01/05/2007 - 22:00

Foreign power may help Rudd

01/05/2007 - 22:00


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Growing numbers of confounded political and party boffins have, understandably, begun asking each other who is going to win the coming federal election?

Foreign power may help Rudd

Growing numbers of confounded political and party boffins have, understandably, begun asking each other who is going to win the coming federal election?

Although Labor boffins suspect they may finally be on a winner, they’re still in considerable doubt.

After all, they’ve been there several times before but John Howard always pips them at the post.

Liberal boffins, on the other hand, have started thinking that this time is different.

Although they’ve also been there before – expecting defeat but at the last minute pipping Labor, with Kim Beazley stumbling twice and Mark Latham once – they suspect this time they won’t get over the line.

Kevin Rudd, they feel, is a different type of adversary.

That said, how are we non-boffins to view this muddled situation, six or so months out from election day?

Like the party boffins on both sides, State Scene is certainly undecided.

One day it seems Mr Rudd really has the wherewithal to do what no Labor leader has done since Paul Keating successfully fought off Liberal leader John Hewson way back in 1993.

On other days there are doubts.

Mr Rudd may look flashy during his 30-second TV grabs but many suspect that, behind this media junkie’s carefully tailored snappy image, there sits an officious little tyro in disguise.

And with John Howard being something of a campaigning Houdini, he’s certainly capable of adding another notch to his holster.

In 1996 he quite easily disposed of the increasingly overbearing Mr Keating.

This was followed by three more disposals; Mr Beazley in 1998 and 2001, followed by the most ignominious one of all – Mr Latham’s defeat in 2004 and resignation from parliament in 2005.

But where do all these hopes and doubts leave us six months out from what Mr Howard seeks to make his fifth consecutive win?

According to State Scene’s best electoral affairs informant, the situation is best understood by looking not to the 1996 Keating-Howard run-off, or the 1998 and 2001 Howard-Beazley elections, or even the 2004 Howard-Latham clash.

These contests, he says, are best ignored since they fail to set up the proper perspective of what’s ahead with the coming October or November 2007 Howard-Rudd clash.

According to the insightful informant, one must look back to 1983, that is, the clash some still call the ‘drover’s dog’ election.

That’s the one where Labor, at the last minute, slotted in former ACTU boss and MHR for Wills, Bob Hawke, to trounce the patrician Malcolm Fraser who, in 1975, so ignominiously toppled Gough Whitlam-led Labor.

Two things were quite obvious in the lead up the drover’s dog election.

The first was that if Bob Hawke, then an opposition front bencher, took over as leader from uninspiring Queenslander, Bill Hayden, Labor was a shoe-in to win government.

It was, of course, Mr Hayden, who firstly highlighted the drover’s dog following a meeting with Labor factional heavies, who forced him to stand aside so Mr Hawke could become leader.

Another obvious factor was that Mr Fraser was not only overbearing, but increasingly disliked across segments of the electorate.

So the 1983 drover’s dog contest had two features ensuring a Labor win – their last minute stand-in leader was seen as something of a whiz-bang pop star type, while the Liberals were led by an increasingly dour and unpopular patrician.

Now, the situation today is only half-similar.

Clearly, Mr Rudd has acquired a Bob Hawke-like sheen.

But the other essential half is missing.

Although Mr Howard and his party presently trail Rudd-led Labor in the polls, it would be quite incorrect to see the Liberal leadership as being perceived in the way it was in 1983.

Mr Howard isn’t disliked in the way his onetime leader, Mr Fraser, was.

Quite the contrary. Mr Howard continues to be seen as a formidable opponent, someone with a worthy electoral as well as governance record; in fact, one to be envied.

True, Labor propagandists and their ideological media and union pals, plus eco-warriors like Tim Flannery, want to portray him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But their blackening exercise won’t succeed.

Labor would be quite unwise to view the 2007 clash as inevitably shaping up to being another 1983.

Saying this in no way suggests Labor’s strategists are so inclined. Far from it, in fact.

They quite rightly fear that another 1996, 1998, 2001, or 2004 may be in the offing, with a win as in 1983 once again eluding them.

What we’re facing, therefore, is an apparently popular Mr Rudd – he’s risen in the polls since last December – and a not disrespected Mr Howard.

Consequently, either can win, even though current polling suggests we may well be facing a Labor landslide of 1983 proportions.

However, Mr Rudd is wisely cautious; that is, he’s not counting his chickens. Not yet, anyway.

Instead he’s doing everything to ensure the media, which is showing signs of having doubts about his character and temperament, increasingly swings around to favour him.

That, incidentally, is the reason for his spritely dash to New York last month to pow-wow with former Australian and now American billionaire media mogul, News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Rudd is undoubtedly seeking the Murdoch seal of approval in the way Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, when opposition leader, gained it in the lead up to Britain’s 1997 election that he so easily won under the New Labour banner.

Before that election, Mr Murdoch had invited Mr Blair to address News Corp’s executives and editors at a company jamboree on the Barrier Reef.

Although it’s unlikely such a get-together will be arranged for Mr Rudd before October, that’s not the crucial thing at present.

What Mr Rudd would greatly prefer is that the editorialising line in News Corp’s many newspapers and tabloids back him over the campaign.

We’ll know if this will happen early in the campaign in the editorial columns of News Corp’s national daily, The Australian.

Probably helpful for Mr Rudd here is the fact that that newspaper’s editor, a Queenslander, and that editor’s journalist wife, who is also with The Australian, are close Rudd family friends.

Perhaps it was they who suggested and helped arrange the New York meeting.

Thereafter we’ll need to wait until the Sunday before general election Saturday, since that’s when all News Corp’s weekend tabloids have their last opportunity to editorialise on whom voters should back six days later.

In WA that will mean The Sunday Times falling in behind the News Corp editorial line.

State Scene’s guess is Mr Rudd will be backed.

And the reason is that Mr Murdoch continues to enjoy his role as a big player in national affairs, and prefers to be on what he believes will be the winning side.

His record is generally to follow whoever he believes is likely to win, which was one reason for his consistent support for Conservative Margaret Thatcher. That, however, never stopped him dumping her successor, John Major.

However, the Thatcher government backing was complicated by the fact that British print unions launched protracted and violent protests against the establishment of New Corp’s £80 million publishing works at London’s Wapping HQ, which suggests industrial relations is an issue Mr Rudd most certainly cannot afford to ignore.

The Murdoch press also backed Gough Whitlam’s 1972 ‘It’s Time’ campaign but backflipped to Mr Fraser’s winning 1975 ‘Turn on the Lights’ one that regained power for the conservatives.

Irrespective of which way his nationwide editorial line swings, let’s hope it’s the last time the ageing Mr Murdoch becomes so directly involved in Australian politics from distant New York.

There’s something rather unedifying about a potential Australian PM dashing off to meet a media baron in a foreign land. If anything, it should be the other way round.


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