24 hour media cycle that has a ferocious appetite; too few paid journalists with the time to properly examine policy; and politicians who focus on the sound-bite at the expense of detail in order to make the news. These factors speak to part of the problem.


But sometimes it’s hard to find complete policies because they do not yet exist publicly. 


Our researchers who investigate the details of political policies have found that these documents are not always easy to locate. Our practice is to start with the source and examine party websites for official party documents about policy. We also examine party leaders' statements and official records such as Hansard. 


When policies are difficult to locate we look at politicians' press conferences, party press releases and media interviews. Sometimes we might find one or two initiatives, in say healthcare, but these are not enough to assert that a comprehensive health policy exists.


For example, the Coalition has released its detailed ‘green army’ initiative for caring for the environment, but broader environmental policies are yet to be identified. 


At other times there might be plenty of talk from party leaders about specific topics, but they have no formal position. Take for example the minor parties such as the Katter Australia Party and Palmer’s United Party: both parties have leaders who have strong views on a range of issues and are not media shy. But on some topics such as affirmative action or euthanasia they have so far been silent.


Another difficulty is that an official policy position might exist, but it might not match that of the party leader. Labor’s 46th national conference decided that same sex marriage was not to be opposed, and yet it was not favoured by the party’s then leader: as history showed, Julia Gillard took no action on it. This can show a disconnection between the root-and-branch of a party and that of its leadership, and it can be confusing to voters.

The lack of a comprehensive policy position ... tells us something about the party and its positioning.

Finally, there is the parties’ quest to be a small policy target. Political parties learned years ago that it is important to appeal to as many voters as possible. Some parties will not release policies until the election is almost on them so their policies can’t be properly scrutinised. There are always exceptions to the rule, and the Australian Greens party has released detailed policies on far-ranging topics. 


So, as you examine the policies that we have been able to find, keep in mind that the lack of a comprehensive policy position can also be instructive. It tells us something about the party and its positioning in relation to the election. As we get closer to polling day, we aim to fill the gaps as more party policies are released.


In the meantime, if you find a policy that we don’t have, email us.


Happy policy hunting.


The Election Watch editorial team