Monday, 23 August 2010

Article by PKR in The Australian


A close election result can lead to days of delusion. It happened to the Coalition in the days after the 1990 election when we thought that we might win. For nearly a week, the counting dragged on and on. Our senior people were delusional in saying that the result was too close to call and they were using the interregnum to prepare for government. It fell to me to burst the bubble by publicly declaring that we needed to start preparing for more opposition.

Whatever the 2010 election result, the bubble will soon burst for Labor. Within a week it will dawn on Labor that their campaign and their leader Julia Gillard have been a disaster. Her argument for her political execution of Kevin Rudd was that she could do better and keep Labor in office. Whatever the result, that claim largely disappeared on Saturday night when the Coalition won more seats and Labor had lost its outright majority. The only thing that could have justified her assault on Kevin Rudd was a winning mandate. Even worse, she has spent her time as leader demolishing many of Labor’s policy positions. They may not know it yet, but sooner or later, Labor will have to contemplate a brand new leader.


Julia promised to get Labor back on track and trashed Labor’s record to justify her actions. She fatally undermined Labor’s policy on asylum seekers by announcing an offshore detention centre in East Timor and ridiculously continued to claim that the proposal was still alive even after the East Timor Parliament voted against it. She participated in the Rudd decision to abandon Labor’s policy on emissions trading and then added insult to injury by announcing that her alternate policy of a talk-fest.. This decision alone played massively into the hands of the Greens who took votes off Labor all around the country as well as the seat of Melbourne. Her own record as a Minister was deplorable for its massive waste and was a contributing factor to the downfall of Kevin Rudd. Whilst her enthusiasm for the national broadband network (NBN) seemed to give Labor some heart in the last days of the campaign, the concept of another spending program must have been a worry to many voters who are rightly sceptical of massive government spending. Certainly voter scepticism of Labor’s rail plans in Sydney appears to have been an own goal for Labor.

The circumstances of her rise to Labor leader meant that she campaigned more like an opposition leader than a Prime Minister. Her minders thought that a carefully scripted approach could trade on her status as Australia’s first female PM but the electorate is more savvy than labor’s very ‘blokey’ wheeler dealers understood. It is a good thing to have crashed through that glass ceiling, and it will be Julia’s lasting legacy, but voters sensibly concluded that the policies and the record are more important. When she announced that the real ‘Julia’ would now appear, she only confirmed that, up until that moment, she was not actually in charge but instead was being managed by faceless ‘apparatchiks’. It was another dreadful day for Labor and cemented the image of NSW factional politics going Federal.

And then there was the mining tax. The initial Rudd decision, supported by Gillard and Swan, was political madness.  Initially Julia’s ‘fix’ was portrayed as a sensible negotiated outcome but then it was revealed that the figures were ‘fudged’. It was another appalling decision with no rationale in the public interest and tarnishes another policy area for some time to come.

Labor’s campaign was a disaster and the consequences of the debacle will be with them for a long time. They have ceded authority on issues like climate change to the Greens, their credibility on economic management has been slashed and the potency of the ‘work choices’ slogan in 2007 has been largely spent.

This election will usher in some new ‘accepted truths’.

First term governments have no immunity for shocking waste and mismanagement. No longer will the ‘experts’ say that it is nigh on impossible to remove a first term government.

Secondly, the public do not like public executions and will mark down anyone wielding the knife especially if the election comes soon after the execution. When John Howard was waiting in the wings in 1994, there were some telling him to go for the jugular, but his instincts were right and unlike Julia, he was his own man. Rudd may have deserved his rejection but the public expect fair process.

Tony Abbott has introduced what I think will become 2 new ‘accepted truths’. I favour the idea that governments lose elections rather than that oppositions win elections with the caveat that an opposition has to be a viable alternative with genuine alternatives. What has been new is the extent of the list of things the Coalition will not do. Whilst Coalition policies had many positives, e.g. parental leave, they also had the big commitments of stopping boats, no mining tax, cut waste, and no NBN. Labor portrayed these as negative policies but I suggest that the public like proposals that the Government not do certain things. The result suggests that the public accepted the Coalition propositions as positives. Personally I think it is a big positive for Australian politics because too often in the past political parties have felt they must offer new spending initiatives. This election shows that promising not to spend money and to cut big programs, like the $42 billion NBN can be winning policies. On the other side of the coin, Labor’s rail plans were so blatantly opportunistic that they may have cost Labor votes. Let’s hope a renewed questioning of spending policies will squash ‘accepted truths’ that the public want large ‘nation building’ projects funded by Government.

Tony Abbott has achieved a remarkable outcome; he brought down Kevin Rudd, ignited instability in Labor and either immediately or soon he will have removed Labor from office. But by the quality of his campaign he may have achieved something else, some incremental but still very worthwhile changes to the practice of our political process.
   


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