23/11/2004 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - What odds Rudd v Abbott in 2007?

23/11/2004 - 21:00


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Earlier this year Perth hosted a weekend conference convened by the conservative public affairs group, the Samuel Griffith Society.

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - What odds Rudd v Abbott in 2007?

Earlier this year Perth hosted a weekend conference convened by the conservative public affairs group, the Samuel Griffith Society.

State Scene was there and noticed several familiar faces among the participants, including former Moore MHR John Hyde and his onetime Liberal Party rival, ex-senator Noel Crichton-Brown.

Also there, as conference convenor, was former Western Australian, one-time Federal Treasury chief and Queensland Nationals senator, John Stone.

Leading psephologist and Australian Defence Academy academic, Malcolm Mackerras, delivered an interesting lecture analysing Prime Minister John Howard’s threat to change Senate voting (which is perhaps now irrelevant since the Coalition will control that chamber from July 1 2005).

Another reason Professor Mackerras was interesting is that he’s never slow in making predictions.

A risky tendency, true, but one that makes his talks thought provoking.

For instance, he not only claimed that Mr Howard was unlikely to win October’s election, but also that US President George W Bush would be toppled because of Iraq.

During questions at the conference one listener picked up on this and highlighted an earlier prediction that hadn’t eventuated.

Professor Mackerras concluded with a rather nifty remark: “Well, that’s just another prediction I’ve made that was incorrect”.

Political predictions, I suspect, have no better outcome than those made at Ascot, but as Professor Mackerras showed they at least make political discourse more interesting.

Moreover, he’s so often correct.

One reason his occasional electoral affairs press columns and lectures are so engaging is that he’s not scared to say what he believes is likely to occur on evidence to hand.

In a recent letter to The Australian he defended another prediction and concluded with the lines, and here I’m paraphrasing: “At least that’s better than simply saying, like so many others so often do, that it’s too close to call”.

Yes, why be coy about it?

State Scene certainly doesn’t specialise in predictions, but it’s never too late and today is probably as good a time as any to begin.

And why not start from the top, the very top.Who’s likely to be the next prime minister if – and it’s a big if – Mr Howard steps down?

It’s seems safe to say that only eight MHRs, three Liberals and five Laborites, are contenders.

On the conservatives side we have Peter Costello, Tony Abbot and Brendan Nelson.

Each holds either a Sydney or Melbourne seat, meaning history is solidly on side.

Representing Labor are Mark Latham, Kim Beazley, Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and Stephen Smith, with only the first having history solidly on side since he’s the only one from Sydney or Melbourne.

I’ve discounted old-style Labor leftist Julia Gillard because Labor is more likely to opt for a moderate social democrat.

Professor Mackerras bases his predictions on statistical deduction, historical precedent and, I suspect, some intuition, so why not do likewise in the coming PM stakes?

Firstly, the historical odds favour the conservatives since they’ve governed for more than 70 years to Labor’s nearly 34 years since 1901.

Territorially also the historical odds favour the three conservatives, plus Latham, since only five of Australia’s 25 PMs – Queenslanders Fisher, Fadden and Forde, Taswegian Lyons, and Western Australian Curtin – weren’t from either NSW or Victoria.

South Australia scores zip.

The New South Welshmen – seven from Sydney – are Barton, Watson, Reid, Cook, Hughes, Page, Chifley, McMahon, Whitlam, Keating and Howard, so a huge 11 out of 25.

The nine Victorians are Deakin, Bruce, Scullin, Menzies, Holt, McEwen, Gorton, Fraser, and Hawke, with just four from metropolitan Melbourne. That’s bad news for Melbournean Costello.

That comparison certainly favours Mr Abbot or Mr Nelson, even though Peter Costello would get over the line like Melbournean treasurer Harold Holt, since the latter was anointed by fellow Melbournean and predecessor, Sir Robert Menzies.

The big, and crucial, question, therefore, is whether Sydney-sider John Howard emulates Sir Robert Menzies by backing a hometown boy or opts for someone from out of town, such as Mr Costello.

If Mr Howard adopts the Menzies’ approach, Mr Abbot or Mr Nelson must be favoured over Mr Costello, even though a party room vote could ensue.

Predictions are far more difficult with Labor since of the five contenders only Latham is from an Australian major political capital.

On those grounds he must still be favoured over Queenslanders Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, and Sandgropers Kim Beazley and Stephen Smith.

But if he’s dumped, like predecessor Simon Crean, because party power brokers feel he’s a loser, all bets would be off and it would be a Queensland versus WA stoush, with the former favoured since that State has had three to WA’s one PM.

Because it is highly unlikely both a leader and deputy leader would be from one State, Labor’s caucus would probably go for a split – a Banana Bender and a Sandgroper.

But in what order and which two?

That’s anyone’s guess.

But whichever, Sydney would thankfully be out of the race.

State Scene’s guess is it would be Kevin Rudd one and Stephen Smith two.

But who does one opt for on the Liberal side?

I’ll go for Tony Abbot ahead of the less experienced Brendan Nelson.

In other words statistics, precedent and some old-style gut feeling leaves one with having to say 2007, without John Howard, is likely to be a clash between Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd, with Mr Abbott winning.

But always remember we are considering something 35 months down the track, with a week being a long time in politics.

Even so, embarking on such an exercise certainly provides a mental workout, forcing one to consult an array of history books, something I know Professor Mackerras constantly and diligently does.

And it also raises other little-considered questions, such as why Labor now finds itself so bereft of talent in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s two big prime ministerial cities.

The answer seems to be because mediocre candidates and party powerbrokers gain pre-selections for safe Sydney and Melbourne seats, with marginal Labor seats being allocated to ensure gender and factional balance.

That means candidates with potential are unlikely to survive enough elections to show leadership aptitudes.

Perhaps WA Labor MHR Graham Edwards, who so strongly slammed Labor’s factionalism, was more on the ball than his colleagues have yet realised.


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