January 29 Get in early, visit the AEC
You might have noticed there's a federal election on soon-ish. You can check to see if you are on the roll here. If you're not (or not at the correct address), you can get an enrolment form here.
Latham v Rudd
Shaun Carney in the Age on differences between Rudd and Latham - between strategy and tactics. Latham specialised in the latter, which are short-term, while Rudd deals in the former.
I would add another, related, one. Before taking the leadership, Rudd was never shy of publicity, but he generally earned his stripes the way politicians should - by doing his job, attacking the government, holding it to account, fitting it up, day in and out. (I don't subscribe to the view that Labor should have gotten more out of AWB; the best they could always hope for with such a low resonance issue was to make the government squirm and look duplicitous.)
Latham, on the other hand, never really bothered with the Liberals, he instead just promoted himself, often by denigrating his colleagues. Who can remember anything he did or said as a shadow minister? Any blows he struck were against other Labor people, and even 'arse-licker', 'hatred' and 'conga line of suck-holes' were all about him, about getting him on the news. They did the government no harm.
As Shaun notes, once he got the leadership he was pretty much the same.
January 24 Conspiracy theory
Reshuffle announcement came and went yesterday, and PM is still standing. I won't go on about this much longer, it being silly to ponder such things, but will suggest the following possible scenario:
January 23 Newspoll says 55 to 45
Here in the Oz. Dennis presumably on summer break, Steve Lewis also obviously thinks approval rating is of consequence.
Do you know that feeling, where you think a certain thing might happen, and you really, really don't want it to happen, so you keep saying "I bet it happens ... yep, it's going to happen for sure", in the almost superstitious belief that this will make it less likely?
I bet you Mr Howard pulls the plug soon.
A sequence of events?
Could it happen this week?
Before deteriorating into a 'taxpayers fund holiday!' farce, last week's John and Janette Broome stop-over began as a cuddly story in The Australian, with photo. (The paper seems to have replaced the original online article with an update. Go to the first link on this google search.)
The original story - elderly couple taking contemplative stroll on beach - might have slotted well into a retirement. Howard will address the Press Club on Australia Day, and there's also talk of a reshuffle this week.
Look, my imagination over-acts, obviously. Probably.
January 22 The case of the vanishing electoral roll
Greens number-cruncher Stephen Luntz, at Crikey, notes the shrinking electoral roll.
January 21 More on party organisation
I've filched a piece by Malcolm McGregor in the AFR January 1995, when Howard was poised to take over from Downer as Liberal leader. It's interesting as a snapshot of attitudes at the time, similar to those now (at least regarding the federal opposition), but roles reversed of course.
Malcolm's opening line:
"Perhaps the kindest comparison that can be made with the contemporary Federal Liberal Party is to note its similarity to the Federal ALP of the 1950s and 1960s."
(See other quotes at top of this.) My understanding is that Howard did exactly zero with the party organisation over the next year, nor did he follow the rest of McGregor's advice. But Malcolm does describe well how on the nose the Keating government was at the time, more so than the current one is.
(Malcolm's a Lieutenant Colonel in the army now. Here he is a few years ago.)
January 19 Death for the Libs?
Norman Abjorensen in The Age reckons that if Howard loses this year, the Liberal Party itself may be in trouble. Kim Beazley says something similar.
Norman's account, of a by-product Howard's centralism and control-freakism, works because it is cohesive, explaining both the Libs' federal success and state failure.
But I don't really go for organisational explanations (the Liberal structure was widely judged useless in 1995), and believe once Howard's gone the state Libs will start winning again. But they'll have to wait, because the first opportunities will be in WA and Qld (where Libs are junior partner) in 2009, then none until the next year. That's a long time to sit staring at your navel - long enough, maybe, to go bonkers.
As a wise man (the current PM) noted in 1995: "There's nothing much wrong with the structure of a political party that a decent win wouldn't cure."
January 18 Leafy Liberals the key?
Some call them "doctors' wives", but I prefer the term "leafy Liberals" - for one thing it includes two genders. Jackie Kelly (Lindsay) can't stand them - she equates them with Peter Costello rather than John Howard - and they might wear pearls, have voted Liberal all their lives, are old money, into noblesse oblige, relatively old, prefer Malcolm Fraser to Howard, live on Sydney's north shore etc.
Now, while I never abide suggestions that Howard has 'redrawn the electoral landscape', it is constantly changing, not least because Australians today are different to 10, 20 or 30 years ago, and they live in different places. As well, our major political parties were created for good reasons at the time(s), but today they survive mainly because of institutional inertia: they're here because they're here because they're here. Their names mean little; no wonder party loyalty is shrinking.
I attended a talk given by Liberal Director Bryan Loughnane after the last election, and one of the things he said was that for the first time in living memory the party organisation had had no shortage of election volunteers. Blue-bloods found the prospect of a knuckle-dragging class warrior Latham prime ministership that scary.
But still, against an 1.8 percent national swing to the Coalition, leafy Liberal seats swung to Labor in 2004. Again. And outer suburban 4-wheel drivers went further Liberal. For example, Hughes (think of the telly show 'Sylvania Waters'; the suburb is in neighbouring Cook) swung to the Liberals (by half a percent), while Joe Hockey's North Sydney went to Labor (by over 3). Since 1996 Hughes has cumulatively gone Liberal by 5.4, North Sydney has gone to Labor by 5.9 percent. Now they're pendulum neighbours with margins of 8.5 and 10 respectively. (There's a similar story in Melbourne that The Age's Shaun Carney has noted - through his usual "Labor is doomed" prism - eg here, here and here.)
Imagine Labor wins the next election by, say, 53 to 47, a national swing of about six percent. Swings always have diverse components (in 1996 some seats actually swung to the Keating government, others went Liberal by double digits), and big results always see a few 'ohmygod' seats changing hands for the first time in history.
Hughes definitely, absolutely won't return to Labor at the next election (and neither will Dunkley in Melbourne). North Sydney probably won't ... yet. But I do worry about Malcolm Turnbull (Wentworth), and reckon Howard might be in trouble in Bennelong.
As I said yesterday, it won't be outer-suburbanites who change the government.
Barack Obama has started the ball rolling towards competing in the Democrat primaries.
Idly speculated on the general topic several months ago; still can't see Hillary Clinton getting elected. And Obama, a young, black Democrat? Not likely; southerners vote too you know. (Lest we become smug, America will probably elect a black leader before Australia; New Zealand is likely to beat us both to it.)
Here's what the Centrebet odds look like today.
Was perhaps hasty in dismissing John Edwards in earlier post, maybe he's the most likely of all the Democrats there (who I've heard of). But still believe that while John McCain is unlikely to win Republican primary, if he did he'd be hard to beat.
(In early 2004 I wagered $30 @ 33 to 1 on Democrat dark horse John Kerry to be next president. Almost got a return.)
The year ahead?
Three years ago I rarely tired of reminding everyone that that "Boofhead" (Latham) was "going down". Now I reckon I'll be saying the same about Howard for the next ten months or so. And the result won't be "close". (If Beazley was still in and looking secure I'd be saying the same thing. I agree with his analysis - the last half of the article anyway.)
Watch and see. Kerry Packer said you only get one Alan Bond in your life, and Howard's had his - Latham. For ten years, indescribably brilliant global economic conditions have seen incumbents in similar 'liberalised' economies across the world coast from win to win (I think in the UK Gordon Brown last year boasted of the best economic conditions in 'centuries'). But electoral gravity gets you in the end, and as noted before, the disciplined but droning Howard has been the least electorally impressive of the lot.
It probably won't be as big as 1996, and it won't be an outer suburb thing. That is, in Melbourne terms, forget Dunkley; even the Treasurer's seat of Higgins is fairer game. In Sydney parlance, ignore Macarthur and look to Bennelong or Wentworth. And all over Australia, look at the regions.
But, alas, the PM may scurry away before then.
January 12 Uniform swing required for change of federal government?
The generally accepted uniform swing required for a Labor victory this year is 3.3. (Read Malcolm Mackerras in The Australian last year; see his post-redistribution pendulum.) This would take their two party preferred vote from 47.3 to 50.6 and give them 74 seats against the Coalition's 73 and three independents. (All in uniform terms, of course.) The expectation is that under such circumstances Peter Andren in Calare would support a Labor government, and, apparently (so the thinking goes), Tony Windsor (New England) as well. (Bob Katter would be the negotiator from hell for both sides.)
The good news is that the chances of a hung parliament are no better than they were last time. Let me reword that: there won't be a hung parliament. (This is like predicting "it won't hail tomorrow": I could be wrong, but it's a chance worth taking.)
But imagine for a moment that we had elections every six years instead of every three. We would then be going off the 2001 election results, and instead be saying that the ALP needs only 49.6 percent of the two party preferred vote to win those 74 seats. That's because going into the 2004 election Labor needed on paper 50.7, but after election night they needed about 51.6 (in uniform terms, of course!) (The redistributions in this term wiped about a percent off the Coalition's margin.)
Liberal Director Bryan Loughnane had a whinge about those redistributions because they weakened the Coalition's margins - at least for the 15 or so most marginal seats. That's life in the big city Bryan - everything can't go your way all the time - but the upshot is that 50.6 may be overstating it, and ALP might perhaps win with less than 50% this time. (Not a strong statement.)
On the other hand, if we used the 1998 result as our 'base', we'd be back saying Labor needs about 50.5%.
Apart from the slogan "do you really want wall-to-wall (apart from one state) Labor governments?!" not quite rolling off the Coalition tongue so easily, there is the fact that every change in government in NSW over the last three decades has favoured the loser's federal counterpart at the following national election, relative to the rest of the country.
That's as far back as I went.
It probably has something to do with unpopular state governments - or ones that are tolerated but not much liked (eg Carr/Iemma Labor) - poisoning their federal colleagues. However, evidence for such tendencies is weaker in other states, although Victoria exhibited it big time after electing Jeff Kennett in 1992, and has been moving towards the Coalition since Steve Bracks' win in 1999. (As noted the other day, in 1998 Victoria gave federal Labor its biggest two party preferred vote in 15 years.)
I have a vague theory that because (particularly in recent decades) residents in the bigger states are more likely to perceive their state's interests/identity, and those of the country, as one and the same or similar, they view the state and federal versions of the parties similarly. Therefore unpopularity of one translates to unpopularity of the other. But the smaller states differentiate between the state and federal parties.
It's just a half-baked theory.
SA and Queensland
As an aside, I reckon South Australia is a small state (it's second smallest) with a large state mentality, while Queensland (third biggest) is the opposite. That's why a Queensland party leader is a good idea; they've got 29 seats up there, almost as many as Victoria with 37, but Victorians are much less parochial.
I've employed a broad brush here, I know.
(*All estimates of 'the rest of the country' assume that NSW has exactly one-third of the country's voters.)
A few emails disagree with my Workchoices assessments below, and Michael Costello in the Oz is yet another who sees it as, if not an election winner, then playing a big part.
1. One opinion poll does not a trend make. With a new leadership attracting the usual support-boost, there's probably an element of the tail wagging the dog. Respondents think: 'I like the look of the new bloke Rudd, now what are the reasons I like him? IR - that'll do.' I imagine nearly any issue would register a boost for Labor.
2. Costello (and Gillard by implication) anticipate a 1998 anti-GST style backlash, but they are comparing 2007 with the wrong 'GST election'. 1998 was a referendum on whether to introduce the GST, but Workchoices is a done deal. As was the GST in 2001 when, despite its widespread unpopularity, the government got a 2 percent swing. Kevin Andrews is almost right, the sky hasn't fallen in except for a small minority; it generally doesn't.
3. Further to 2., the GST affected everyone, while Workchoices doesn't. For example, GST was a big initial hassle for small businesspeople, but Workchoices simply gives them more options.
As noted below, it's fear of the unknown that's important. The prospect of more IR legislation is the one to go for: the government didn't tell us about Workchoices at the last election, what have they got planned this time?
(After the US mid-term elections a few months ago, Iraq was going to win government for Labor. Then it was climate change. Labor supporters clutch at any straw going, but there's really no need. Howard & co will very probably go down at the next election.)
January 4 Industrial Relations scare campaigns
Two more things on IR from yesterday.
While Workchoices won't win the election for the ALP, the idea of more IR changes if the government is re-elected is a different thing. Peter Costello and Nick Minchin (I think) have already provided helpful fodder that can be wheeled out during the campaign. It must be a goer.
The other side to the IR coin is Labor's promise to abolish AWAs. To the naked ear it sounds a bit like 'Rollback' - not the end of the world, but the prospect of a lot of hassle. Throw in a little Greg Combet ill-discipline, and ...
Still, Rudd and Gillard are two of the best talkers in the business.
Try not to think of John Hewson, cakes and candles/icing.
A wise person once said that Australians are more easily frightened of change than most folk, but then adapt to its eventuation with relative ease. You can see why God created the small target strategy.
1. Industrial Relations
Have to agree with the headline of this Oz editorial: Workchoices won't win Labor the next election. Workers screwed by it, and who would otherwise have voted for the Coalition but will now vote for Labor, will number only a few. My understanding is that it will take a while for the changes to seep substantially into general working conditions; the vast majority of employees who haven't suffered in an immediate sense will be remain satisfied and perhaps a little smug and superior.
On the negative side, it all gives the unions added prominence, always a hindrance to Labor winning from opposition. Greg Combet has a habit of running off at the mouth, and if the ACTU appears to expect a more substantial seat at the government table because of all the hard work and money it was putting into a Labor victory, this would be excellent fodder for government scare campaign.
In totality, IR may even be a negative for Labor.
2. Interest rates
Rising interest rates will of course deplete Howard and Costello's economic bragging rights, and Rudd will be able to (as he has already) ask the PM why he takes responsibility for good news but not for bad.
But recall the lead-up to the 1993 election, when increasing unemployment perversely worked for Paul Keating: if you think this is crook (he said), imagine what would happen under that mob with their crazy plans.
Rudd & co have no crazy plans at present, but if, for example, they were silly enough to follow Keating's wacky advice to 'put a three in front of the top income tax rate' ... well, that would qualify as a big fat one.
You'd get no shortage of economists predicting it would put pressure on interest rates. Great fun for the government.
Classic Howard-era hyperbole like this depicts the political world through a formulaic cops 'n robbers template. But down on the ground, John Howard is a human being and a politician, and no successful politician got to where they were without being able to tell a losing fight from a winning one.
A quick escape could easily be made consistent with his 'so long as my party wants me and it's in their best interests' recitation by a simple explanation that his wife and family are most important to him now, if he stayed in the job he wouldn't be able to devote himself to the task one hundred percent, QED it is no longer in the party's interests.
Costello (or Nelson?) would then wear the election loss. Howard acolytes would crow forever that he could have kept winning if he'd wanted to; Australians would continue to be viewed as 20 million John Howards; multiple Paul Kelly columns would celebrate the astonishing politician. Aspiring political leaders would continue to ape him. None of this would be healthy for the country.
But if he has the good grace to stay until the next election it will bookend his Prime Ministership and inject realism into subsequent narratives. The history books will describe - rightly - a very competent politician who won for a while, and then lost.
We could all get on with life. Please don't go, Prime Minister.
Happy new year
Election year begins tomorrow. It should be fun.
December 22 The strange case of Victoria Pt II: a graph
Further to Wednesday's topic, below graph shows Labor two party preferred votes at federal elections from 1949 to 2004 - national (red) and the Victorian component (purple). See the massive purple drop in 1955 with the Split, after which the state drags down the national vote, to some degree, until 1980. But Whitlam's famous kicking of the Vic branch into shape before the 1972 election was followed by a return to over 50% and a substantial and on-going narrowing of the federal-Victorian gap.
You could say Victoria kept Labor out of power for decades; a better-than-miserable showing in the state in 1961 would have given Arthur Calwell victory. But since 1980 Victoria has been, with one exception (1990), above the national line, and after 1993 substantially so.
And as noted below, during the current stint in opposition Victoria has kept federal Labor half decent, although in 2004 the gap narrowed, and the state dipped once more below 50%.
I anticipate the next instalment of this graph will see both lines turning up, the red one much more than the purple one.
A quick lesson
And just looking at the red line, there's a lesson for those who reckon the number of seats the ALP needs to take for victory at the next election is just 'too many'. Big swings are pretty common, and that needed for a Labor victory today is smaller than those of 1998, 1996, 1983, 1980 ... without going too far back.
December 20 (1)The strange case of Victoria
As you know, Victorians have kept the federal Labor Party on the right side of a train-wreck over the last decade. For example, at the 1996 election that saw Howard elected with a massive number of seats, Victoria actually gave Keating a two party preferred majority (albeit a miniscule one). In 1998 the state recorded its largest Labor 2pp since the 1983 Hawke landslide.
Why? Who knows, but it all seemed to come to an end in 2004 with a pro-Coalition swing larger than the national one, and the first Victorian federal Coalition vote majority since 1990. As you also know, I am unhealthily interested in patterns, and the pattern guy in me anticipated this after the 2002 state election, when I wrote in The Age that:
"Victoria has been federal Labor's foul-weather friend recently, along with Tasmania, the only state to give the ALP two-party preferred majorities at every federal poll since 1990. Saturday's result might, paradoxically, mark the end of this era."
This was largely because Victoria had just repeated NSW's first landslide Labor re-election, and NSW had followed its own with a hefty pro-Howard swing.
Yes, you're right, it is absurd to put too much emphasis on these patterns. But a little is fine.
In 2004, NSW recorded the smallest anti-Labor swing of any state. One way to see this might be as a pro-Labor NSW swing washed over by a national anti-Labor one. This is why I suspect that particular 'pattern' has broken, and NSW will return to the Labor fold at the next federal election (which I expect Labor to win). Going into the next federal poll, Victoria is, pattern-wise, where NSW was in 2004.
(2) The mortgage belt
Anyway, I started this post in response to assertions you often hear/read that, in the Victorian context, Labor 'must' win 'seats like Dunkley' to win government, because that's how they've entered government before.
Dunkley, in Melbourne, is a classic four-wheel drive outer suburban electorate that Labor held in the 1980s, which Howard now 'owns' and which swung big to him in 2004. The margin is now almost ten percent.
I reckon Labor has close to Buckleys of taking Dunkley next year, and has a better chance (in Victoria) of regaining McMillan, or snatching Corangamite, McEwen or even Flinders (margin 11 percent). The mortgage belters are sticking with incumbents at the moment.
But that's only at the first election. If things go well during Rudd's first term, mortgagees will come a-running. That was the experience of every state Labor government over the last decade.
Well, that's been the pattern, anyway.
December 19 Labor's 2004 forest policy
As a short man with plenty of hair went to Tasmania yesterday to cuddle forestry workers, and a tall one with none stayed at home, you might have heard reference to Latham's 2004 forest policy 'costing Labor two seats in Tasmania'. It was actually probably just one - Braddon - as Bass was gone anyway. (Both Lemming-held, so put away your hankie.)
Many folk reckon the policy cost Labor support right across the country - that forest workers on the news cheering Howard induced lots of Australians to vote for the PM - but I doubt it.
For one thing, public opinion polls in that final week barely moved.
As every state or federal Liberal Party loss is explained by their being too 'right-wing' for the electorate, one ready-to-roll-out account of every ALP defeat is that they were too 'left-wing'. After October 9 2004 this was doubly ridiculous coming from the same mouths that had been congratulating Latham for moving the party to the right (on everything except Iraq) for ten months. Forest policy and Medicare Gold fit nicely into the post-hoc narrative, but they are a cop-out.
The commentariat largely hung the result on these policies because it was easier than acknowledging that the seeds of defeat lay in the very reason Latham got the top job in the first place - his personality, and the public's perception of it - and that they were too captivated to see it at the time.
Forest policy had little to do with the 2004 result.
When Bob Carr resigned as NSW Premier last year, I snapped up $2.50 on a NSW Labor win. Last week I put the same modest amount on a Coalition win, at $3.00. Not great adventurism on my part, but with either result I'll be ahead a little.
Mark Davis in Sydney Morning Herald writes:
"to win the election [the ALP] needs to pick up seats from the Government in Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania."
Don't know why Tassie - with Labor holding three out of five seats already - makes the list and Victoria and Western Australia don't, but this takes me to some scribblings of several months ago, in which I suggested a partial ordering of 2007 state two party preferred pro-Labor swings. Back then I anticipated the biggest three as: Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
I now revise, and add further detail. I reckon the relative two party preferred swings to Labor might be in this order: Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania (Tasmania maybe in the negative).
The actual two party preferred Labor votes may then sit in this order: Tas, NSW, Vic, SA, Qld then WA, with the first three or four above 50 percent. [update two days later: upon further reflection I've altered this; initially had Vic ahead of NSW.]
In raw numbers the most electorates - say, six to eight - to come from Queensland; NSW next.
Let's lock that in, for now.
December 15 More on two-term strategy for Rudd
Mr Rudd doesn't mind a cliché does he? As Christian Kerr noted in yesterday's Crikey, he's already advocated more 'cold showers' than our continent can bear.
If Kevin loses the next election, his media back-scratchers will no doubt proclaim: it's all Beazley's fault; ten months was not long enough; it's a two term strategy (as they did when Latham went down).
As you know, I have trouble seeing Howard winning again, but if he does I will make this prediction: Rudd won't be leader for the 2010 election. That would require nearly four years in the job, and long before then his capital will have depleted and we'll be left with twitchy, nerdy, wordy, whining wimp and standing joke who much of caucus can't stand. White-anting from the Gillard and Shorten forces (both Victorians, so no dream-team possible), Roosters still wanting their day in the sun, it won't be pretty.
But I get ahead of myself, because Rudd will probably win. Like Howard getting the leadership in 1995, the timing is sublime, and immediately upon becoming Prime Minister he will be a political colossus and giant killer, wielding massive authority, charismatic, witty, embodiment of all that is Australian etc.
A fork in the road indeed.
Garrett was a 'catch' for Labor, like Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson were for the Libs, someone who had carved himself out an interesting, productive, high profile life. Part of what they bring is in fleshing out the 'team' and giving it more human variety - more charm even - but you don't just make Nelson health minister, or make Turnbull the minister for ... getting filthy rich. That would indicate they have nothing more to offer, they can't learn new tricks. It would deaden their impact.
Garrett in Defence or Treasury would be taking the 'playing against type' thing way too far, but why not Attorney-General, Justice or Education? Even something like the new water and infrastructure may have been preferable.
Perhaps the ALP is still just crap with high-flying blow-ins. Evan Thornley got the booby-prize of the Victorian upper house, and barely scraped in there.