The year ahead in Australian politics

Apart from the re-appearance of Peter Slipper early in the New Year, the holiday period was mercifully free of politics. Then on 13 January it was agreed by the media that Julia Gillard had passed a ‘milestone’, having completed 935 days in the job of Prime Minister. She had just passed Kevin Rudd’s length of term, and had become the 16th longest-serving PM. More, if she got through the year she would pass Gough Whitlam, John Gorton and Sir Edmund Barton, and become the 13th longest-serving PM.

Apparently she has sent a letter to voters telling us that she is ready to complete the year and take her party into a further term in government after the elections. We haven’t received our letter yet, so I can’t be more helpful. Nonetheless, the news did set me off into thinking about what the political year might have in store.

Messrs Slipper and Thomson will pop up from time to time in the courts. Mr Thomson has 37 charges to deal with, so he should have more than his day in court. Mr Slipper I wrote about a few days ago. Whenever they are in the court the papers and TV will be full of it, and that won’t help Labor or the PM.

Because it is election year we will see more polls with more readings of the political barometer. Labor is way down, despite an apparent lift in today’s Newspoll, and has been way down for a long time. Julia Gillard is preferred to Tony Abbott as Prime Minister but neither is much liked. The real test is not the ‘performance’ of the leaders but the standing of the parties. Every poll carries a margin of error that is due to the nature of sampling, as well as a margin of error that is due to other matters. For this reason no single poll result should be given much credence, but the long run of poll results is suggestive. The long run tells us that Labor has not really passed the share of support it had at the last election in 2010, and continues to hover down there in the 30-40 per cent primary-vote level. You can’t win another term in government from there. Something would have to happen. What would it be?

One argument has it that while there is a lot of fuss about a given issue, once it is settled voters begin to move on, and this is supposed to be the case with the carbon tax. I would suspend judgment on that until we have moved through winter, when cold weather will turn on the heaters and send up the electricity and gas bills to produce some shock/horror stories on TV of poor families huddled in blankets.

I don’t see any big, good stories on the horizon for the government. It will point out that everyone who benefits from largesse from the system will stand to lose the lot if the Coalition gets in. But that’s a negative argument, not a positive one. With the best will in the world, I can’t see the good news stories that are there for the general public. There have been many announcements about things that are going to happen, but my sense is that the electorate is inured to announcements.

All that suggests that the Coalition has only to wait patiently for the election to arrive, and try not to put too many feet into too many mouths. Tony Abbott has published a book of his speeches, and is attempting to present himself as a man with a positive message. I’m sure that the wiser heads within the Opposition will be telling him just to go out there and play a straight bat to every ball. This is above all a time when a government will lose an election, not one where an opposition wins because of its superior character and style.

What of the Greens? They are doing their best to try to appeal to a wider constituency by refashioning their policies. The Greens’ new look sets out 43 policy areas, each of which begins with ‘Principles’ and moves to ‘Aims’. The areas are weighted towards the environment, as you’d expect, but you can find the Greens’ outlook on the economy and on arts and culture, for example. I don’t have much knowledge at a grass-roots level of the Greens and their support. The ones I know are well-meaning and sensible, but over-concerned (in my opinion) with the environment and over-ready to see things in terms of black and white, which is odd for people whose favourite colour is green. The Greens vote has declined in the last three recent State and Territory elections, and my guess — it is no more than that — is that it will decline when the federal election is held too.

In summary, we are going to have a year like the last one, but with an election probably at the end of it. I wish I could offer something better!

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  • […] In yesterday’s essay about the coming year in politics I didn’t get a chance to talk about the appeals that would be made to us by the parties, but I can repair that omission at once! Of course, each side will go on blackening the other and its leader. I find that stuff incredibly boring. I have worked for Ministers on both sides of politics, and didn’t find much difference. Any examination of the history of Australian politics over the last hundred years will find that long-lasting policies have been put in place by each side, and adapted later by the other when it returned to power. There is a lot of common ground in our system, but you don’t notice it at election times. […]

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