Ian Tulloch has just raised his own bar. Last week the political commentator and La Trobe honorary associate in politics had an opinion article make The Canberra Times.
“That was the first time,” he says. “That’s the paper all the politicians read.” The former Bendigo lecturer is a regular opinion piece contributor to Fairfax newspapers, and the articles are usually syndicated in regional papers across the country. But reaching the political centre is something else.
“It’s a very exciting time,” Ian says of life in the thick of an election campaign. “I’m in a heightened sense of awareness of what’s going on. It was Keating who said, ‘you change the government, you change Australia’, and to a certain extent that’s true.”
As such, Ian is poised for change, following what he predicts will be a filthy fight.
“I knew it was always going to be a bit of an acrimonious campaign, because the Liberals are starting from behind. The only way they can win is to denigrate Shorten and the Labor party to the maximum extent. It will be the filthiest campaign since ’75.”
What happened in 1975? “That’s when Whitlam was sacked,” Ian says. Ian was 20 at the time, still too young to vote, but already hooked on politics.
“I used to listen to the ABC from when I was 17, a first-year business studies student. They’d broadcast parliament house and the house of reps in the senate on alternate days. I just became fascinated by the whole process. This was during the Vietnam War days, just before the Whitlam Government was elected, so it was pretty tumultuous times.
“The first campaign I ever watched was also when I was a student. I went to see Whitlam and Hawke speak in the Civic Centre in Ballarat. Anyone could come and it was quite an amazing night. I’d never seen anything like it. Whitlam was such an amazing speaker. That was the ‘It’s Time’ election in ’72. I couldn’t vote, but I still went.”
After graduating from his business degree Ian worked as an accountant in the public service, but politics was calling him. “So, I started doing an arts course part time at night, and I did quite well,” he says, crediting politics lecturer Prof Brian Costar for inspiring him further. “Who I’m still friends with all these years later,” he says.
After the course Ian picked up some post-grad study, which led to a position at La Trobe. Ian lectured in politics at the Bendigo campus for 27 years, until 2013.
“What I tried to do in the classroom was ensure as many people as possible understood the mechanics, the basic institutional framework, of Australian politics. And the various political philosophies of what sort of country you want to live in, what sort of politics you’ve got. My aim was to help students understand the system and make informed decisions about what was going on.”
In at least two cases, he went above and beyond. Both of Bendigo’s State Government representatives, Jacinta Allan and Maree Edwards, were Honours students of Ian’s.
Educating others is an aim he is largely carrying on through his articles, albeit being shamelessly biased. “One basic aim is to make sure people understand what the issue is that I’m talking about,” he says. “But it’s impossible to be balanced and I don’t want to be balanced because I’m also arguing a particular view.”
Those views are coming thick and fast as the campaign brings forth daily fodder for Ian. Each morning he is getting up around 7am, making that all-important first cup of tea, and going online.
“I start the day usually reading as many papers as I can online. The Guardian, The Canberra Times, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, and the ABC of course. Sometimes that’s where I get inspiration to start an article. There’s always something new to say, because things are happening.” He says now that early voting has started, it’ll get more and more intense.
Ian will be part of the 40 per cent of Victorian voters to place an early vote. He says as such, big announcements from the major parties will also start early. He expects there to be some news soon for Bendigo. “The Labor Party will be focussing on health and education. I don’t know but that’s what I’d guess. The Liberal Party is starting miles behind in Bendigo, even though the margin is only 3.9 and that’s still a winning marginal seat definition, but the way they’re behaving they’ll have to produce something amazing to get attention.”
Elsewhere, Ian says while the Adani Coal Mine is seen as the country’s biggest environmental issue, the Murray Darling Basin should be dominating. Perhaps that’s fodder for another article.
Ian’s next piece is half-written. It will focus on the Labor Party’s vulnerable seats. “There are four or five seats Labor could potentially lose, but I think they will win a lot more seats than they lose and in that case they should win the election,” he says.
So, coming back to Keating’s wise words, if that is the case come May 18, how would the country change? “I think we’ll be less acrimonious,” Ian says. “We’ll be less divided over the culture-war type issues, such as asylum seekers. And there’ll be a huge difference in money spent on education and health.
“If the Liberals win the Labor Party won’t win an election for another three or four. They’ll be devastated. To be in front by every poll since the last election and to lose, that’s never happened before. But there’s still a remote chance there’ll be another hung parliament and in that case the senate’s really important.”
Whatever the outcome, no doubt Ian’s take will be coming to a newspaper near you.