Tandem backflip

I always feel unaccountably nervous when I find myself agreeing (as I often do) with Paul Watson. Maybe I’m subconsciously fearful of becoming infected by the conviction that all the woes of the world are caused by my parents’ generation, and that it’s too late to get any satisfaction from blaming the bastards because a lot of them are already dead. But this observation is spot-on:

Ever since the Hawke/Keating Labor government of the mid-80s pulled a volte-face by turning to Reagan/Thatcher-nomics for inspiration, it has been trite to observe that there is now little difference between Australia’s two main political parties.

What is new well, sort of is that the political process somehow continues on regardless, as if it matters which party is going to win the upcoming election. Is it just me, or does it seem that the media are already way too worked-up over a mere shadowplay (and I’m not referring to the fact that the election is yet to be officially called)?

I don’t know why Paul confined himself to the mainstream media, though. The Oz blogosphere is equally worked up over the Hobson’s Choice of the forthcoming election. Have a look at Chris Sheil’s blog or either of the Two Tims just about any day. It’s sort of like the footie, I reckon. If you grew up a Collingwood supporter (or in my case a Manly rugby league supporter, although I’m ashamed to admit it the way they’re playing at the moment), you can always get passionate about it, even though your rational mind knows it doesn’t matter a jot.

Anyway, we’re obliged to make a democratic choice, and I’m just about over the temptation to cop out and vote informal. Moreover, I promised to tell readers if I changed my tentative voting intention. And I have (yet again). Latham’s graceful semi-backflip with half-tuck on “troops home by Xmas”, along with Kim Beazley’s comeback to the Labor front bench in his pet Defence portfolio, are enough to tip the balance again for this armadillo.

I really don’t want to vote for Howard if it can be avoided in all conscience, and the added bonus is that I don’t have to vote for that dolt Tollner either. I’m still deeply worried by Latham’s ongoing small target strategy, however, and especially his dodgy promise to reform health policy after the election in some undefined but drastic way. But hopefully the stakeholder summit he apparently has in mind, along with the ALP’s internal democratic processes (such as they are), will ensure adequate public scrutiny and accountability. In fact, I’m not really all that worried that a Labor government would do anything appalling to public health services. What really worries me is the precedent this gambit is setting for a future Coalition government. I can easily imagine Costello announcing an undefined post-election “summit” on industrial relations policy as a prelude for the complete deregulation of the labour market, and destruction of the tattered remnants of the AIRC and the trade union movement.

PS – I see that Graham Young doesn’t share my positive assessment of Latham’s appointment of Bomber Beazley:

Being the US’s answer [to] the problem doesn’t help Labor to win an election.

In our research into the US FTA we found a very strong anti-American sentiment amongst voters. Latham has been playing that theme. First with comments like his classic about the Government being a “conga line of suck holes” to George Bush and then with his suggestions that Australia should pull out its troops from Iraq before Christmas. It should have paid dividends eventually as long as he was prepared to stick with it through criticism.

Now he has reneged on this strong line to appoint someone as his defence spokesman that the US will approve of. Labor wants the US to tickle its tummy. In the South Pacific, Howard might be the US deputy sheriff, but Latham appears to be Deputy Dawg.

This is a re-run of the Peter Garrett miscue. It appears that when Latham has a problem with an issue he brings in a personality to fix it and doesn’t worry that the personality may be at odds with his policy. Already we are seeing the Garrett gaffes caused by past (and present) pronouncements being tested by the media against current party positions.

I disagree with Graham’s analysis. Part of the art of politics lies in keeping as many balls in the air simultaneously as possible. Labor needs to be able to satisfy voters’ desire not to be lapdogs of the Americans, while also reassuring us that they’re not rabidly anti-Yank because most of us support the broad concept of the American alliance and are enthusiastically equivocal consumers of American culture. It would be just as suicidal for Latham to allow himself to be seen as a loopy, anti-American leftie pacifist as a Bush lapdog. The trick is to strike a balance.

And whatever anyone might have thought of Beazley’s strategic judgment as ALP leader in the run-up to the 2001 election, I don’t think Graham would seriously dispute that Bomber was a very successful Defence Minister or that most people still (and rightly) view him as solid, credible and reassuring in that position.

However, this broader observation by Graham is an interesting one, and strikes me as probably true:

Beazley’s appointment is a change in Labor tactics. They are replacing the appeal to anti-Americanism with reassurance that they are on the US side afterall. This suggests that while the national polling as measured by Newspoll, Morgan and McNair Anderson favours them, the polling in the target seats (invisible to the large polling organisations) favours Howard – why else change if you are really ahead in the polls.

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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cs
cs
2022 years ago

You’re a worry Ken, if you think this is some kind of Hobson’s choice. What’s John Howard been putting in the water up there? An 8-year amnesia drug?

Incidentally, I also think footie-type commentary on politics is very interesting in the ‘sphere, and allows for all sides to join in without being consumed in a flame war – as distinct from angsty panksty blogging over your own choice and issues – although there is of course a place for the latter.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Get out the wrong side of bed today, did you Chris?

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

Kim Beazley a very successful defence Minister? That’s a big call Ken. Does anyone remember the small matter of a few submarines and the billions of dollars required to fix them? No, I don’t think that’s how anyone in defence would remember him.

The mark of a good defence Minister is actually the shape of the defence forces five or six years down the track when all of his decisions bear fruit. The reason there is currently no vehicle in the ADF that can withstand attack by a RPG, a weapon even the most underprivileged terrorist has at his disposal, is because under Beazley and Dibb all we had to do was stop them sailing across the big moat.

I hope none of the young men and women leaving Darwin today for Iraq in their Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) end up paying for Beazley’s mistake.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

No Ken, it’s just that the no difference pox on all of them type line completely floors me everytime. Don’t you know there’s a war going on, and not only the real one?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Stan,

I reckon you’re being a bit tough on Beazley. Problems with defence procurement have been endemic for generations, both before and since the Hawke/Keating/Beazley era. Although I’m anything but expert in the area, I see few signs that the current Coalition government has tackled systemic problems in the Defence bureaucracy any more successfully than Bomber managed.

I’d almost be prepared to bet that the current next generation fighter-bomber replacement purchase (F35?) will run into technical, cost and time overrun problems every bit as severe as the Collins-class submarines (or the F-111 aircraft way back in Menzies’ days). Many people forget the F-111 problems these days, because it’s so long ago and they turned out to be durable and successful after all, despite the initial difficulties. I suspect the Collins-class submarines might eventually be seen in a similar light.

I also suspect that some (perhaps even most) of the perceived systemic problems with defence procurement stem from the fact that they’re necessarily buying weapons systems that are new and therefore untested; from producer countries with often very different strategic environments; and in anticipation of future threat situations that can’t be predicted with much certainty. It possibly might not satisfactorily explain the puchase of inadequately armoured LAVs if more suitable products were readily available, but I don’t know enough about that situation to comment.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

You’re quite right Ken, but you can’t be “a very successful Defence Minister”

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Chris,

I’ve spelled out the main factors as I see them in previous posts, so there’s no point in reprising them. Like many voters (perhaps even most, other than rusted-on supporters of the two major parties), I don’t see either the Coalition or Labor as Evil Incarnate, nor do I see politics as a “war”, even though the media likes to portray it that way. I do see Howard as a nasty, dishonest, divisive little man whose use-by date is well past, but I’m assuming (on fairly safe grounds, I think) that he’ll retire fairly soon anyway and hand over to Costello (who on balance I think I prefer over Latham).

James
James
2022 years ago

“McNair Anderson”? Where has Graham Young been for the last 20 years? McNair Anderson was acquired by AGB in about 1985. AGB McNair was itself swallowed by Nielsen a few years later.

His point about the polling is right, however. If the national (or even state) primary-preferred is close, then it’s the private polling of individual marginal electorates that will provide comfort or alarm for the major parties.

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

I agree with the “Defence of Australia” doctrine; and its consequence that expeditionary forces are an expensive and unnecessary burden on defence spending.

I like the potential of the Marine-variant F35, which is short-takeoff-vertical-landing (STOVL) capable. The weakness in the DoA doctrine is that whereas your army is meant to retreat and harass, to surrender your airbases is a major and possibly killing blow. So in fact the retreat-and-harass approach only really counts down to Tindal, which is effectively our last stand. This only gives you 300km of space in which to move. A strong blitzkrieg would knock out most of our northern forces.

If instead you could develop units around wings of F35s, which could operate out of remote airstrips, then one could try to remove or reduce airforce dependence on large, winner-takes-all bases.

Further out, we shouldn’t be mucking around with diesel submarines; in submarine warfare only nuclear power makes serious sense. I’d suggest that the bulk of the navy be turned over a proper US-style coastguard (Labor have this much right, IMO), with the remainder to be concentrated in anti-air and submarine warfare roles.

The question of whether we try to maintain a strategic bombing capability is difficult. The F35s just won’t cut the mustard, I think; so either we abandon bombers altogether (going to cruise and ballistic missiles) or we buy or develop a new intermediate strategic bomber.

Something like a shrunk-down B1B would be nice, but heinously expensive, even if we tried to develop it with pacific partners like Japan and South Korea. I think in capital purchasing terms, buying missiles is far easier because you can smooth out your spending a lot. Also you don’t need to train pilots, or pay their hefty wages and conditions.

That’s my 20c (inflation, you know).

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Interesting about defence procurement. Given the experience recently, armies end up in the infrastructure business as much as the shoot-em-ups. And it turns out our Big Friends are not very good at it.

Peacekeepers, dozer drivers, paramedics, sanitary engineers, prison guards, translators and librarians – a long way from Collins submarines and main battle tanks. New challenges for a defence department and a minister.

I see Latham as putting together a coherent position (to my delight and surprise). First the negative – we will not play in your sandpit by your rules and want our gunsters out by Xmas, which is all very 1915 really. Then the positive – we will have an alternative kind of commitment which represents our values, and lets the ALP emphasise a different brand to the Libs.

So the image is strong, independent and statesperprogenylike.

The reality, of course, is another issue to be addressed at length in the blogosphere. I hope we do more than play brain football.

But I would have thought that a whole list of issues since 96 would have been different under Labor.. Tampa, Iraq, Medicare, the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement, FTA, the GST, perhaps ministerial responsibility. If you concede we would have been living in a parallel Australia, in which many peoples’ lives would have been different, then you have to believe that elections matter. Surely I have just made an obvious point?

Dammit, my own (then) employing agency was taken out and just disembowelled. By halfwits. To no good and significant harm.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

David,

OK I’ll have a go at your list, so you (and others like Chris) can see why for me the question of who I vote for really is a fairly line-ball decision:

Tampa: – I stringly disagree with imprisoning children, and with temporary protection visas, and with the divisive political use Howard made of Tampa, children overboard etc. But I think the core policy of interception and offshore processing has proven to be quite a good and effective policy. It removes the incentive for people to “jump the queue” and entrust their lives to people smugglers, because they dn’t get any greater priority for a visa than if they’d waited in a camp in a country of first asylum. That’s the central reason why the flow of asylum seekers has dropped right away. I suspect that Labor would probably have done pretty much the same had they been in government in 2001. They would certainly have been getting the same advice from DIMIA, and Hawke and Keating always happily took the DIMIA line in government. Most of the policies refugee advocates complain about today were Labor initiatives.

Iraq: – Despite all the negatives (false pretences, current insurgency etc), as far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on Iraq. It might yet prove to be a net positive for world peace, prosperity and stability (although I wouldn;t want to bet on it).
Medicare: – I agree Labor would have done better here
Commonwealth State Housing Agreement: – I agree they would have done better here too, although fiscal constraints mean the difference wouldn’t be huge, and Latham’s new commitments about tax and spending as a proportion of GDP mean they won’t be able to do anything significant.
FTA: – I haven’t made my mind up about whether it’s a good idea in toto or not, so this issue doesn’t affect my voting intention.
GST: – I think the GST was (and is) a good idea, and Howard’s courage in pursuing it (and honesty in seeking an electoral mandate for it) is a strong factor in his favour as far as I’m concerned.
ministerial responsibility: – I don’t think there would have been any substantial difference had Labor been in power.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Like many voters (perhaps even most, other than rusted-on supporters of the two major parties) …

Most people don’t do a ‘let me study the policies in detail’ routine every election. It’s reasonable to assume that a big majority are ‘rusted on’: some 70-80 percent are locked up for one or the other party, based on philosophical, family, class and traditional loyalties etc. A minority – last election, surveys suggest about a third switched their vote from the previous election, and most observers think this was at the outer boundary (because Tampa moved a lot of votes in heartland ALP seats, and there was a big leakage from heartland Coalition seats the other way – giving Howard a net 5 per cent gain among the switchers, which translated into a 2 per cent swing but practically no seat changes) – switch their votes. A majority of this minority (i.e. of switchers), I suspect, are single issue what’s in it for me types or the sort who turn on things like charisma perceptions, scare campaigns etc, and outside the senate most switchers don’t matter (because they are outside the marginals). In short, you may be right Ken, many who switch may be like you (i.e. attempt some disinterested, if haphazard imo, policy audit), but that is ‘many’ within a relatively tiny proportion – albeit a crucial proportion if they hang out in the marginals, i.e. my guess is that you are speaking for a minority of a minority. Doesn’t make you wrong of course … perhaps a little lonely … but not necessarily wrong.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

Chris, would you please let us know the authoritative studies verifying all these breath-taking assertions about the motivations of “swinging voters”. Are there links on the Net? Would make fascinating reading. I know from previous comments of yours that you never make assertions without being able to quote authoritative sources.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Which assertions in particular Ron? Note the words “I suspect”. I know from previous comments of yours that you never ask questions without reading my own comments closely.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

“A minority – last election, surveys suggest about a third switched their vote from the previous election”

Which surveys, conducted by whom? Is “suggest” another “let-out” word that can mean anything?

I suspect that very little is known of switching patterns and the numbers involved.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

By all means stay unconvinced Ron, but be wary of suggesting I wouldn’t have a supporting source, which in this case is ALP exit polls. OK, no doubt you’ll pooh pooh the source. But what’s worth factoring in here is that exit polling is not secret in the usual sense of being limited to select members of the leadership circle, who selectively leak it in their own interests. Exit polling is widely spread within parties, and invariably leaks into the public domain through newspapers and post-mortem and history books. Everyone in a defeated party has an interest in getting the story as straight as possible, as tomorrow’s newspapers don’t matter; they all need the info for setting their three year sails. In other words, the time is uncommonly propitious for truth seekers. In particular, the power of the recently defeated political incumbents to interfere with the methodology or results is at its lowest ebb. I’ve only seen the post-’96 exit polling results in any detail … and the report looked like very good work indeed, that in a sense has only became more born out by the years since, but I digress. All that said, exit polls are taken in a completely different context to regular opinion polls, and the usual caveats of course apply, plus a little more. The figures will not be exactly right, but the general orders of magnitude are likely to stand in some relationship to the true story. In 2001 the exit polls suggested almost 35 per cent switched votes from the previous election.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Chris,

On this thread at least, I think you’re probably right. The 35% swinger figure and somewhat similar levels for “rusted-on” support is round about what my own fairly unscientific observations in recent years have led me to conclude. And I also accept that I’m in a quite small minority of swingers who bother to attempt a “policy audit” to guide their voting intention. However, as you note, the fact that I’m in a minority doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Moreover, it all feeds into musings about public intellectualism, “monitorial citizenship” and so on that Tim D and I discussed in our Evatt articles on blogging a year or so ago. I aspire to see more active citizenship through blogging and other innovations, and that WOULD ideally involve many more citizens seeing the sort of “policy audit” I’m trying to exemplify as a civic duty.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

Adding the 70% of “rusted-on” voters to the 30+% of “swingers” ignores the (suspected) large proportion of non-rusted-on voters who nevertheless voted the same way at two or more successive elections. I suspect (that word again) that the proportion of “rusted-on” voters is in fact well below 40-50% these days.

And yes I place no credibility on any sort of poll where the question is not stated and the detail of the responses is not published, no matter what integrity the story-teller claims.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Any number of explanations are possible for polls Ron … so suit yourself … but on the latter, full details are fully published in party reports, and if you think the general public has a more critical appreciation of the integrity of polls than internal party factions then … I know a good harbour bridge for sale!!!