27 July 2010

Election 2010

Labor clearly won the first part of week 1 of the campaign for the 21 August federal election.

They commenced as frontrunners, with publicly available opinion polls suggesting they were ahead 55/45.

They were also aided by a slow start from the Liberals as well as confusion over the Opposition’s industrial relations policy.

The previous Workchoices policy was supposed to be ‘dead buried and cremated’ - however, Liberal spokesmen suggested the legislation could still be ‘tweaked’ (whatever that meant).

The great difference between Workchoices and the current legislation is the primacy of the industrial award as the basis of determining wages and conditions, as opposed Workchoice’s built in bias towards some form of individual contract.

Why they couldn’t say that in Government the coalition would retain the award system and not reintroduce the concept of unfair dismissals (if that’s what they wanted to do) without winding up into knots over whether or not they would touch any sort of legislative instrument related to the Fair Work Act currently in place over the next three years is beyond us.

As for Labor, however repetitious it was, the ‘moving forward’ mantra confirmed the idea that Kevin Rudd was no longer the leader. Noting infrastructure pressures was also a sound message to sell into Middle Australia.

However, things started to slow for them midweek.

Firstly, Kevin Rudd appeared, reminding people he wasn’t dead after all. Focussing on him soaked up around two days of the campaign week.

This took from view promises both sides made on what can be claimed under the education tax refund scheme as well as the Liberal’s re-announcement of its hit list of expenditure savings.

The remainder of the week underlined the difficulty Labor has keeping its bifurcated constituencies of inner urban progressives and outer suburbanites together.

As Bernard Salt said in an Australian article on 13 August 2009, a significant and growing cultural divergence has evolved in Australian cities between different social groups between those who live in the inner city and those who live on the city’s edge.

The traditional ALP voting coalition has generally consisted of self identifying members of the labour movement, people with English as a second language, welfare recipients, public sector workers, the arts sector and high income professionals who are secularist and internationalist in orientation.

On one analysis, Julia Gillard is well placed to keep this disparate coalition together.

In the Weekend Australian on 16 February 2002, Matt Price described Julia Gillard as someone with the cheese-grater voice of a Footscray fishwife and a the multi-shaded hairstyle of a Toorak trendoid.

At a memorial service held on 14 December 2007 after Price’s death, Gillard indicated she had corrected Price, claiming she had the cheese-grater voice of an Altona fishwife and the multi-shaded hair of a Fitzroy trendoid.

Altona fishwife and Fitzroy trendoid. This sums up the disparate nature of the ALP constituency.

The danger for Labor is that they have the problem that in trying to straddle both sides of the fence they will satisfy neither trendy nor burby.

A confusing message could mean they don’t stand for anything or anyone.

For example, during the week the Prime Minister claimed that the whilst she believed in global warming and the price of inaction about it was ‘too high a price to pay’, promising an emission trading scheme some day – something for Fitzroy.

However, the political process has to be tied to a ‘community consensus’.

The result a review of the proposed ETS during 2012 – but not before a ‘citizens’ assembly’ debates the issue over 12 months to assist in building community consensus (slowing the introduction of the ETS and thus a price on carbon, with its inherently higher consumer costs that it imposes) – something for Altona.

This idea (particularly the ‘citizens’ assembly’) was universally panned – in trying to please everyone they pleased nobody.

Promising offshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat (something for Altona) but not at Nauru (as it hadn’t signed the UN Refugees Convention – something for Fitzroy) similarly appeared to please no-one.

A final example was where the Prime Minister argued that the population debate she commenced was less about immigrant numbers but rather where skilled migrants were going to live.

However, as ex-leader Mark Latham said, it was a phoney debate. He went on to say:

If it's not an immigration debate, it's no debate…………and I'll tell you what it is, it's a fraud. It's an attempt to con people in western Sydney that she's going to do something about congestion.

Nevertheless, these problems ultimately didn’t alter Labor’s frontrunning position.

By weeks end, the Morgan poll still showed the ALP with a 54/46 margin (with a high number of women indicating they will vote Labor), although the last Newspoll had it 52/48.

The Liberals were aided by a ‘nothing to see here move along’ debate between the two leadership contenders (which really was a joint news conference) in which Abbott won by not losing to Gillard (the more accomplished public speaker) and Abbott getting through a 7.30 Report interview unscathed.

And so the second stanza commences with the challenge for the Liberals is whether an Abbott led party can be plausibility regarded as The Champion of Suburbia as well as getting over a perceived problem with women voters.

As frontrunners, it is Labor’s challenge to show that it is not trying to be too clever by half.

01 July 2010

Are All These Leadership Changes Healthy?

Labor has replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard.

Others have commented on the machinations leading to the change, so we will leave it to others to comment on its political benefits to the ALP, whilst history can decide whether stories of temper outbursts and dysfunctional decision making will mean Rudd will be regarded as Labor’s Billy McMahon.

We will examine matters from another angle: the parliamentary parties of the 42nd Parliament have functioned as they should have - as representatives of the constituencies they represent.

The Liberals have seen four leaders (Costello (very nominally), Nelson, Turnbull and Rudd) and the ALP two (Rudd and Gillard).

For the Liberals, the retiring Costello was replaced by Nelson, who was the most attractive ‘not Malcolm Turnbull’ candidate standing as leader.

This was appropriate for a party room not totally sharing the inner urban policy priorities that Turnbull represented – from things like placing a greater weight on the environment as an abstract issue through support of policies such as the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) to possessing less hawkish view on boat arrivals, and so forth.

Nelson was then removed for simply not cutting it. This is rational behaviour for a parliamentary party aiming for early return to government. The party turned to Turnbull – the only candidate making himself available.

Turnbull was replaced in turn by Abbott, largely over the ETS.

It will be remembered that Turnbull staked his leadership on the policy.

He didn’t make the argument well enough to persuade the majority of the party room to abandon the views of core supporters – those who were genuinely climate sceptics or believed in the low taxation and limited government participation in the economy, as well as those for whom the fear of increased costs and possible loss of employment opportunities as a result of the introduction of the ETS trumped general concerns about ‘the environment’.

The net result is an Opposition Leader running a traditional platform for a centre right party, with its emphasis on opposing ‘great big new taxes’ on everything, preserving national security and so forth.

The Rudd/Gillard change illustrates the same dynamic.

Rudd announced so many policy initiatives to solve The Greatest Moral Threat of our Time (or similar rhetoric) in so many areas the view was formed that he overpromised and underdelivered.

The ALP (particularly the NSW Right) see themselves as the guardian of the various programmes incrementally introduced by Labor over the course of time, doing (to coin a phrase) whatever it takes – to the point of appearing nihilistic – to ensure electoral success.

Rudd’s lack of programmatic specificity in speech left this at risk.

The ALP also remains part of the overall union movement.

As Paul Howes said on Lateline on 23 June 2010:

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: One of the key moments of tonight's extraordinary developments was the announcement that the Australian Workers Union had lost
confidence in Kevin Rudd and was backing a move to Julia Gillard. Well the national secretary of the AWU is Paul Howes. He joins us in the studio. Why did you do that?

PAUL HOWES, NATIONAL SECRETARY, AUSTRALIAN WORKERS' UNION: Well we've been looking at what's in the best interests of the members of our union. We know that if Tony Abbott is elected as a prime minister of Australia, Work Choices will be back, the legislation which ripped away fairness from our workplaces will be reinstituted on our members, reimposed on our members, and we know that Labor's message had been lost for the last few weeks, and in fact months, under the Prime Minister's leadership. We have to look at what's in the best interests of our members of our union to ensure fairness remains in our member workplaces and we think that Julia Gillard is the best option to lead Labor to victory at the upcoming election.
Given the relative influence of the factions and unions over the parliamentary ALP, Caucus elected a new Prime Minister who said in her first public statement after taking the job:

And….I believe fundamentally that the basic education and health services that Australians rely on and their decent treatment at work is at risk at the next election.

I love this country and I was not going to sit idly by and watch an incoming Opposition cut education, cut health and smash rights at work.

A very traditional Labor platform.

So, there it is.

After some policy deviations the two major parties have come up with leaders reflecting their traditional values – all as a result of the parliamentary parties acting more proactively against decisions made by the executives of the parties than Australians have become accustomed.

It is now up to the electorate to decide who will form the new government.