28/09/2004 - 22:00

Buyers beware at election time

28/09/2004 - 22:00


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In the wake of the Prime Minister’s $6 billion weekend spending spree, I couldn’t help reflecting on a piece I had read recently on the purchasing power of election promises.

In the wake of the Prime Minister’s $6 billion weekend spending spree, I couldn’t help reflecting on a piece I had read recently on the purchasing power of election promises.

“Can Votes be Bought?”, published by the Centre for Independent Studies, is a analysis of voting trends over the past 35 years and suggests that politicians are kidding themselves if they think spending promises will win them elections.

In fact you’d wonder why the coalition has embarked on the spending it has when you read the analysis by Michael Warby, who I am presuming is the former editor of conservative Institute of Public Affairs’ IPA Review.

Mr Warby compares the electoral swings at every Federal election since 1969 with federal spending, federal receipts and Australia’s economic growth to come to the conclusion that there is not much that John Howard can do to acquire votes.

While there are some things that separate the two parties there are three clear trends that could prove to be ominous for the Liberal/National Government.

Those three things are:

• The Coalition gets no persistent benefit either way from changes to expenditure (be that increased spending or cost savings).

• Voters seem to be ‘hostilely indifferent’ to Coalition economic growth (perhaps they expect it?). In 1998, the Liberals suffered a 4.6 per cent swing against them despite delivering 9.9 per cent GDP growth per capita in the proceeding three years and 3.8 per cent in the year of the election.

• The negative correlation between increased Commonwealth receipts under a Coalition government and voting preferences is very strong (in other words people don’t like tax increases).

All of these factors would appear to be negative for John Howard, unless people are focused on more recent events – such as the tax cuts in May versus the rise in the overall tax take in recent years.

Perhaps the only area where the Liberals and their National Party colleagues can take heart is from the simple fact that voters favour incumbency.

Governments have been turfed out only four times in 14 elections, though there have been two occasions (one for each party) when a majority vote did not equate to winning government.

That is the quantitative stuff.

More qualitatively, the point is made against the backdrop of these numbers, that spending our own money on us or on others is simply not a great way to win votes.

It presumes that we don’t know what to do with the money in the first place or that governments are more efficient at spending it than we could be. We all know it is highly unlikely that voters think that way.

The right tools for the job?

Speaking of election promises, I couldn’t help checking one of the Liberal’s policies with a West Australian business the other day at a Family Business Association event to honour its awards winners.

Recalling a recent announcement from John Howard that new apprentices will get $500 at the start of their first and second years as well as be eligible for an $800 toolkit, I had the opportunity to ask a relevant business what they thought of the idea.

Total Corrosion Control is a big sub-contractor that works mainly on major resource projects. As a specialist group (and the biggest buyer of paint in the southern hemisphere) they provide training to about 1000 people a year – both for their company and others within their training centre.

TCC boss Terry Iannello was pretty adamant that toolkits were not the way to go and that the $800 would be better spent in training.

While there is no doubt that funding for apprenticships is very much welcomed, I just hope this policy’s delivery has been considered properly.

The skills shortage is a major issue in the State and needs every available resource thrown at it – efficiently, though, not with gimmicks but real targeted funding that will help resolve this problem.


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