May 30, 2004
The tide keeps flowing out on the Howard Government. Some are carried away:
True, it now looks possible that the Howard Government can be defeated. The budget bounce was not achieved as was expected. (A delayed bounce?) We even have a pollster showing the results for a 2%, 4% and 6% swing to the ALP. It's 1996 in reverse says Hillary Bray. Why, you can even hear the death rattle says Crikey. Laura Tingle in the Australian Financial Review says that the "government doesn't just fear it is going to lose the election, it knows it."
I do not buy this story. It's mostly Labor spin, wishfulfillment and lazy journalism. What we have is a contest. My guess, that it would still be very tight in the marginal seats, is confirmed by private Liberal and Labour polling. The marginals are all that matters. We have little information about what is happening there. The marginals are quite different in character.
For instance, in Adelaide the conservative lower to middleclass electorate of Makin with its northern biblebelt is very very different to the innercity seat of Adelaide, where many gay couples live. Hence they require different policies on different issues, which is why Trish Worth has broken with Howard's conservate understanding of marriage and his attempts to ban same-sex marriages. Since Trish Worth could well lose her seat she had to protest.
In the political chessgame being played, the recent move is the postponement of the pencilled-in election date of August 7th (pushed to October?). With the bad image of Iraq now really hurting the Howard Government's soft underbelly, it will be forced to spend some of the $2.4 billion left in its war chest to gain some traction. It has to paint itself green to look more progressive and to tactically counter "Latham's" energy and environment speech late last week to secure the much-needed Green preferences and establish a left wedge.
So we can expect more leaks on the money Howard will spend on the environment to stop the drift. Howard has singled out the environment as a maintstream issue in Australian politics. He knows that he needs to sort out the vexed issues of environmental flows; water rights; compensation for reduction in the clawback of the overallocation of water (especially in NSW); and finding a truckload of money to pay for it all. And he confronts a constituency of famers (e.g., Murray Irrigation Ltd) who refuse to take responsibility for any risk for any reductions in water allocations in the future.
And the ALP? What I saw last week in the House of Representatives was a tightening up on the front bench. A visible shrinking. They are instinctively doing their small target routine once again. Latham's speech did not talk about the money ($1.5-2 billion) for the 1500 gigalitres needed to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to reasonable ecological health. The ALP right still reckon that green policies represent a disaster for the economy, mean lost jobs and send a bad message to business. It has yet to adopt a policy of stopping the logging of old growth native forests and compensating/retraining those put out of work. The ALP plan to phase out the clear felling of old-growth forests by 2010 won't please Bob Brown. The forests will have gone by 2010.
From what I saw last week nothing much is happening in Canberra. Where were the searching questions on Mitsubishi? On renewable energy? The ALP reckon that with the Howard Government in freefall they can win the election, if they just hang on, stay together and talk in unison from the same script.
Bollocks. Maybe Howard never had a plan B for the post-budget politics in his draw. But there are many tactical moves in the political chess game still to play.
Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at May 30, 2004 10:13 AM
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Tracked on May 31, 2004 02:54 AM
What the buggers abrogate every time they try the small target approach is their opportunity to start to build a new expansive consensus. In particular, to finally mainstream environmental issues, and push the argument that this agenda is not bad for business at all..
Howard has managed to build a more mealy minded version of Australia after his election win, but he was party filling in the dots of Labor's economic rationalism anyway, and he had the nasty nabobs of the gutter press to amplify what passes for thought on his front bench.
Posted by: David Tiley at May 31, 2004 03:54 PM
The ALP cannot make the argument that the environment and the economy go together, eg.,renewable energy brings jobs and investment to the regions.
They still see sustainability as throwing people out of workand thats bad. However, it is not bad when the economy throws people out of work. That is good. It is called structural adjustment.
Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at May 31, 2004 08:30 PM
Agree with your comment, Gary. As soon as the loggers appear, Labor heads for cover.
The ALP relies far too heavily on market research and focus groups before taking any stand.
There should be far more consultation with the community, rather just a few developers offering 'big ticket' projects.
I'm old enough to remember the Dunstan years. Prophets of doom were everywhere when he introduced recycling and anti-litter schemes. Yet it has been shown that more jobs were created than lost.
Sustainability is viable. But it would cut out a few big money developers.
Posted by: Don Wigan at June 2, 2004 06:17 PM
Government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods.
Posted by: Jozef at June 4, 2004 07:30 AM