20/11/2007 - 22:00

The numbers favour Labor

20/11/2007 - 22:00


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With election day 2007 just more than a day away, State Scene now offers a last look at what the likely outcome may be.

The numbers favour Labor

With election day 2007 just more than a day away, State Scene now offers a last look at what the likely outcome may be.

In presenting it, State Scene relies on a comment I’m reliably informed the late Kim Beazley senior made after leaving parliament in 1977.

According to the contact, Mr Beazley claimed the Achilles heel of Labor governments has been their inability to competently manage national finances.

Non-Labor governments, on the other hand, tend to be inept by tampering with industrial relations legislation and invariably discovering Aussie battlers further distrust them.

These observations are certainly pertinent now, since Labor and the coalition have been emphasising these themes in their advertising in the hope of convincing voters to back their side.

Labor has hinged its hopes on widespread rejection of John Howard’s WorkChoices labour market changes, which it seems few people, including many employers, understand due to their complexity.

The coalition has responded by turning up the heat on Kevin Rudd, stressing that his “union boss-dominated” team cannot be trusted to manage the economy effectively.

Both negative campaigns certainly appear to confirm the contentions of the man whose son, also Kim, was denied another crack at the top job.

It’s worth emphasising, however, that the polls had turned markedly towards Labor well before Mr Rudd toppled Beazley the younger last December.

In other words, Mr Rudd’s dream run isn’t solely of his making.

If we’re to believe Mr Beazley senior’s rationale, it was Mr Howard’s WorkChoices package, not Mr Rudd, who engineered the coalition’s protracted poll slide.

If Labor wins government, as State Scene long ago concluded, it is set to do because of its embedded 55-to-45 per cent lead over the coalition, then it’s reasonable to contend Mr Beazley junior would also have been victorious this Saturday.

Instead, he’s gearing up to take up a research position at the University of WA, alongside former premier, Carmen Lawrence, who’s also the outgoing member for Fremantle, the seat Beazley senior held from 1945 until 1977.

Let’s hope this isn’t forgotten in coming years.

If it is forgotten, that will be largely due to Mr Beazley jnr’s failure to repeat that folksy drover’s dog one-liner his predecessor, Bill Hayden, so bitingly uttered while being ousted as leader on the very eve of the 1983 election so convincingly won by Labor.

All this inevitably raises another question.

Will Mr Beazley follow Mr Hayden to become governor-general?

In politics, anything is possible.

However, State Scene remains convinced that that prestigious slot has already been quietly allocated to another Western Australian.

As stated in this column some time back (‘Eddington’s role in Rudd rise’, June 14 2007) the man likely to become governor-general is Mr Rudd’s high-profile big business adviser, Sir Rod Eddington, who, like Mr Beazley, is a UWA graduate and Rhodes Scholar.

But commitments, particularly secret ones, can easily be changed.

There’s nothing stopping Mr Rudd opting instead for Mr Beazley to repeat the Hayden precedent, and later turning to Sir Rod.

Or vice-versa; Sir Rod first and Mr Beazley subsequently.

That, of course, assumes that Labor under Mr Rudd will have several terms in office, like its state and territory counterparts, which have had such winning streaks since the late 1990s.

Wall-to-wall Labor for several more years is certainly expecting a lot.

But to expect such dream runs to continue for up to a decade goes much further than anyone I know is prepared to predict.

Let’s return, however, to the late Mr Beazley’s insightful contention that Labor governments have drawbacks in economic management, that is, management of debt levels, interest rates and budgets.

Polls for many years have shown Labor to be consistently well-regarded in education, health and welfare areas, which are all spending activities.

But Labor seriously lacks credibility in the economic management area.

This is well demonstrated by three recent Newspolls, which showed two-party preferred ratings and voter assessments of Labor’s and the coalition’s abilities to manage the economy.

Labor’s two-party preferred score for the September 28-30 weekend was 56 to the coalition’s 44; for October 19-21, Labor led 58 to the coalition’s 42; and for November 2-4 Labor registered 53 to the coalition’s 47.

Throughout this representative 2007 period Labor’s lead was never below six percentage points ahead of the coalition.

Moreover, it twice led by far more, a feature that’s been with us now since 2006 when Mr Beazley was still leader.

But what of voter assessment when pollsters ask the following question: “Which of John Howard or Kevin Rudd do you think is more capable of handling the economy?”

Here, rankings for the same polling periods – September 28-30; October 19-21; and November 2-4, – favoured Mr Howard over Mr Rudd; 48 to 33; 46 to 37; and 51 to 32, respectively.

In other words, a near mirror image of Labor’s huge ongoing and unprecedented two-party preferred leads over the coalition.

That’s certainly puzzling but something that’s featured not only during the lead up to the campaign but during all of 2007 and earlier.

It’s this easily forgotten coalition lead in economic management that’s had coalition MPs hoping victory may not have yet eluded them.

There’s a firm belief within their ranks that when crunch time comes, that is, when the polling booths open across Australia at 8am local time on November 24, most voters won’t be able to bring themselves to opting for Labor candidates ahead of coalition ones.

On top of that, in-depth coalition polling has shown that the Howard government’s poor overall showing isn’t repeated when pollsters quiz voters on the performance of many of their sitting members.

This has understandably prompted coalition MPs to conclude that, on election day, enough voters will opt for incumbents – of which the coalition naturally has the most – since they carry the Howard banner so many voters rate ahead of Rudd-led Labor in economic management.

What’s not clear is whether Labor’s persistent 10-point lead is congested within safe Labor seats or is evenly or near-evenly spread across the marginal seats that will decide the fate of the Howard government.

It’s because State Scene suspects it’s evenly spread nationwide that I believe a Labor victory is most likely.

The question is, therefore, will the incumbency factor plus the coalition’s higher ratings on economic management, something the late Mr Beazley saw as favouring non-Labor governments, be enough for Mr Howard to hold on against that overall 10-point Labor lead?

State Scene knows several seasoned observers who believe Mr Howard will just scrape over the line; by two or three seats.

In August State Scene wrote that Labor seemed headed for a 30 or perhaps even 35-seat victory.

I’m still expecting Labor to win, but no longer by 30 to 35 seats, since the coalition’s standing across the electorate as the better economic manager has held up well despite voters consistently indicating they’re for Labor rather than the now 11-year-old Howard government.

Remember also Labor must win 16 seats to form government.

That’s a sizeable handful but it’s achievable because of Labor’s consistent 10-point lead.

If there is a major voter lurch away from the Howard government – one reflecting those 10 points – in NSW and Queensland then those 16 seats will easily be won and the swing will almost certainly see sizeable numbers of Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian seats also falling to Labor.

If, however, NSW and Queensland hold fairly firm for the coalition, Labor will have a markedly tougher time attaining that 16-seat goal.

And that means something resembling a cliff-hanger until late into election night. But Labor’s ongoing 10-point lead certainly means those anticipating a Howard victory must be seen as being in the minority.



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