Weighing the political balance

Tim Dunlop is running an ‘open-mike’ post on how readers are intending to vote at the forthcoming federal election and why. My own most recently-announced voting intention was to vote informal, because I couldn’t bring myself to vote for a Howard-led Coalition and was so unimpressed by Latham (especially in view of his “withdraw the troops from Iraq by Christmas” foolishness) that I couldn’t bear the thought of voting Labor either.

I suspect most other Australians feel equally uninspired by both Howard and Latham and unsure how they’re going to vote at this stage, which is probably why the opinion polls are jumping around all over the place at the moment. Of course, the trouble with voting informal is that it’s really abrogating one’s civic reponsibilities. Someone’s going to get elected even if I opt out, and there’s a pretty persuasive argument that we should at least attempt to choose the lesser of two weevils. Here’s my list of factors in favour of voting for the Coalition:

  • Howard’s experience and “steady hand” in difficult, dangerous times;
  • Howard will “stay the distance” in Iraq. Whatever may have been the merits or otherwise of deposing Saddam in the first place, the consequences of walking away now just don’t bear thinking about;
  • The Coalition is probably stronger than Labor on economic policy. Latham seems to have been forced to make significant concessions to the trade union movement on some economic issues e.g. industrial relations, where I think the current balance is mostly working OK (although that wouldn’t be true if the Coalition ever succeeded in implementing its next stage of union-bashing ‘reform’;
  • Contrary to what seems to be the opinion of most Australians, the prospect of Peter Costello taking over from Howard during the next term is actually a factor that makes me more likely to vote for the Coalition, not less. I detest Howard’s cynical dishonesty and divisive social conservatism. Costello’s positions on most social issues seem fairly close to my own, albeit that he’s more economically “dry” than me. Nevertheless, I suspect that a Costello-led Coalition government is one I could happily tolerate.

Here’s my list of factors in favour of voting Labor:

  • Latham is a new, enthusiastic, energetic leader not yet too mired by cynicism, compromise or expedient betrayals. He’ll get that way eventually, and then it’ll be time to kick him out, just as it’s now well past time for Howard to be given the shove. Deciding who to vote for is a lot like making good compost: – you need to turn the ingredients regularly and mix the manure;
  • Latham is policy-oriented in the sense that he’s not afraid of ideas and analysis. By contrast, I doubt that Howard has had an original thought in 20 years. Of course, a significant part of Latham’s “third way” stuff is egregious nonsense, but with a bit of luck it’s just a half-baked attempt at brand-differentiation that he’ll rapidly abandon once in government;
  • Although I disagree with Latham’s “troops out by Christmas” stance, I agree generally with his somewhat more independent, less sycophantically pro-American stance (compared with Howard);
  • I expect that Latham, as a Labor leader, will be more inclined to spend federal funds on health and education than the Coalition. On the other hand, his recent promise to reduce both tax and spending as a proportion of GDP, while significantly increasing health and education spending, doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. The maths of that position just don’t add up, and asserting that the money will come from $8 billion worth of “waste” doesn’t help either. Those sorts of spending reductions would require the axing of significant existing government programs, and Latham needs to tell us which ones. I doubt he’ll get away with his current attempts at a thinly-disguised Beazley-style small target strategy for much longer. There isn’t the same broadly-based “anyone but Howard” public sentiment that existed against Paul Keating in 1996. I for one don’t intend voting Labor unless I understand clearly what they intend doing in government. Better the devil you know …

So which one will I choose? I still don’t know, but I’ll probably decide to go for one or the other rather than vote Informal. I’m very much a swinging voter these days.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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2022 years ago

I’ll be voting Labor for a candidate who was beaten in the preselection ballot by a far more capable young fellow, but won only because in the A.L.P.,we now give a 20% weighting for female candidates. I accept that I have a moral obligation to vote Labor; but I’m not sure many ordinary electors will feel a need to support us, simply because we are standing a female candidate.

2022 years ago

I also dunno.

I’m conflicted between dislike for Howard’s continued wedging and social conservatism (the reason I’ve avoided voting for him in the past) and intense distrust for Latham.

Then again, I live in a safe Labor seat (maybe Garrett can have a 6th tilt at it?) so it’s not likely to count for much. No pork for Bargarz.

2022 years ago

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