Asia Pacific Media Educator


The Australian Federal election in October 1998 will go down in history for its contrasts. Australia has rarely confronted such a wide range of challenges as we do today, on the eve of the third millennium. Yet the candidates who took part in this election were astonishingly reluctant to face them. Whereas parties big and small have traditionally parried with policies on any area where they thought their opponents were vulnerable, debate in 1998 was narrowly confined to a mere handful of topics, with taxation and employment singled out as the only issues covered in depth by the Australian media. Despite this, there was still a lack of genuinely active discourse between the major parties on these points. The single "great debate" between the Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Labor Opposition leader, Kim Beazley was shunned by television viewers in favour of Australia's performance at the Commonwealth Games. It is not unreasonable to suggest that this was what some political planners had hoped for. Coinciding with this lack of official discourse, the 1998 election is also noteworthy for being the first election to be held at a time when the Internet was a true mass medium. Admittedly, the Internet was already being used by large numbers of Australians when the 1996 Federal election was called, but the Net then was still in its early growth phase in terms of applications and its user base. The Liberal Party, for example, did not even feature an official home page on the Web when this election was called. Two years later, this situation had changed dramatically.