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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Howard: tide's flowing out « Previous | |Next »
September 7, 2007

So APEC offered Howard, as the man of steel, the big chance to define himself on foreign policy and climate change and find points on which to land some good punches on Rudd and ring him him to knees. Would this save Howard?


The domestic narrative has shifted. The Coalition is no longer just 'in trouble.' It is now looking as if it 'might lose.' The body language has changed, along with the framing, as the shift a shift in opinion away from the coalition continues. Morale and momentum within Liberal ranks are disintegrating in the face of persistent poor polling.

In his opinion piece in yesterday’s Australian Paul Kelly stated that:

The Howard Government faces the prospect of political annihilation and the most serious defeat since the Liberal Party was created by Robert Menzies... The sense of frustration within sections of the Howard Government is undisguised as senior ministers confront their likely obliteration while convinced that they remain a good government ... That Howard faces a more serious defeat than Billy McMahon or Malcolm Fraser is a sobering prospect, once seen as impossible.

Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian writes that Howard must go. She says:
It may not be rational. It may not be fair. It's not about Howard's age. He is fit, capable and, like that Energizer bunny, he could stay on to fight another fight. But voters appear to have turned off Howard. They appear to have stopped listening. Each new initiative that was meant to deliver a electoral bounce has failed to do so. The Howard factor is there. Where once it meant success, now it presages defeat. A defeat that perhaps can only be avoided if Howard steps aside. What makes it so depressing is that so many conservatives and senior Liberals remain in denial. The last rabbit Howard should pull out of the hat is Peter Costello... the coronation of Australia's longstanding heir apparent could represent the best chance the Coalition has of staying in power, too....The appeal of a young and fresh Costello could change the media narrative and work wonders for a tiring Government that is seen as out of touch...having the highest respect for Howard means providing fearless opinions. It's time to hang up the pads.

The Coalition is haunted by the spectre of defeat. The authoritarian conservatives are sounding desperate. The Wilson Tucky option is up and running, even though Costello is soiled goods.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:09 PM | | Comments (41)


Things are so bad that there's a rumour circulating that Julie Bishop is a possible replacement.

APEC didn't really leave Rudd or Howard much elbow room as this week's proceedings must have been settled on ages ago. So it strikes me as very significant that two of Howard's biggest spruikers have chosen right now to abandon him. Right now when he can't do much about it.

Rather cowardly of Kelly and Albrechtson. Morale must be bottoming out at Liberal Central.

re your comment 'APEC didn't really leave Rudd or Howard much elbow room as this week's proceedings must have been settled on ages ago.'

The commentators/journos of the corporate media are going on about Rudd speaking in Manadarin at a formal state lunch hosted by John Howard for Hu Jinatao, the Chinese President, in Sydney yesterday.

"Rudd struts his stuff' is their interpretation. He impresses all the corporate heavyweights, and puts Howard in the shade etc etc . The journos were making a big deal of it on Radio National Breakfast this morning--a 'significant moment' etc.

The Chinese wouldn't be overly impressed about Rudd speaking mandarin. They all do it in china. They only care about what he was saying maybe. He isn't the leader. Wasn't much else for the press to talk about other than the chaser stuff and Bush's gaff about OPEC. Its all a bit of a yarn really. The Press will be running around interviewing each other soon unless the water cannons come out.

if you don't already have mandarin, get busy. our next 'great and powerful friend' likes it when the yanggweidz make an effort to smarm them.

re your comment 'Things are so bad that there's a rumour circulating that Julie Bishop is a possible replacement.'

The government's hopes of a drift back to the Coalition, and a big boost from APEC are dashed. The rumours continue to swirl on the PM's future. Gee, there is even speculation that the PM may resign as soon as next week. Not that I think that Howard will step down before the election

I love the way that political gossip becomes more real than reality. Howard must have to smile through gritted teeth these days at the barbs in the questions. His supporters are defecting --Barnett, Bolt and Albrechtson--and he is being asked by journos at APEC how he feels about being deserted.

Howard's leadership is near its nadir. Will he stay or jump?

It's the political significance of Rudd speaking Mandarin to Hua Jintao that is crucial. The meanings around this event are a reinforcing of Rudd's image as a modern leader in a global world, and the way this enables him to steal some of the political limelight.

Rudd had an half hour meeting with Jintao in Sydney on Friday morning conducted entirely in Mandarin. It would have to go down well with the Chinese.

I doubt if many of the journalists covering APEC can speak Mandarin.

the diplomatic moment of APEC seems to be Rudd speaking Mandarin to Hua Jintao not Howard's $45 billion export deal with China.

You would have thought that the deal shows Howard's creditionals to keep the Australian economy booming on the back of the resources boom fuelled by demand from China. But is it not turning out that way.


I was thinking of campaigning elbow room, but the media seem to be doing all Rudd's campaigning in his absence. Very kind of them.

"I love the way that political gossip becomes more real than reality."


Me too. There's not much point trying to figure out where reality really is. I imagine some people find that disturbing, but I love it. The pointlessness of all
the predicting and pontificating from 'insiders'. Something we thought we knew yesterday isn't true any more today, if it ever was.

Our whole political world is speculation and conjecture, which is probably what it is most of the time anyway.

"Gee, there is even speculation that the PM may resign as soon as next week."
And now that people are expecting that, if he doesn't resign he'll be seen as stubborn.


"The Chinese wouldn't be overly impressed about Rudd speaking mandarin." Perhaps not, but dreadfully shallow people like me are impressed that he got a personal invite to the Beijing olympics.


And why not? We already speak Simpsons and Terminator.


Perhaps you can get a spot on the NZ Water Gargling Squad and get a free ticket!

The pitiful Leak carton was surely drawn up weeks before the APAC as a part of a set piece propaganda attack on Rudd. They never anticipated the "Chaser" deflating all the pomposity so spectacularly and taking attention-oxyen away from Bush as he did indeed attempt to punch his little mate "John Hunt" out of trouble, in yet another example of why the US has become detested the world over, even by its friends.
That is, its propensity for egregious and arrogant interference unasked in the affairs of other nations. Am sure even Rice took a proverbial step back, on witnessing this clumsiness.
Would laugh if the next op-polls show he has caused more offence than he soothed.
Had Bush been prevented from succeeding in his hogging of the limelight, people might have had a chance to have a look at other characters in the farce, like the equally-ominous Hu Jin Tao and Vladimir Putin and also familiarise themselves with what little was told the public about the conference itself, in the way of detail.

it is a poor cartoon isn't it. George Bush's broadsides at Labor's policy of withdrawing troops from Iraq bounced off Rudd like rubber balls. Their meeting was genial, even though neither gave an inch.

The cartoon expresses Liberal wishful thinking about Liberal Party's house magazine, The Australian, getting them out of their dark place. APEC was not a great plus for Howard. It's downside was Sydneysiders' anger at the traffic problems and the way Kevin Rudd pinched some of the limelight.

These are dark days indeed for the Liberal Party. They are out of government in every state and territory, losing power in Canberra will leave the Liberals very nearly financially and politically bankrupt.

Jason Koutsoukis has an op-ed in the Age,on the Liberal dirt file on Julia Gillard. In it he writes:

After 11 years of being run by a policy contortionist, it's difficult to see why the Liberals want to be in government.They don't stand for paying less tax, not for less regulation, not for smaller government, not for protecting civil liberties, not for investing in universities, not for the arts or sciences, not for a fair go in the workplace, not for states rights, not for an open economy, not for less welfare, not for caring for the planet and not for respecting international law. About the only thing it does stand for is John Howard. A man who in nearly 13 years never had the courtesy to invite his own deputy over for a meal — an act of selfishness almost unparalleled in Australian politics. No wonder people are itching to toss the Liberals out.

The tv action replay of Janet Howard snubbing Costello's wife comes back vividly. Exquisite, delicate and refined little act of cruelty. I recall Les commenting on it too, so the appreciation of it as to both intent and style is almost universal.
The weather drought is not the only drought abroad at this time. The universal drought of ideas and principle makes even the appalling reality of the weather drought seem benign.

I never saw the tv action replay of Janet Howard snubbing Costello's wife.Is it on Youtube?

I find it interesting that The Nationals seem to slip under the radar of blame with the punters. I guess there is only 12 of them and a lot could be attributed to Mark Vaile's honest image. Still, all the angst in the community at present is directed at the Liberals and Howard.

Gary, so did Les. We commented on the incident a few weeks back and had a mutual grin, which is not usual for us.
Wish I could tell you if the incident is at Utube, but since my computer is "deaf" and half-stuffed in a number of other ways, it's not something I have checked out (the poor tradesman always blames his tools).
Nan, I reread the paragraph from Koutsoukis you included and realised I had almost missed what a truly breathtaking piece of writing it is. Add to this the fact of it as symptom the "emperors clothes" mentality of much of the country including press and media at the moment.
It brought back to me the day we found out Howard's decison not to move on and give Costello a chance; of feeling breathless at it and shaking my head but not knowing quite why.

The Koutsoukis op-ed in The Age indicates the depth of negative feeling about Liberals any why the left of centre people just want them to go.

There's not much reform puff in them any more. Things are moving away from 9/11 and they look stuck in the past. Just like President Bush--yesterday's hero. Costello is not the circuit breaker they need and they look as if they are just trying to block the ALP's momentum rather than come up with good policies.

So they come across as hanging onto power at all costs, rather than having some good ideas about Australia's future beyond it being Quarry Australia. APEC reinforced the Quarry Australia image with the gas and uranium deals to China and Russia.

I had a look around for that footage but couldnt find it.

Paul, I may grin more than you realize.

I don't supose you'll elborate, will you Les?
If the only thing the Nats have going for them is Vaile's honesty they are in worse danger even than Howard.
I think they are oddly similar to the ALP in someof their faults. Very beholden to vested interests and prone to pork barelling and parochialism behind all the ethics huff'puff; an old protectionist party. I reckon they will be mauled the way Lbour was in '95. Think Richo and Ros Kelly. And Labor could do well to look at the Nats as signpost for what could happen to them if they are too negligent in considering who buys them out.
Having said that, am out on a limb because I actually prefer intelligent and strategic Keynesianism to rampant classical liberalism.


I think I may have thrown the honest tag around Vaile too haphazardly. Perhaps I should of said perceived honest image. Well, compared with the rest of them he looks OK.
I suspect the Nationals will do par or better in the next election.

Les + Paul,
Over at Possums Pollytics you find this titbit:

The anti-Latham factor in Qld was big – it pushed a lot of people away from the ALP more so than just about anywhere else. The margin on nearly all government seats be they marginal or safe is significantly inflated by that Latham factor. Add to that the fact that nearly all of the coastal, non Brisbane safe seats have undergone serious demographic and economic change over the last 3 years and Qld has a long standing habit of swinging large when the swing is on, particularly in the regional seats ..

What is being offered is a arguable explanation of how Qld could be shouldering a large amount of the weight of the swing against the government in their safe seats. The swing is not just the marginals as it is in SA.

Here is Possum's prediction for Queensland:

So, at this stage, I’m becoming pretty confident that these 5 safe government seats in Qld are gone: Herbert, Longman, Petrie, Hinkler, Bowman.These 2 are probably gone: Ryan and McPherson (big call on McPherson – I know) These 6 will have their margins slashed, and one or two may even go down to the wire: Fisher, Dickson, Forde, Leichardt, Widebay and Fairfax (watch Fairfax) And the three marginals of Blair, Moreton and Bonner are gone. That’s 8-10 seats gone in Qld, with maybe 1 or 2 others if it gets really nasty for the Coalition.

What do you think? A big shift in Queensland is on?

They should get their money on because the sitting members are clear favorites except for Herbert which looks close. The greens candidate Jenny Stirling could help labor over the line there.

I think there may be a crystal ball in use over there! Too far out to make those sorts of wild speculation.

Speculation? Even Tony Abbott acknowledges that senior Liberal Ministers are deeply worried about their prospects--its a bad situation and they have the jitters. Abbott doesn't see Howard being dumped, as he is stilll their best prospect in a bad situation. Howard won't be tapped on the shoulder.

Have you read the leaked Crosby Textor dossier---Oz Track 33--- mentioned a while ago by the Murdoch tabloids that is analysed on Possum Pollytics. It's a very good post, and did surface on Crikey before they had to take it down under legal threat.

It's analysis shows that there are only a small group of issues Howard has left to talk about as his only means to campaign on in the election, namely:

Interest Rates, Defence and Security, Lower Taxes, Strong Leadership, Strong Team. Interest rates are slipping away.

This is Howard's only campaign issue envelope. Thus:

Howard isn’t talking about these things because it’s some grand strategic plan – far far from it. He’s talking about them simply because that is all he has left to talk about that has a hope in hell of resonating.If Howard started to speak about issues that are on the ALP side of the graph, because Howard has basically lost the public, all he would be doing is promoting strengths of the ALP, and as a result those issues would be more likely than not to move further into the ALP camp and increase the ALP vote.

Howard simply cannot win an election when he only has a few issues he can talk about, and where most of those issues in his envelope are competitive and up for grabs.

I think I put more confidence in Nong Theories at this stage. I still see it as close. Rudd has been up on the pedestal for too long and he too runs the risk of tall poppy backlash.
Howard still has a few cards to play. Sweet cakes for oldies. They just love them cakes.

Don't you think thatthe hard headed Liberal Party stategists will try to portray Rudd in terms of the image the Howard battlers traditionally despise - the tall-poppy smartypants, and an Asian-speaking one at that.

This has to counter Rudd's public image of "I am modern and I can take you to the future." That image connects to the mood for change which even the young conservatives desire--swap Howard for Costello.

Yesterday I saw a video clip of Howard touching on the need for the Government to draw on the country's prosperity to build a better future for Australians.

He was waffling and defensive. He referred to the basis of the Coalition's pre-election campaign-- that it has a proven track record in sound economic management, so why risk this with a change of government---but conceded that this tactic is missing the mark.

So what was his conservative vision of the future?---that's when we got the waffle bit.

So the old message remains---that things will change for the worse under a Labor government.

Tony Jones really hammered on that report with Tony Abbott last night. He pointed out that on a lot of issues, especially IR, whenever the government talks about it Labor's approval goes up. I wonder how many more hours of IR ads the government already has booked?

It was very weird watching Howard and Abbott last night knowing that they know that they've lost but pretending they don't.

Would the tall poppy thing work, considering how obvious it is that the government is desperate? Wouldn't it just look like sour grapes?

Queensland was always going to be interesting because of the Latham swing. It will be even more so without Beattie.

Re your comment 'It was very weird watching Howard and Abbott last night knowing that they know that they've lost but pretending they don't.'

I spent an hour so in Aussies Coffee shop in Parliament House this morning, and the body language of the Liberal/Coalition politicians (Members and Senators) and their staffers was poor. They are downcast, depressed and introspective. There's stuff swirling around behind the media gaze:--rumours , speculation, reports from journalists in the building about the mood. Howard, himself, has become an issue, for the Liberals, even though they know they would be worse off with anyone else (ie.,Costello).

The media talk in Canberra today is about Howard, not policies, no matter how hard they tried to leverage the good news from APEC in Question Time to show that they have something to offer re the future. It was pretty flat in Question Time with the judgements at Aussies after Question Time being that the Liberal performance was pretty ordinary.

It was not enough to do away with the whispers and disconsolation. These have become the story that needs to be carefully managed.

I read the Oz public to be very close to the Us public in that its time for a female leader. This is working in Rudd's favor because he represents more a person that women could gel too than Howard. And of course his offsider is a women. The Liberals hung too long in that Costello takeover mode and made a mistake not grooming a women just in case.
One could read all the political analysts stuff but really it comes down to one thing. Having the right face at the right time and telling the people what they want to hear. Kevin presents that face.
And lets face it! While Costello is a good treasurer no-one wants his Mr Piggy face either.
So Howard's only hope I see is to keep offering carrots and to get the voters thinking that he could hand over to a women after 12 months. Which one? Well the one thats got the best face of course. And if shes had children all the better.

I smell blood. A Thatcher moment is coming on.

that means Julia Bishop and her designer clothers. She has the most expensive wardrobe in Canberra. The big question is: has she ever worn the same outfit twice in public.

so who is going to plunge the knife into Howard's chest? Without that action Howard stands firm and fights supported by the Liberal hard men--Minchin and Abbott.

There's only whispers in the corridors and Costello's silence at this stage. It's not enough for your blood on the floor scenario. You need the knife.


Surely part of the Libs despondency is because they know they've left it too late for the knife to make any difference?

They know that Howard is the best they've got. And they are right. Howard is not really the problem, only an expression of it. They are the problem. They've been around too long and have little more to offer us. They have yet to realize that. They are still in denial mode. It's tragic to watch.

They are saying that its the polls that are wrong because they are not getting any negative feedback from the public. There is no culture of complaint at all.

They are still thinking in terms of 1996. It's the wrong model.


Between knowing what we now know about what they know via Crosby Textor, watching the big Lib guns on TV tonight (I felt sorry for Downer for the first time ever, doing that pathetic 'the right direction' script) and knowing that half of this wouldn't be happening if the media wasn't making it happen, I'm not sure what to believe anymore.

You're right. They really don't understand and it is tragic to watch.

If Bishop is the best they come up, with pass me the cyanide pills.
"Long and lanky; thin and cranky", my old mum used to say describing women like Julie Bishop.
Matchstick-thin legs, emaciated clothes-horse , long, haggard, drawn-down face locked on permanent Koala bum.

I'm going simple from what I saw in Parliament House this morning.

Howard has lost the confidence of his cabinet and possibly his caucus. That means a "push" on his leadership is actively in play. Howard tried to strike that out today with his fighting talk at his joint press conference with Stephen Harper, the Canadian PM. Howard is determined to stay. He will have to be blasted out.

Stalemate. Howard will continue to be stalked as he has been weakened. Meanwhile the desire for change continues to work its destablizing way and Costello holds his silence. The attacks on the ALP become increasingly crude.

What appears to have happened from what Downer said is that John Howard last week talked to a number of his senior colleagues about his future and what he should do. They were frank discussions---Howard should go? Howard then took the weekend to think about those thoughts, including a lengthy discussion with his family. After the weekend, his decision was made – he would fight the poll.

We are seeing the reaction to that decision as the media digs out the story. The problem is that he party hasn't decided that Howard can stay---only the senior ministers or leadership group has. Howard's mantra is that he will stay as long as the party wants him. The leadership group is not the Liberal Party.

Howard will remain because a leadership change now is very late and very risky, especially a change to Costello.

Re Lyn and the crosby textor:
Did you count the times Downer said "natural" during his waffle with O'Brien, trying to sanitise all the discord as workaday?

the 'discord' is becoming a self-destructive panic. The exhaustion and the paucity of ideas are becoming ever more obvious. So much for Bush's knockout punch.

It increasingly looks as if John Howard has lost the confidence of senior colleagues. As Michelle Grattan observes in The Age

Howard has stared down his ministers, leaving them no option but to publicly support his leadership.

You have your blood: the Liberals are wounded and bleeding.


He sounded like an ad for a particularly nasty breakfast cereal. Downer's vocabulary has never been extensive, but that was ridiculous.


Keating was right about the Araldite. Today will be an interesting day.