Politics of the Unpopular: Rhetoric, Realities, and Road Reform

Research output: Contribution to conference (non-published works)Other


The word ‘rhetoric’ is often used negatively to describe promises made by politicians. Yet the Aristotelian meaning of the word is more akin to the art of persuasive discourse. Historically, rhetoric was regarded as an important civic skill for democratic practice. The ability to persuade remains crucial to successful policy implementation today, but rather than the art of rhetoric, marketing methods have become the norm in ‘selling’ policies. This means that difficult policy choices tend not to be ‘sold’ to voters, and so-called ‘political realities’ dictate whether much-needed policies make it onto the policy agenda. One pressing policy challenge is fixing crippling traffic congestion in Australia’s major metropolitan centres. Decades of research and reporting all point towards a system of road pricing, including hypothecation of funds for building infrastructure, and congestion-area charging as ways to change transport behaviours. Further, revenues from the federal fuel excise have been in decline since the early 2000s, even with indexation, and motorists least able to afford fuel-efficient or electric vehicles are contributing more than their fair share to road-related revenues. The research indicates that alternative transport modes and driverless cars will not take away the requirement for a road pricing system. Indeed, not acting is a worse-case scenario, where the inefficiency of road infrastructure will begin to reduce living standards. Decades of research and ‘significant-person’ reports all point to a system of road pricing and charging to replace fuel excise and motor vehicle registration fees as the best way to increase efficiency and sustain road-related revenues. There is also a growing consensus on the need for road-user charging, but voters are generally averse to any form of ‘new tax’. Much like the introduction of the GST, introducing road pricing will impact almost every voter, and it is likely to be as politically difficult to get through. Yet the doom and gloom of the GST is a distant memory, and Australians are generally better off as a result. Trying to ‘sell’ the GST failed for John Hewson, but John Howard doggedly persuaded voters and won the 1998 election to introduce the ‘never, ever’ GST. Are these lessons from the art of rhetoric? This paper looks to the rhetoric that enabled the GST, and considers how rhetoric, in its classical sense, may be the formula needed to introduce road pricing sooner rather than later.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017
EventAustralian Political Studies Association Conference 2017: Democracy and Populism: A New Age of Extremes? - Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 25 Sept 201727 Sept 2017


ConferenceAustralian Political Studies Association Conference 2017
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Politics of the Unpopular: Rhetoric, Realities, and Road Reform'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this