why the electorate may want change

I reproduce below the gist of my letter in today’s Australian in the hope that it will elicit some opposing comments on why the electorate may want to replace the Howard Government

Letter follows.

Imre Salusinszky (misled by hatred, 20/9/07)) forgets that there are at least as many haters on the cultural right as on the cultural left. But he is right in pointing to the convergence of the main parties – clearly evident in the compromises made by both sides on industrial relations. He is also right in predicting that if Rudd is re-elected, we will get cautious market-friendly policies similar to Howard’s, softened with a sprinkling of social liberalism.

So why is there an apparent desire for change? Salusinszky says it is because the Howard Government has become less reliable. I doubt it. Aided by the resources boom, it has enough runs on the board to give a good impression of competence.

If there is a desire for change, I suspect it has more to do with trust. A government, whether Liberal or Labor, that remains in office for over a decade without any renewal of its top leadership tends to collect a few skeletons (in the form of uncomfortable truths suppressed or withheld) which it is able to lock away from public gaze by exploiting the advantages of incumbency to the full. To ensure democracy works well, there is a a need to clean out the stable from time to time. That may be a dominant motivation at the coming elelction.

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Dennis Cartledge
14 years ago

I think the reason for potential change is driven by a more boring dynamic; economics. Not the booming economy, but household economics. Governments ignore the stresses on household budgets at their peril.
All the indicators (well all except government sponsored statistics) are showing a major increase in household financial stress. Talking up a massive and growing pot from the recourses boom does little to charm people really battling to make ends meet.
It might not be the sexy argument, and the average voter is unlikely to be able to articulate it, but it the single consistent factor with every federal loss of government in this country since 1959.

14 years ago

Some of the OpEdists have made remarks similar to this: “By some nefarious process unbeknown to us all, at some stage during the year/last year, the public in unison turned away from the Government”.

Sounds airy fairy, but I think it’s near the money. Through the combination of built up background events to that moment (part of what Fred is saying), body language and style of public dialogue and general Government manner, policy announcement or lack of and the way that’s done, the public feel or realise the Government is in it now for themselves.

At a guess, it’s the self-serving nature of a Government which creates the mood for change. Howard has made a lot of bad calls lately, but the public turned before that, when he had been your straight bat everyman, unlike Keating who the public regarded as appearing arrogant to signal this time. Howard signalled it through his policies by “going too far”. Then, people started looking past the easysell words harder at him – which he didn’t like at all and then he personally showed and spoke it.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
14 years ago

I agree with Dennis. The “you’ve never had it so good” record economic boom etc. rhetoric just doesn’t accord with the lived reality of too many Australians. High mortgages and rising interest rates, high grocery and petrol prices (which may be counter-balanced by cheaper cars, clothes and consumer electronics for CPI purposes, but we don’t buy those things at the supermarket every week), and a pereception of greater job insecurity (despite low unemployment figures), unfairness and arbitrariness flowing from Work Choices. Moreover, it may well be that more people than Howard/Costello imagine actually do understand that the government isn’t in fact responsible for the Chinese resources boom, but is a largely passive and complacent recipient of the windfall benefit of international good times that suit Australia’s resource-based economy perfectly.

Hence Rudd’s schtick of reassuring the public that he won’t rock the boat and imperil the economic boom, but will take seriously (unlike Howard and Costello) addressing the problems they are experiencing in their everyday lives. And in turn, hence the current Howard government rhetoric of trying to paint Rudd as just a show-pony without substance, who isn’t really taking the public’s daily problems more seriously at all, but is just feigning by announcing endless committees, reviews etc without much in the way of decisive, substantive policy involving commitment of funds and resources to addressing those problems.

In Fred’s terms, I think the message/motivation is “you’re old and tired and out of touch and just don’t understand our problems any more”. It has little or nothing to do with loss of “trust” IMO (or for that matter perceiving the Howard government as “less reliable”). The “trust” meme was the line Latham tried to sell in 2004 and it sank like a stone. I see no sign that public sentiment has shifted fundamentally on that score in the intervening period. The problem with that brand of rhetoric is that most people believe that the politicians on both sides are pretty dodgy/untrustworthy, and both sides spend a significant part of their time reinforcing that perception (albeit only about their respective opponents). The public doesn’t think Rudd is necessarily any more trustworthy than Howard, nor that he’s more reliable (in fact they can’t assess the reliability of him and his team in government, and calming doubts about reliability is necessarily a significant part of Rudd’s strategy). What they do know is that Howard has lost the plot, doesn’t understand their problems and isn’t listening any more, and that therefore they probably have nothing to lose by giving the other mob a go as long as Rudd keeps reassuring them that he won’t behave like a bull in a china shop.

14 years ago

If you look at the polls, there are two things that precipitated this change.

1. Workchoices.

2. Rudd.

It’s like a lightning bolt on those issues. Sure, I think there were other issues in the background (climate change, etc.) and to focus on Rudd too much ignores Beazley’s actually not-bad effort.

But it’s very clear. Workchoices lost Howard the majority, and the arrival of Rudd consolidated it.

14 years ago

I think the economics as related above is certainly central to it. Some of this can also be brought back to the self-serving thing. Howard has grown in gall in directing policy for the purpose of keeping the Liberals in power, and cutting power from his political opponents. That sort of thing doesn’t wash with the punter. Climate Change was never treated as a public concern, but a Liberal Party one. WorkChoices is clearly designed in part to diminish union power and cut Labor power base. Less clear is education, which arguably is designed in part to further the Liberal vision as Howard would have it and over the longer time squeeze out the longstanding Labor platform, and even it could be said to go to the extent of ensuring a ruling class. Latterly, the marginal seat policy making while attractive to that electorate comes across as very self-serving and frankly stinks: though how far the wider public view this is probably unknown, it does however add to the general picture that Howard has grown away from the public.

FWIW, I think the trust issue has changed this term. There has been a noticeable alteration in public comment, showing the “mean and tricky” thing has entered the mainstream and penetrated the suburbs. This was really only previously bandied about amongst the punditocracy. However, it probably means nothing if economic factors mean the public rightly feel they are being served.

Going to Fred’s positing of ‘trust’, it could be said that the public have indeed lost trust in Howard – or the Howard they knew, in that he’s no longer the everyman – in so much as more people now don’t trust a bloody word he says. Howard, I believe, has abused trust beyond the ‘normal’ point of the public generally distrusting politicians. There have been too many instances of it, and I agree its weighing now.

Further to Fred’s post, while it’s a subtle thing perhaps, I agree the public sense a need to have a spring clean when the house is getting overly dirty, and whereby that impedes its function.

Tony Healy
Tony Healy
14 years ago

I think trust is one of the issues, and I think Workchoices was the catalyst. Like Christine Wallace, I see Howard as having run a hidden agenda, while artfully hiding it in full view. Just in the context of Workchoices, for example, David Marr explains the duplicity in Workchoices terminology.

With Workchoices, Howard’s hubris at winning the Senate lulled him into pursuing his agenda too aggressively, and that exposed him. ACTU ads highlighting the impact of Workchoices on mums with young children brought this home forcefully. A new segment of voters started to understand that there was a shift in power underway, but that it was being hidden from them. Howard’s subsequent advertising campaigns just reinforced this.

So, yes, I think trust has become the issue, and I think it’s legitimate.

Rudd also deserves credit for partly neutralising Howard’s economics credentials by educating the media about the role of the resources boom.

Dennis Cartledge
14 years ago

Im not trying to be a smart arse with this economic argument that is just collateral Ive been working campaign over many years and three different countries and been misled often by what the people are saying.
Economics is not my favourite subject, but an article I read in a Fairfax (online) paper a few years back while I was in Canada jangled some bells for me. It related to a prediction model posited by an ALP MP of the time, Rod Sawford, and discussed the Watty formula. I was remiss in not linking the article, but my original post is here.
The skinny is: The formula relies on three indicators – the unemployment rate, inflation and interest rates. If two or more of these rise over a full, three-year electoral cycle, the government will lose. Conversely, if two or more fall the government will be returned.
Sawford held that empirical evidence has clearly shown the rule to be consistent right through the Menziess years to the last election. I dont enjoy the economics research, but I was able to predict the US 2006 mid term election and the last Canadian Federal election based on this theory.
It seems to me everything else is not much more than talking points. For the average punter, like health issues, they will always trot out the presenting issues. Mind you, peeking at the underlying issues is not as comfortable as simply accepting the presenting stuff.
I am currently involved in an independent campaign against the Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister for Queensland. Converting the underlying message to reach a rusted on constituency still eludes me.

14 years ago

Sweet memories of last time we had a Labor government –
Interest rates… mmm yes. But greatest of all, the pilots strike. Government overrides the employers and unionists seeking agreement, destroys the travel industry for months. Staggering losses to the most vulnerable such as taxi drivers. Uses the military as strikebreakers; drives a major share of a unionised labor force out of the industry to seek income wherever they can get a job.

All presumably for hatred of people who made more money than they did. It certainly wasn’t to save the countyr being ‘held to reansom’ for a pay rise, because Labor did far more harm than the pilots ever could.

14 years ago

Mumble makes a pretty persuasive case: Howard is not the electoral genius Shanahan et al have suggested he is –
see here

Up against a good opponent (ie not Latham) and with the effect of time (which Beazley didn’t have assisting him in 1998), not even Tampa and 9-11 might be enough for him now.