Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Alex Deane: Report from the Aussie Election Days 15 & 16

It has emerged over the weekend that, shortly before the campaign began, there was disagreement in the Cabinet about whether or not Australia should ratify the Kyoto protocols. Malcolm Turnbull, the Environment Minister, supported ratification. Others, including the Prime Minister, did not. The latter view prevailed. The Prime Minister has attempted to support Mr Turnbull. In turn, Mr Turnbull has declined to comment on the issue in public.

Recently, British researchers offered support for Australia’s position on Kyoto. However, it is my view that this debate is no longer about the facts – it is about whether or not one passes the “decency test” on the environmental question, and Kyoto is the leitmotif of that question. From that perspective, ratification – regardless of factual truth or untruth – might be worthwhile, given the potential political gain.

Moreover, the fact that the disagreement has been made public despite a pretty well known principle might be considered by observers to be a sign that, in the face of unpleasant polls, there are some within the Coalition more interested in their own positions than the fortunes of the Party as a whole.

And finally, for my persistent and constructive critic “Howard” – yes, I am biased. I support the Liberal Party. If you want to convey an alternative POV boosting Labor, write it yourself.

Treasurer Peter Costello debated Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan this afternoon. There had been some to-ing and fro-ing between them before the debate over Swan’s supposed economic conservatism (a claim made echoing that frequently made by his leader, which I’ve ridiculed elsewhere). However, on the day itself things were pretty civilized. There was no killer punch. I’d say that Costello won, but as Mandy Rice-Davies would say, I would say that, wouldn’t I? As I’ve mentioned previously, I think that – barring disasters for one side or another – these debates are pretty much for insiders.

New Newspoll results are in: we’re up 4 points (I say this to satisfy the constant requests for references to polls) – not enough yet, but good.

People fairly ask, why does Labor consent to fight on the Coalition’s strong suit – the economy? Why not fight on health and education, as – for example – Blair did in 1997, areas in which the Coalition is far less dominant or on the back foot in polls?

My answer would be that Labor dominance of the State governments – which (despite the occasional federal foray) run both health and education – makes that problematic. In particular, Labor needs a swag of seats in New South Wales to form government. Polling would suggest that those seats are poachable. But the New South Wales Health system is in a parlous state. NSW Minister of Health, Reba Meagher, is in some trouble. So Labor avoids the debate, for fear of contamination from the State brand.

Plenty of people have challenged my assertion that the Australian media is biased leftwards (or alternatively, simply dislikes this government and wants a change). Well, let’s see what happens: when it was revealed that there had, some time in the past, been abortive cabinet discussion of a policy change on Kyoto, the story ran widely for three days. Today, Kevin Rudd has thoroughly u-turned on Kyoto. It is obviously a bigger story. Coverage thus far is along the lines of “the Coalition says…” rather than the actual “U-turn” story it should be. Let’s see how long it runs.


Anonymous said...

Well Alex it is nice to be quoted. However I cannot disagree with much for you have said today. Australian elections tend to gel in the last two weeks (Keating/Hewson in 1993 is a good example) and this one will be no different.

Costello/Swan was always going to be a tame affair. One because of the audience, two because it was a lunchtime slot, and three because the Liberal party has had some negative polling on how Costello comes across.

I expect the last two weeks of the campaign to be electric, but watch those marginals Alex. They are key.

Anonymous said...

4 points ahead....what are the figures.how big is labours lead in the polls?

Sea Shanty Irish said...

Oz Liberals in general and John Howard in particular are in one of the most deadly positions an incumbent government can ever occupy: respected but unwanted.

Most Australian voters don't dislike Howard & the Coalition. They just see then as the past, not the future. As long as Rudd & Labor remain an even halfway credable alternative, then Howard & the Libs may narrow the gap, but will never close it. This despite Howard's proven past vote-winning abilities (which definitely keep Labor insiders & voters from counting their chickens before they're fully hatched).

One problem for the Liberals is the fact that Howard's annointed sucessor Costello is much less popular than JH. Which is the reverse of the Blair/Brown dynamic at the last UK general election.

Another problem is that Howard wants to talk about his record in office . . . which only reminds voters that he & his henchpeople have been around so long that it's time for a change. So every screw of the propellor just drives the Good Ship Lollypop closer to the iceberg.

Australians are in the situation of saddly getting the old dog ready for his final, one-way ride to the vet . . . all the time knowing that there's a brand new puppy just waiting to be picked up afterwards down at the Animal Shelter.