The prospect that the Howard Government might have a Senate majority in its own right has some giddying ramifications, and it has caused some Liberals to become, err, rather ambitious about the sort of reforms that the government can and should make.
Obviously, as a old fashioned Hewsonite, I’m sympathetic to these yearnings myself.
However, the Prime Minister recognises that the Australian public’s appetite for reform is not so great. The hopes of Liberal supporters (and, conversely, the fear of some on the Left) must take account of how John Howard sees political realities moving forward.
His first agenda is to keep the economy steady, and also to ensure that the Liberal Party wins the 2007 election. He understands the need for more micro-economic reform to achieve the first goal, but also understands that the public’s limited appetite for radical reform means he has to keep a lid on.
There is no point, after all, in winning a thumping victory like he has, only to introduce such a heavy diet of reform that the public turns on his government in indigestion. And he will be aware that the Senate results have ramifications for a long time to come.
He knows that if his government manages the economy okay and does not overload the public with reforms, that he can expect to be re-elected in 2007 with a vote pretty similar to what he got this time round. And if he can keep the Liberal primary vote where it is now, give or take a couple of points, the Liberal Party can win its 18 senate seats in that 2007 election.
That would mean a Costello government would have a Senate majority to work with until 2010.
And the public is much more likely to accept the reform packages that Liberals have in mind over a six year period then in a probable two year burst.
After all, a two year burst of reform would not only be too much for the public, it would also smack far too much of hubris. I remember vividly news articles in 1994 where Paul Keating was proclaiming his goal was to smash the Liberal Party out of existence, and he started to push through a real raft of indigestible policies.
If I remember it, you can be sure Howard does too, and he will not wish to befall the same fate. He knows if he governs poorly, or annoys the public too much, that the electorate will turf out the Liberal Party in 2007. So do not expect (or fear) too much out the the government in this term; I suspect that they are well aware of what is politically possible, and will do no more then that.