Australia has now been to the polls. And as predicted we have elected a Coalition Government, ending 6 years of ALP rule starting and ending with Kevin Rudd, albeit with a stint from Julia Gillard for 3 years.
Kevin Rudd has decided, not so gracefully, to exit stage left in terms of the Labor leadership and Tony Abbott is now PM-elect.
Whether Kevin Rudd decides to stick around for another 3 years on the backbench is another story. Going on history you would expect him to quit the parliament at some stage during this term – likely early on. A number of his current and former colleagues have less than subtly suggested he quit the parliament for the good of the party.
WHAT WAS NOT A SURPRISE
It was not a surprise that Labor lost and that the Coalition victory was significant. For most of the last three years the Liberal and National Party opposition have been ahead in the polls – at times way ahead. An Abbott-led opposition victory, apart from at the very start of Rudd redux and the very early stages of the election campaign, was a fait accompli.
It was not a surprise that the Coalition would pick up seats and that these would be mostly in the eastern states, Liberal and National Party seats were gained in all four eastern states: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
With the retirement of the two Independent MP’s who delivered Julia Gillard minority government, the Opposition started the campaign assured of picking up two electorates.
It was also probably not so much a surprise that a poor campaign performance from Greenway candidate Jaymes Diaz saw the Liberal Party fail to gain the seat of Greenway. At the same time, it was probably somewhat significant that Michelle Rowland actually had a pretty significant swing in her favour which should help out somewhat in future elections.
WHAT WAS A SURPRISE
First of all, a significant feature of the results was that western Sydney did not bring anywhere near as much pain for the ALP as many of the polls had predicted. Western Sydney was largely expected to turn blue, well before the campaign even commenced. As noted though, it was not a surprise that Jaymes Diaz lost in Greenway.
It was a pretty significant surprise that Tasmania saw the biggest swing against the Australian Labor Party. It was also significant that other southern states saw a bigger swing to the Coalition than the more northern states of New South Wales and Queensland, where both the Liberal and National Party were expected to enjoy significant swings.
In Queensland, the LNP would have hoped, even expected to gain the seat of Lilley from former Treasurer Wayne Swan, but this did not eventuate. For much of the night it looked as if the LNP would not take any Labor seats in Queensland, but now it would appear they have picked up two. It would appear they have not gone too well in Fairfax, with Clive Palmer seemingly headed for a surprise victory.
WHAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE RESULT
It must be said that the result was probably closer than it would have been had Julia Gillard still been Prime Minister, The election results are still a disaster for Labor. But even party faithful would be pretty happy with the fact that they did not lose a number of seats which would have largely been written off by party tacticians.
So the Rudd return to the leadership was probably responsible for a minor improvement in the electoral standing of the ALP. However it was far from the political masterstroke that polls claimed it would be.
At various times throughout the night it was mooted by commentators, Labor, Liberal and those non-aligned, that a significant factor in the result was the instability within the ALP over the last three years. They would not be wrong on that assumption. Disunity is political suicide.
But those commenting, particularly from the Labor side, gave far too much attention to that one single factor. Few were able to acknowledge that the Opposition were a united force and sufficiently strong force. In doing so, the ALP implied that the collective electorate had made a choice to vote for an Abbott Government based on one factor alone.
There were not just chaotic relationships within the ALP. there was also chaotic administration. Too much was rushed and there was not enough caution in the way the ALP governed. Australians appear to love big government in some ways and not others and Australians also love a pretty conservative style of governance. Labor did not deliver on the latter. And unless they realise that they have to be more cautious and circumspect in the future, they will continue to lose public support pretty swiftly.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
The Coalition now has another three years to govern the country. And this new opportunity probably comes a term sooner than expected. The challenge will be to carefully set out and plan the agenda for the next three years and not repeat the same governance mistakes that Labor have. What will likely be the most conservative administration in our history, is unlikely to make the same mistake.
Sorting out the budget as soon as possible is also likely to be a major challenge. The Coalition has come to recognise this in recent weeks, changing its’ stance on the surplus pledge.
There are an interesting three years ahead indeed.
Julia Gillard has been Australia’s Prime Minister for nigh on 3 years. In that time, the Australian Labor Party’s poll numbers have been disastrous, to the point where a first-term government was reduced to a minority in its second term. Debate has raged about why the poll numbers for the ALP and the Prime Minister have been so poor since that swift leadership coup in 2010. The discussion has only become more frenzied and ridiculous since the 2010 election result.
Of course, many will have you believe that the poor numbers are down to sexism and misogyny, either in combination or separately manifesting themselves.
Speaking last week, the Prime Minister said that it has “not been ever the norm in our nation before for people to wake up in the morning and look at the news and see a female leader doing this job (being Prime Minister)”.
The Prime Minister went on to say ”I am not a man in a suit and I think that has taken the nation some time to get used to – I think it is probably still taking the nation a bit of time to get used to”.
All things considered, three years is a pretty long time to get used to someone they see on their television screens almost every day. And it’s not like the Prime Minister was a stranger to TV and radio audiences while Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister. Julia Gillard did have a significant portfolio of ministerial responsibilities, including education, workplace relations. Julia Gillard was also Deputy Prime Minister, which made her Acting Prime Minister when Kevin Rudd was overseas.
So if it has nothing to do with lack of exposure, or with the unique situation of having a female in the most senior of public roles for the first time, then what might be a problem for the PM?
Well, first, as a direct result of the poor polling, it is the mostly male backbench, or part thereof which has seen fit to leak and background against the Prime Minister and her allies. Are they guilty of misogyny or sexism? No, they are just guilty of trying to do all they can to keep themselves in a powerful position when they are in threat of losing their electorates at the September 14 poll. The backbench MP’s, in doing so, have managed to continue the poor form of the government.
Believe it or not, the continuing poll woes are still, in part, disdain toward the Prime Minister for the way that Kevin Rudd was knocked off. The fact that Kevin Rudd still proves so popular with the public is as irrefutable evidence as the collapse of the vote for the ALP over the same time period.
Funnily enough, the poor showing of the Labor Party is also about policy. It is about both rushed policy and policy that is actually bad, or at least perceived to be substandard by the general public. The public have been lied to a number of times now and they are simply growing tired of it and the vote has collapsed as a result, just like it would take a hit if the Coalition failed to deliver on its promises.
In case the PM was not aware, both her ratings and those of Tony Abbott are not the best in terms of approval. With the personal approval ratings for both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott comparable, maybe Tony Abbott can claim misandry? Ahh, no. They are both unpopular for a mix of historical and policy-related reasons.
Very few people would doubt that misogyny does exist in the community. But there is enough evidence to point to it not playing a significant role in the political situation facing the Prime Minister and the Australian Labor Party and certainly not a vote-changing one. That does not mean we do not need to address it, but implying or flat-out stating that it is a significant stumbling block for the Prime Minister in terms of the vote is to be disingenuous.
It seems a pretty weird thing to tell the public that they are not used to you. But then, this 43rd parliament has been quite strange.
In under six months Australians will head to their local school, council building or community hall to vote in the 2013 federal election. Even at this early stage, the Australian Labor Party have been written off – their primary vote has been far too low for far too long. One poll has even suggested that about 80% of voters have already made up their minds about which political party they intend to vote for on September 14. The situation does not leave much hope for the ALP.
It is however very important to think about the impact of your vote and what it would likely mean for both yourself and for the country going forward. There are some absolutely crucial questions which you need to consider before casting your ballot in September and it pays to start contemplating them early.
Chances are that most of the politically engaged have considered at least one or two of these questions. Some have perhaps considered all of these important factors. But there will be some who have put little thought into their choice and why they have chosen to support that party and others who are among the undecided voters who have not yet committed to a decision to vote for a particular party at the election.
Perhaps the first thing to think about, the one question which encompasses all factors in the vote choice process, is which political party is the best fit for you?
That question involves thinking about how you respond to the different policy ideas and themes put forward by the political parties. It is entirely subjective and centred around your own needs and wants, but that is okay. You want to give your preference to a political party you feel comfortable with. You will almost certainly not feel entirely comfortable with all the decisions that political party makes, rather you will feel most comfortable with putting them first on your ballot paper.
Another necessary element to consider is similar in nature to the first and it is to think about which political party is the best fit in terms of the present political situation.
Basically, this asks us to look at the present time and ponder which political party is best equipped to deal, not just with the pressing concerns of Australians, but also which political party is best able to respond to external factors. Again this requires an examination of present policy, but a basic understanding of the way each political party has responded to certain situations is also beneficial.
You will also need to decide which political party offers sustainability.
Some people have probably ceased reading at this point at the mere mention of the ‘s’ word. But sustainability in this sense refers to two different things, depending on what you value the most. If you consider environmental sustainability the most important thing when you think of sustainability then your answer to who to support in terms of this question is pretty obvious. But then there is also budget sustainability. This refers to which political party you think is best equipped to maintain a sustainable budget position. Your answers here will be divergent.
When we think of whom to vote for at the election, stable government should be something in our minds.
First and foremost, after the last three years, we should consider a stable government to be one where there is not minority government. Thankfully that is an impossible event this time around. Minority government gives oxygen to a scramble for power and that in turn promotes a greater likelihood of less than optimal outcomes from government decisions. A stable government is also one which is not spending its time fighting within itself and therefore provoking uncertainty.
Last and certainly not least is to contemplate which political party will do the most for our freedom.
When we think of freedom it is natural to think of our own freedom. However, we must also think about which party does the most to promote and allow freedom and freedoms for all members’ of society. For some this will mean ‘freedom to’ and others ‘freedom from’ and for some it will mean considering both concepts of freedom.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions, but it should give you an idea of at least some of the essential questions which should shape your thinking at election time.
For many, September 14 will be an easy choice – we see that from week-to-week, with the poll results indicating a landslide election victory is well and truly on the cards. For others there will need to be some thinking done.
The Prime Minister paid a visit to the Governor-General today for the swearing-in ceremony of her latest ministry. This is the second visit to Yarralumla in as many months for Julia Gillard and it comes just a matter of days after the ALP again found themselves facing a leadership spill, which this time did not happen. The election date was obviously firmly in mind in the ministerial considerations the Prime Minister again had to make ahead of the May budget session. The result – the continued perpetuation of some of the same issues which have plagued the Gillard Government.
Perhaps the most striking think about today’s announcement is the decision made by Julia Gillard to create multiple ‘ministers for everything’. Five existing ministers in the Gillard ministry now have extra portfolios.
Anthony Albanese has had Regional Development and Local Government added to his title, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus takes on the dual role of Special Minister of State and Minister for Public Service and Integrity and Craig Emerson snares Chris Bowen’s former role in Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. Finally, Greg Combet becomes Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation and Tony Burke adds Minister for the Arts to his already lengthy ministerial title.
Gillard backers have clearly been rewarded with the exception of Anthony Albanese, the conciliatory Rudd backer who has received the key portfolio of Regional Development which is a very neat fit with his existing responsibilities in Infrastructure and Transport.
There are just six months until the election. Obviously that has had a major impact on the distinct lack of change and renewal in the changes announced today at Government House. It would have been wise to promote existing talent, despite the electoral prospects of the ALP at the September 14 election. Some would consider that a waste of good people, but the best team should always be made available regardless of the state of play.
There were a number of new additions to the ministry, but for the most part they were underwhelming choices. Andrew Leigh and Gary Gray were the best appointments in the new ministry. Others elevated were Sharon Bird, Don Farrell, Catherine King, Michael Danby, Senator Jan McLucas, Senator Matt Thistlethwaite, Amanda Rishworth and Shayne Neumann.
If the Prime Minister was looking for a way to continue to foment chaos within her government, today she found it. Having so many ministers, already struggling with burdensome portfolios is not a smart political move at all. Yes, there is only six months to go until the polls and there will not be much more legislative work undertaken, but the policy effort must continue and will be stifled by the mega portfolios created today.
If ever you wanted a glimpse at the thinking of our leaders, without actually needing to hear an answer, you got it. Far from the bloated portfolios simply making policy work more difficult, the ministerial announcements also portray a fatalism within the Labor Party. That fatalism is obviously at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind, the reshuffle was designed by her.
If there was one strong positive about the announcement it is that there will apparently be a decrease in the size of government, or at least a bit of a streamlining of it. The Department of Climate Change will now merge with the Department of Industry and Innovation.
Like many problems, the solution to the personnel issue was rushed and ill-considered. There was a small amount of good done in the selections made, but it was cancelled out by the poor decisions.
Chaos will continue to reign and now the government quite clearly looks to have given up all electoral hope.
The Australian Labor Party had another very ordinary week last week. They have had a lot of ordinary weeks over the last two-and-a-half years, but the events of last week made that period of time for Labor one that they would surely rather forget. The ALP have also had two other periods of time they would rather forget, so the spill which never went ahead was not exactly a unique event. Labor has now had three leadership spills since coming to office in 2007. The first one was successful and the last two unsuccessful for very different reasons.
The spill which never was, happened to be truly bizarre. One of Rudd’s detractors, Simon Crean called on the Prime Minister to bring about a leadership spill and in the process got himself sacked from the ministry. It appeared he was trying to bring the issue to a head at the very least and quite possibly attempting to portray at least a facade of unity. Why else would one of Julia Gillard’s most vocal supporters stick his neck out like that?
There were some definite winners and losers last week. Prime Minister Julia Gillard came out of the botched spill itself a winner, but still damaged nonetheless. But there were other big winners last week and they were conservatism and liberalism. Simon Crean was obviously a big loser from what transpired. His ministerial colleagues who have backed Kevin Rudd since he was deposed have also paid a price, except for Anthony Albanese. And of course the last week will take a heavy toll on the Labor Party.
Julia Gillard again emerged victorious from a period of destabilisation. At each attempted coup the PM has triumphed. That in itself makes the Prime Minister a winner, but unfortunately for the Labor Party, it leaves them without electoral hope.
Conservatism is clearly a winner after last week. The Coalition returning to government becomes even more of an electoral certainty than it was the week before the failed leadership ballot. Voters will certainly crave government stability and willingly forego a more policy energetic government after the last three years.
Liberalism is a winner on two fronts. Obviously the Liberal Party does subscribe, in part, to the liberal tradition, even though the party has long been hijacked by the conservative ideology. So of course liberalism is, in part, on an electoral winner.
Liberalism also wins for another reason. Senior Labor MP and now former minister Martin Ferguson gave a considered speech about the future of the ALP upon resigning his post. He said that the party must regain the reforming mantle of the Hawke and Keating governments. Both these governments, though Labor in brand, can be considered to have a not insignificant association with the liberal tradition.
Some talented ministers and whips have now resigned their posts, all because of their association with the Rudd camp. This seems counter-intuitive when there has been absolutely no question of ministerial wrongd0ing by any of those in question. They simply backed a man with an ego who, when push came to shove, failed to turn up. If showing unity is the game, then there should have been no resignations, whether they were pushed or took the plunge themselves.
In the case of Simon Crean it is not easy to argue he should have been spared. Sacking Simon Crean on the day was the only option available to Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, but she could consider bringing him back and that would not cost any political capital.
It is quite possible, even likely, that those ministers who have resigned do not wish to serve under Prime Minister Julia Gillard. But we will likely never know.
Some healing needs to take place within Labor to save some seats at the September 14 poll, but that cannot happen with former ministers heading to the back-bench.
That healing and quest for unity needs to go deeper than Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard electioneering together in August and September and it needs to start today.
The Australian Labor Party in Western Australia were roundly defeated at the state poll on Saturday. It would appear that the ALP have been reduced to just 19 seats in the 59 member lower house of the West Australian parliament. The WA Liberals could govern in their own right after Saturday’s election drubbing, but will not. Despite the huge win, Colin Barnett’s Liberal Party will again join with the WA Nationals to form a coalition government in the westernmost state. Together they won an estimated 40 seats.
It was not as big a win as the New South Wales Liberals experienced, nor the Queensland LNP, but it was a very significant victory for the Liberal team in Western Australia and an extra painful loss for the ALP in the state.
After such defeats – in fact, after almost all election losses, the usual questions are asked. What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? Was the campaign strong? Were there external factors which influenced the result?
It is abundantly clear that there were a number of factors which, when put together, led to the election result we saw at the weekend. The electoral age of the Barnett Government was a factor as was the campaigns run by both the major political parties. The result was also undoubtedly influenced by the state that the federal ALP finds itself in.
We can learn a number of lessons from the WA result.
The first is that most political parties will almost automatically spend more than one term in government. That happened here after four years of minority rule by Colin Barnett and his team of Liberals and Nationals. But what might have shocked was the extent of the voters’ desire to see the Barnett Liberals serve out another four years in government. And in truth, the kind of result we witnessed cannot be simply explained as the electorate giving the government another chance. Voters clearly wanted to deliver much more than just another four years.
Both the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party ran strong campaigns. And both were praised in the media for their strong campaigning efforts. But obviously the Liberal Party ran the stronger campaign. It is impossible to argue against that assumption given the result. And both campaigns were also very positive and based around further developing Western Australia.
Since the results came in late on Saturday night, thoughts turned to what this meant for the Labor Party locally and nationally. Discussion, as it does after a string of poor poll results, also turned to the question of leadership. Funnily enough, there was no questioning of the suitability of the ALP leadership team in WA. Instead, talk turned to what the result might herald for the Gillard Government and its figurehead, Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
There is no doubt that the Labor brand is toxic. We discovered that pretty quickly after seeing Labor Governments fall around the country, in two cases, into a deep electoral abyss. But it is not WA Labor that is on the nose in a particularly major way, it’s the ALP in the federal parliament which people are particularly weary of.
Because it is the Labor name that is toxic, it really does not matter much about who the federal Labor leader and Prime Minister is. Even though polls say Kevin Rudd would win an election if he were to become PM again, realistically, the electoral prospects for the party are still dire. So if the federal parliamentary Labor Party heeded the calls of former WA parliamentarian Alannah MacTiernan, apart from an initial bounce and a prolonged narrowing in the election-winning lead of the coalition – there would not be the required poll surge past the opposition.
Perhaps the strangest part of the election result was the unwillingness of commentators to give much credit to the Barnett Government. The people are not particularly stupid. If they thought he was doing a terrible job they would never have given him as Premier, and his government, as much as an endorsement as they did on Saturday at the ballot box.
Saturday too was just another message for Canberra about what is coming their way in September. It has an inevitability to it. The result will cause further leadership rumbles, but whether or not the federal ALP go into a panic is yet to be seen.
It is however, unlikely.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is heading to western Sydney. From Sunday Julia Gillard will spend almost a week in Rooty Hill, an area of western Sydney frequented by politicians, particularly during recent election campaigns. Ms Gillard will temporarily relocate to the area from the Prime Minister’s residence in Kirribilli where the aim will be to try to reach out to some of Australia’s most important voters. The move is one of the most obvious examples of a stunt that you could find. But not only that, the mini campaign smacks of desperation and the timing of the visit is incredibly poor.
The poll numbers are bad for the Australian Labor Party and even the Prime Minister’s political stocks are falling against a more positive Opposition Leader in Tony Abbott. The latest Newspoll has the ALP two-party preferred numbers at 55% to 45% in the Coalition’s favour. But it gets worse for the government, because that poll also suggests that 80% of voters have already firmly made up their minds. It would be a brave punter backing a Labor victory at the September 14 poll.
Desperate times have certainly resulted in a desperate measure when it comes to Julia Gillard’s little sojourn to the western part of Australia’s biggest city. Nothing looks more desperate than the most senior government MP spending a week in an electorally important area at any stage in the electoral cycle, let alone this far out from the poll.
The announcement of Ms Gillard’s intentions could not have come at a worse time. Just a matter of weeks ago, the PM nominated a firm date for the 2013 election. During that speech at the National Press Club, the Prime Minister remarked that her decision to call the election this early would clearly lead to a differentiation between the days where the government would be engaging in the task of governing the country and those days where it would be campaigning for re-election. Well, it is now clear that mantra has been thrown out. Next week will be a week of campaigning on the part of the Prime Minister.
Let’s be honest though – regardless of Julia Gillard’s words, we were still going to be in campaign mode. In fact, we have been in campaign mode since day one of the 43rd parliament. Most of that campaigning has been coming from the opposition, but nonetheless, the naming of the election date will only give rise to more feverish campaigning, particularly on the Labor side of politics. Both the Liberal and National Parties will continue to campaign, as they have now for over two years.
Julia Gillard’s sudden immense interest in western Sydney, if not an act of abject desperation, is a stunt. Well actually, it’s almost certainly both an act of desperation as well as a stunt, a public relations exercise – call it what you will. That is a pretty lethal combination.
It is true that all politicians engage in stunts. Politicians often take part in stunts on a daily basis. Even press conferences can be little more than stunts from time to time. The hard-hat however seems to be the prop of choice for political stunts, albeit a necessary one – most of the time.
Voters are generally very cynical about even the most tame of stunts engaged in by our elected representatives. Most of us wish they were not a feature of politics, but they are an unfortunate but necessary reality. They are aimed at the less politically attuned. Political displays are used as a subliminal tool to try to convince the unwary voter of the bona fides’ of politicians.
A stunt should look more natural to even the most discerning voter. Political grandstanding is always going to look a little ugly to the clued up elector. Subtlety is the key to faux displays of political action. There is nothing subtle about the Prime Minister spending five days in an area across town from her residence, when we know how important western Sydney is.
A very helpful point was made on The Drum tonight. One of the guests remarked that it was odd of the PM to decide to stay in western Sydney rather than make the daily commute. The argument was that the daily drive would have shown just how difficult it is to commute between the city and the suburbs. And that is true. Infrastructure and overcrowding is a big issue in Sydney, and increasingly so in the west of the harbour city.
Some very dodgy and panicked choices have been made by the Prime Minister and Labor and they have all been painfully obvious to the electorate. A more subtle approach to western Sydney would have been appropriate, though as it is – the little campaign on the other side of town will matter very little in the bigger picture.
Julia Gillard has a plan for education – well sort of. The Prime Minister announced her intention at the weekend to implement a new nationwide reading program. But there’s a catch: the commonwealth government does not implement school education – the states do. And there are varying degrees of disagreement from state Liberal Premiers. The PM has been picking her battles of late, choosing to give it to the Greens and now a broader and more deliberate and utterly transparent strategy is quite clearly to take on the Liberal Premiers. It is an indirect battle in the war against the federal Liberal Party. But is it the right battle to pick? Are there other options at the disposal of the federal ALP?
The new nationwide program will form part of the plan to improve education results across the country. The Gonski report recommendations on school funding have also caused a battle between the state and federal governments. The review called for an extra $6.5 billion dollars to be contributed to the education budget. Of course that cannot come from the states alone – the commonwealth has to contribute a share of the funds and funding agreements at COAG are at best a long and laborious process and at worst, pointless.
It is quite a shame that there is such a war about school education. Improving literacy and numeracy should be based on expert advice and the Gonski review provided that. Competitive federalism in this area should give way to cooperative federalism. School management and oversight on the other hand is a completely different beast and providing it does not interfere with teaching and learning, is fine to be based around ideology.
Funding is a problem. There is absolutely no commonwealth money to go towards implementing the recommendations of the report. Any of it will be borrowed and that presents a budgetary dilemma. But the education of our children should be looked upon as an investment. There are other areas in the budget which are far less important and where spending is actually wasteful. These areas of spending could and should be cut to give the required funds to education. And that is the case for the state governments too.
But back to the politics of the education funding wrangle. This battle is a purely political construct. It is an attempt by Canberra, or more accurately, the ALP in Canberra to paint the state Liberals as bad. And by doing this, the Labor Party is clearly hoping that the bad look translates to the federal Coalition by default, although it’s not exactly default as they support the status quo. It’s an attempt to vicariously land a blow, because whatever they try, Labor cannot take a trick and they are landing no blows on the political face of the opposition.
There are not many options left for the Labor Party in terms of an electoral strategy. At best they would hope to valiantly continue the electoral fight with as much vigour as they can muster. Even a significant error by the opposition would appear unlikely to lose them the election. So the ALP fighting the federal Liberal Party and the state arms is one of a very limited range of options which will be utilised by the Gillard Government between now and the election.
Regardless of whether or not a fight should be provoked by any given policy, the Gillard Government willingly pursued this particularly battle strategy, sparking this added conflict in the Gonski war for their own electoral gain.
But it will not matter at all for the election result.
Wayne Swan has had a bad year so far and so has the government he is a part of. Just one and a half months into an election year, the Treasurer in the Gillard Government looked uncharacteristically flustered, utterly chastened in Question Time today, especially after another faux pas at the despatch box in the parliament.
This week Mr Swan has copped it from both sides of politics, after late last week revealing that the Minerals Resource Rent Tax has raised just $126 million so far which is just a fraction of the full-year estimate of $2 billion. The opposition has chided the Gillard’s man in Treasury for getting the numbers so wrong and now members of his own caucus are openly pushing for an amendment to the tax. There is no doubt that political damage has been suffered.
Polls show that the tax is popular, so if the government chose to amend the profits-based tax it is unlikely to result in the loss of any political skin. An ugly battle with the mining companies would eventuate though
The problem would not be so terrible had the figures just been ordinary. The political damage has been compounded because the MRRT was supposed to fund a number of initiatives proposed by the government. Now, that revenue has to come from elsewhere and there is just no money to be found in the budget.
The mining tax problem gave rise to claims of another possible tax problem, but the confusion and uncertainty appears to be all the making of a Treasurer stung by the last couple of weeks in politics. Asked if the government would increase the personal income tax rate, Swan initially refused to rule it out on breakfast radio and this provided more than enough fodder for the opposition. Later in the day, the matter was cleared up, but the verbal diarrhoea had already done its damage.
The Coalition should however tread very carefully around the matter of tax increases. Perhaps they should not even bring it up. There is a tax on the cards unless the Coalition ditch their expensive paid parental leave scheme or radically amend it before the election.
But Wayne Swan’s day did not end there. In Question Time the Treasurer miscommunicated the unemployment rate, falsely stating that it was 5.1% when it is in fact standing at 5.4%.
Such a mistake is relatively common in politics. But when a simple error like that comes on top of a couples of weeks of political hell, a small problem is easily magnified. And he was not helped by the lethargic performance he gave in correcting the record. He was not his usual overly confident, often cocky self. He looked downtrodden.
There have been calls for Wayne Swan to resign. This will not happen and it should not happen. Neither a resignation or a sacking would help the situation for the government, which has already subjected the voting public to enough confusion in the six weeks or so since the start of the year. A new face in the Treasury portfolio would not make a difference.
Anything the government does wrong now just feeds into the narrative of a government in chaos, hurtling toward an electoral drubbing. The best thing that they can do is try to appear as stable as possible and that will be very difficult, nigh on impossible.
A Coalition meeting was today told by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that overseas travel is a no-no from now until the election. It is an interesting strategy and could tell us more about the political situation in Canberra than we think. It could also be just as much the case that the move is a prudent strategy in terms of connecting with the Australian electorate.
In announcing the overseas travel ban to his colleagues, Mr Abbott cited the possibility of an election at any time as reason enough to prevent his MP’s from journeying around the world. Of course Prime Minister Gillard has already announced that the election will be on September 14, which leaves plenty of time for travel between now and polling day. So it does appear a little odd, the alternative Prime Minister putting a stop to the jet-setting travel habits’ of MP’s.
But stranger things have happened. A Rudd return might actually have slightly more chance than Buckley’s. Kevin Rudd has ramped up the PR assault over the early part of 2013 and that has escalated spectacularly over the last 24 hours. Of course the chances are still remote, but it’s politics and a lot of intriguing things have happened over the last 5 years.
If there were to be a second stint from Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, Labor would want to make a quick transition from a Rudd return to a federal election. If a Prime Ministerial switch were to happen, calling an election would likely be an immediate move. In that event, the Coalition would want to have all MP’s ready and available to hit the campaign trail from the moment the election is called.
The move also has a not insignificant subtext. N0 overseas travel also implies a focus on promoting domestic policy concerns rather than “learning” about obscure nations that mean little to nothing for us in a diplomatic and political sense. Also, international travel is far from necessary for all MP’s. Indeed, most MP’s do not need to engage in travel.
Blocking overseas travel may be a prudent move, not just in terms of electoral readiness, but in terms of cutting down the potential for a public relations disaster which might annoy the public. The general public is at the very least suspicious, even downright against politicians embarking on ridiculously blatant junkets and so-called “study tours” overseas.
Okay, banning travel for a short period of time is probably not a massive vote winner, but it is a sensible move that might translate into some votes on election day.
A limited group of Liberal and National Party MP’s should however be exempt from any travel ban. Those in mind are the Opposition Leader himself, his deputy Julie Bishop who also happens to be Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, any other MP with a shadow portfolio which has an overseas focus, and parliamentarians on committees which require travel that would be in the national interest.
Restrictions on these representatives should still exist, but some reasonable leeway given.
In fact, while they are at it, the Coalition should plan to introduce tougher restrictions on MP travel. But of course they will not. The travel bug is a virulent thing. Politicians are struck down by it constantly. In many cases they could avoid the illness by not exposing themselves to so many perks. But why would they want to change that? The consequence is that they will continue to be infected.
We now see the underlying intent to focus on domestic issues. The next step is to put the policy meat on the bone. This should be a gradual thing as we move toward September.
That will be easier communicate with politicians’ feet firmly planted on Australian soil.