21/08/2007 - 22:00

Rudd landslide has precedent

21/08/2007 - 22:00


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When Newspoll - Australia’s most reliable measure of two-party voter mood - shows Labor running at 56 percent and Liberals at just 44, the only question left to ask is how big will the seat margin be after the dust from the coming landslide has settled.

When Newspoll - Australia’s most reliable measure of two-party voter mood - shows Labor running at 56 percent and Liberals at just 44, the only question left to ask is how big will the seat margin be after the dust from the coming landslide has settled.

The current state of the parties in the 150-member House of Representatives is: Liberals, 75; Labor, 60; National Party, 12; Independents, three.

Since two of the Independents hail from the National Party’s stable and the third often backing Labor, though not always, it’s fair to say this pans out as the conservatives holding some 90 seats to Labor’s 60.

For an electoral defeat to be a landslide what’s needed is for that to be at least reversed; that is, Labor winning in the order of 30-odd seats, thereby transforming the current state of play 90-60 Labor’s way.

Anything markedly below that 30 figure - say 23 or 24 - couldn’t be described as a landslide, just a good showing, since Labor needs to win 16 seats to form government.

In other words, what this poll, plus several others, indicate is that election day is likely to see the seat situation transformed, plus or minus a seat or two, to a mirror image of the present situation.

Put differently, there’s likely to be about 30 fewer conservative MPs flying to Canberra with that number of new Labor ones undertaking those flights and reaping all other taxpayer-funded benefits that flow from being a politician.

When said this way – losing a third of one’s members – the outcome for John Howard is certainly depressing.

It’s not the sort of predicament military officers would want to be confronting on the eve of battle – in with 90 men, out with just 60.

Laborites will, of course, be elated.

Clearly whizz-bang Kevin Rudd will become an instant Labor icon – up there with Ben Chifley, Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke - and likely to remain so for quite a while.

After all, Kim Beazley had two cracks, failing both times, while Mark Latham, someone who deeply dislikes Mr Rudd, had one and also fell well short.

After 11 years on the opposition benches to finally begin feeling ripples of power that will mean being able to spend taxpayers’ money big time, will be a most welcome sensation for Laborites.

With these general observations stated it helps to put them into historical context. It’s worth stating, for instance, that the presently expected Rudd landslide will be far from unprecedented.

State Scene apologises for taking the thrill out of it for Labor comrades, because not only has it happened before - and will no doubt happen again - but it’s been witnessed in the relatively recent past, so well after Ben Chifley’s prime ministership of the late 1940s.

Because the total number of seats in previous decades wasn't the same as now, this is best demonstrated by simply showing how a particular side’s seat numbers shrank when the landslides struck.

Consider firstly what happened to Labor when the Whitlam Government was removed from office after the famous November 11, 1975 sacking by Governor-General, Sir John Kerr.

After the 1974 election, that Labor narrowly won, it held 66 seats.

That fell to just 36 seats – so a loss of 30 - at the historic December 1975 contest, meaning Labor’s representation was almost halved.

Only really true-blue Laborites had faith in the future as they sat down to eat their 1975 Christmas dinner.

But Labor eventually bounced back, and quite a spring it was, when Bob Hawke lifted the party’s representation, in 1983, from 51 seats to 75 - a gain of 24.

The loser was, of course, Malcolm Fraser, who, in 1975, had inflicted such a devastating defeat upon Labor.

Then, 13-years after that Hawke landslide, it was John Howard as the conservative side’s leader who demolished Paul Keating-led Labor, thereby tasting sweet victory on quite a grand scale.

Labor had won 80 seats at the previous (1993) election, against the John Hewson-led conservatives. But in 1996 that 80 became just 49.

And now, as the 2007 election approaches, the polls are showing we should be prepared for something like 1975, 1983, and 1996.

It’s because the losses in those three cases hover roughly around the 30 seat mark that State Scene has opted for this sizeable round figure in relation to the expected Rudd landslide.

In other words, it’s a guess, but an outcome that seems likely to eventuate.

However, it could well be greater, though not much, and it could be fewer, but not many fewer.

What needs to be said, however, is that in each of those three landslides the outcome wasn’t surprising.

The preconditions for such an outcome were well and truly in place.

Now, it’s true that the pundits have all begun predicting a big Howard defeat.

But there’s a major difference, and in a phrase, it’s the fact that all the crucial economic parameters are by-and-large favourable for a government to be returned.

Inflation today is running at relatively low levels; even interest rates aren’t historically exorbitant as in the past, and when it comes to the the labour market the situation is over full employment.

Compare this to the three previous government turn-arounds.

In the 1975 case, the Whitlam-led Labor Government could hardly be described as having shown any signs of competence.

There were ongoing ministerial sackings, secret bids to borrow huge sums of cash from unorthodox international money men living in strange locations, record inflation, huge over-spending and more.

Eight years later, at the 1983 contest, the Fraser Government, although far from competent and visionary, faced the difficulty of a serious economic down turn in 1982-83.

And in 1996, Keating-led Labor’s use-by-date had well and arrived. Mr Keating had managed to just squeeze home in 1993 by running a scare campaign over the goods and services tax, which he’d earlier promoted.

The most significant aspect of his years was his overbearing and bombastic nature, and his ongoing insulting comments, which had grown very thin for many voters.

But what of 2007, the year Mr Howard seems set to experience what Messrs Whitlam, Fraser and Keating underwent? 

Here the picture is somewhat more complicated. The first thing that’s lacking is widespread dislike of the prime minister.

True, the same old boring leftie commentators are out there sprooking the same old slogans. But that’s about all. This is in stark contrast to the Whitlam, Fraser and Keating years, most especially with respect to Mr Whitlam, who just so many wanted to see the end of.

By 1975, only a really true blue Laborite would have said anything complimentary about him.

Although the situation wasn’t as dark for Mr Fraser in 1983, it was certainly beginning to approach the levels of disdain the bombastic Mr Whitlam was held in during 1975.

As far as Mr Keating was concerned, one need go no further than to say he’d simply become overbearing.

What of today? The big difference is that Labor has at long last found, in whizz-bang Mr Rudd, someone who neither bores nor terrifies voters, as Messrs Beazley and Latham did.

That's understandably prompted an exasperated treasurer, Peter Costello, to say – “Kevin Rudd wants to be a Liberal prime minister.”

Moreover, it’s Mr Howard who seems to be boring voters by constantly resorting to the only two political “tricks” he knows - channelling more power to Canberra’s bureaucrats and spending ever more taxpayers’ hard-earned money on Canberra-initiated schemes, thereby duplicating what state governments are, can or should be doing.

What this means is that he’s been a Labor-style prime minister since 1996, since Labor has traditionally favoured all-out centralism.

The one thing State Scene will welcome with open arms from the expected change-over is the fact that the Howard Government’s mad rush towards ever greater centralism may come to an end.

Let’s hope all the hints Mr Rudd has dropped about being more federally-inclined are realised, in other words, they’re not promptly classified as non-core promises and forgotten after the expected landslide.


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