There is of course nothing especially wrong with a government running ads to promote its programme. The fact that Howard needed to spend so much selling what has been an exceptionally limited programme more highlights the weak consensus the government has had over its eleven years that would emerge in its regular mid-term polling slumps. The increasing use of such advertising by both Liberal and Labor governments over recent years indicates that governments are less coming to power with a mandate than needing to create one when in office.
For Rudd to get away with saying that the government’s campaigns are an attack on democracy (rather than part of it) is a sign of strength of the anti-politics mood that has caused problems for the government on issues such as Kirribilli entertaining and the use of aircraft. For someone supposedly so politically astute, Howard has been tone deaf to the agenda behind these attacks on what are really just normal government practice. It especially makes the government appear out of touch to interrupt coverage of what are the year’s most popular sporting events with ads trying to sell unpopular policies.
Labor's use of sporting personalities to attack the ads avoids the charge that it is playing politics with its own ads. When Crackers says “Grand finals are about playing footy, not playing politics” it encapsulates the anti-politics theme that is likely to be core to Labor’s election strategy and to which the government has still not found an answer. The only problem is, what will happen when Rudd will inevitably need to sell his own programme as well?
Sunday, 30 September 2007
There is of course nothing especially wrong with a government running ads to promote its programme. The fact that Howard needed to spend so much selling what has been an exceptionally limited programme more highlights the weak consensus the government has had over its eleven years that would emerge in its regular mid-term polling slumps. The increasing use of such advertising by both Liberal and Labor governments over recent years indicates that governments are less coming to power with a mandate than needing to create one when in office.
Friday, 28 September 2007
Rudd’s zig-zagging on the ministry did not have much electoral significance. Government attempts to make it so were more an attempt to shift the focus away from the uncertainty over its own leadership. But whereas the Liberals' uncertainty stems from a loss of leadership authority, Labor’s is the opposite and represents its consolidation.
Michelle Grattan put her finger on it this morning. Rudd’s warning that all ministerial positions were up for grabs was a way of slapping down the party’s traditional power-brokers and signalling that his control over the party would be consolidated after the election. His over-riding of the party's factions began from the first day of his leadership in the appointment of the shadow front bench and, along with the recruitment of celebrity candidates, signals their declining influence.
It should be a reminder of an important fact that has been obscured by the sham debate over IR and the unions and missed by a media still largely stuck in the past - this will be a very different Labor government from what we have seen before.
Thursday, 27 September 2007
Two celebrity politicians were in the national media with varying degrees of success yesterday. Comparing Peter Garrett to the ALP candidate for Boothby, Nicole Cornes may seem a broad brush, but they have some interesting features that point to the current state of the party that chose them.
Labor’s use of high profile candidates is not new, of course. But past bussed-in candidates like Cheryl Kernot or Carmen Lawrence, tended to have gained their profile in the political world. What is striking about the crop of current (and recent) celebrity candidates like Garrett, McKew and Cornes is that their profile comes from outside politics. In fact not only is their ability to have a name outside the political world an asset, but there is a sense where they make a virtue out of their political amateurism and not being from the political world. In a way, these are anti-politics politicians.
Entering politics while setting up themselves up distinct from politicians is fairly contradictory, but Garrett and McKew at least have special situations that help them get away with it. Garrett is Labor’s spokesperson for a global political trend that has not yet translated to a domestic agenda. So his stance on climate change can be presented as an act of faith rather than policy and his detachment from normal politics has not been too much of a problem. The government, which had been very slow picking up that pragmatism is not the issue in global warming, clearly believed that Garrett would be exposed as an extreme flake and his earlier amateurish performances would have given them hope. Instead it is the government that is battling anti-politics cynicism every time it tries to convince the public people it has seen the light on the issue. As seen on Lateline last night, Garrett is now settling in the role in a way that looked good compared to Downer and Turnbull who were on earlier talking about the same topic. However, when Garrett strays from climate change, e.g. with the Tasmanian pulp mill issue, his ability not to appear like an ordinary politician becomes much harder.
Maxine McKew’s special role as ‘giant killer’ against Howard allows her to use her outsider status both to avoid being politically presumptuous, but also to distance herself from the tedious anti-Howard frenzy that Labor supporters can work themselves up in. Her distancing from the boring ‘Not Happy John’ campaign was not only a sound move for this reason, it was also necessary to avoid being seen as out of the mainstream political process altogether. The political amateurism of these non-professional politicians can cut both ways.
This balancing act between counter-posing against the political class while trying to be part of it has been much more difficult to manage with Nicole Cornes. Yesterday’s muck-up on ABC radio has created a fuss in Adelaide that shows this is not just about a stumble by a Labor candidate in a fairly safe Liberal seat. It has brought out controversy over the credibility of celebrities, politicians and the media.
It started just after the announcement of her candidature last April. She admitted she wasn’t even an ALP or union member, had voted for Howard in the past and even, it is reported, for her current opponent in Boothby. Worst of all, she refused to enter into discussions with the media on policy until she was up to speed. The latter was especially attacked by the ABC radio’s Matt Abraham who she turned down for an interview preferring a lighter rival station because as Abraham told his listeners back in May “she said that 'your show is different. You ask serious questions; they're not going to give me any hard questions … it's going to be a soft interview'.” The subsequent phone-in was not totally condemning Cornes as an ABC report at the time suggested. There was a bit of a go at the ABC itself from callers who thought it was conducting a vendetta and some viewed a candidate who didn’t want to talk about policy until they were up to speed as refreshingly honest for a politician. Abraham got his revenge yesterday when he got her on the phone and asked for details on Labor’s IR policy on which Cornes stumbled.
Despite her celebrity status, it is really the ordinariness of Cornes’ reaction to the political process that is causing the fuss. Refusing to talk to reporters after admitting not being up to speed on policy must clearly annoy a media that likes to see politicians play the game for the reporter’s benefit and bluster their way through. But it must be Labor supporters and members who are irritated most of all to see a Howard-voting candidate just step in over them to a campaign for a seat on the basis that such a person would be best to win over traditional Liberal voters. The Advertiser poll on Boothby that kicked it all off yesterday showed the Liberal primary at 44% (down 7%) and Labor’s at 29% (down 7%). Where that would settle down on 2PP was not that clear (not helped by the Advertiser publishing the split to be 54:24!) but it would be safe to argue that there would be more protesting Labor voters coming back to Labor in preferences than Liberals returning to their party.
Rudd’s tactic in Boothby may not be working that well, but his use of candidates from outside the party would seem feasible given how soft the Liberal vote is. However, it also has internal consequences. These candidates Garrett, McKew and Cornes all have one other thing in common besides their celebrity status, they are non-aligned to any faction. Rudd’s ending of his attendance at right faction meetings since becoming leader and resistance to meeting power-broker demands on the shadow ministry signal a decline in the power of the factions. These new candidates, more reliant on the leadership for their entry into parliament than any faction, may begin at celebrities but are likely to become more of a feature of the make-up of the Parliamentary Party as Rudd remakes the ALP.
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Lateline did a bit of mis-reporting of the other night’s speech by Sol Lebovic, the founder of Newspoll, if the transcript of it is a guide. Presented as ‘good news for the government’ it seemed like yet another dismissing of the strong Labor leads being reported in the polls, which has been so widespread this year that it is even being done by those who produced the polls, such as Lebovic’s successor. However, the transcript suggests he was saying something much more interesting that gets closer to the truth.
It is not so much that Labor’s vote is soft, but that both parties are detached from their core voters. This is something that has been ebbing in and out of the Australian political scene since the late 1980s when some of the key issues that tied Labor and non-Labor parties to their respective core voters, union power and state spending, stopped differentiating them. Since then both parties have been struggling with the loss of their core agendas and an eroding of their supporter bases. Even more than that, they have had to contend with an anti-politician mood that questions what they are actually in Canberra for, something minor parties and independents have played on with varying success over recent years.
However, Sol’s problem is that he has not carried his analysis through to what it means in this election. Lets start with the survey of polls carried out by the organisation he founded, split between safe and marginal seats. It shows the term ‘marginal’ is mis-leading because in such seats Labor enjoys a 16% lead, something that would be considered unassailable this close to an election. The real marginal seats are what were formerly the government’s safe ones. Here the vote has collapsed since the last election to the point where, incredibly, during April-July the government was actually behind Labor at 48-52.
The problem is not even so much the size of the swing but the government’s policy vacuum means that it has no agenda to lock into its supporter base and so has no real sense where its core base actually is. This makes it different to the sort of landslides Labor suffered in 1975 and 1966, and even to some extent the one in 1996.
Labor’s response to the loss of their agenda has been to personalise their campaign and replace a political agenda with the values of their leader, something they tried in 2004, but are managing more successfully now. Partly it is working better because Rudd is more adept at using the anti-politician mood to his benefit. But more importantly, a shift in the international situation more favourable to Labor gives that personal campaign some substance. At the same time Labor has done well to hold onto its core at the same time with its vague anti-Workchoices campaign (its margin in its safe seats is now a whopping 69/31), although the reality that Labor has left its traditional values for good keeps popping up in intriguingly personal ways.
It is the Liberals, who have been hiding behind the international situation since 9/11, that are this time more exposed to a ‘soft’ vote. Their banging on about non-existent union power is an attempt to shore it up and could partly explain the recent claw back of its vote in safe coalition seats (but where it still only leads by a slim 51/49 margin). However, its impact will be limited, because the threat of union power even less reflects the reality of industrial relations than Labor’s scare campaign against an employment contract that hardly any employers use. At least Labor’s campaign touches on the real insecurity that has been a feature of employment conditions of its core supporters since well before Howard and AWAs.
The corrosive effect of this on the government and its campaign has emerged periodically through the year. It is why Howard’s warning of annihilation back in May back-fired on party morale. It has led to the sporadic collapse in confidence in the leadership such as we saw a fortnight ago that media commentators continue to mis-read as a leadership challenge. It is why the coalition is unsure on their hold on blue-ribbon seats like Kooyong and Goldstein in Melbourne and why the Environment Minister over-reacted to a campaign on a Tasmanian pulp mill in his own seat in Wentworth. It is not only why we have such a large number of coalition MPs retiring, but also why Howard is pleading for one in an SA seat with a 12% margin to stay on. Even with a coalition ritual as time honoured as yesterday’s announcement of a subsidy to the farmers, the mixed response of their traditional supporter base is couched in terms of a climate change agenda that would be more suitable to Labor.
Howard makes a show of touring what is a nominally marginal (but probably safe Labor) seat like Eden Monaro, but it is for the same reason he told the party room it was in play, more for appearance and morale than that the government thinks it is winnable. As the election campaign gets underway it is likely to become clearer that, like Howard’s increasingly frequent trips back to Bennelong, the Liberals are less campaigning for government than their political survival.
Monday, 24 September 2007
There was a real sense that both parties wanted to distance themselves quickly from the uproar of what was probably the last day of sitting last week. At first sight this second order ‘smear’ debate (a smear about running a smear unit leaking a smear that Rudd was happy to allude to a few months earlier) seems to have nothing in it. However, it exposed important weaknesses about both sides.
There is no doubt that Labor is running a highly personal campaign this election. Maybe memory fails but it is hard to recall seeing childhood pics of Howard, Keating or Fraser in the run up to their election. Even Hawke, arguably the most self-absorbed PM, couldn’t top the personal backgrounding we have had on Rudd. Partly this is for positive reasons; the emphasis on Rudd’s conservative personal values reflects Labor’s current inroads into traditional coalition supporters. But it is also for negative reasons. Rudd leads a party that is still organised around a union movement that has little relevance in Australian society today. As in 2004, Labor needs to run a campaign centred on the personal attributes of its leader and separated from the party’s normal decision-making process on policy. But Rudd’s detachment goes even further than Latham with Rudd having no formal union sponsorship and no longer attending right faction meetings since taking up the leadership.
Given the nature of Labor’s campaign, the Liberals would clearly love to launch a personal attack on Rudd, but there are several problems. The first is that unlike their attack on Latham in 2004, they have little policy basis to do so this time. There has been a lot of re-writing of history since Latham’s loss and drop out from the leadership, but Latham’s character was not a problem until it was linked to policy, especially his antipathy to the US alliance (one good thing of APEC was to remind how much the US government intervened in the last campaign). Even attacking a leader for a lack of policy is now much harder for a government whose own policy vacuum is there for all to see.
In fact, the problem for the Liberals is that by making Rudd the issue, it threatens to play directly into Labor’s hands by focussing attention on Rudd rather than Labor’s redundant organisation. For example, while the attack on Rein’s business caused troubles for Labor internally, revealing that Rudd was married to a millionaire businesswoman running a privatised job placement agency would probably have gone down OK in Toorak. Even embarrassments like the strip club visit gives more opportunities for the voters to meet Rudd and hear about how sorry he is, how he feels, how his wife feels etc. etc.
There is a more fundamental problem for the government that makes them especially sensitive to charges of running a ‘smear unit’. This campaign is being conducted in an anti-politician environment, basically because politicians of either side clearly don’t stand for very much these days. The last thing the government needs is to have Rudd posed as the ordinary guy with a heart condition being attacked by a ruthless mysterious arm of the state apparatus. This anti-politics sentiment has been used effectively by Rudd all year, and the government has been slow to pick it up, although the eagerness to get away from the perception of taking advantage of Rudd’s health suggests Howard is finally starting to catch on to the depth of that sentiment.
That Labor needs to run a personal campaign and the difficulties the Liberals have in tackling it, will be something both parties will wish to avoid coming out as it did in the last sitting. It is possible that the campaign will be more positive than commentators are expecting. The government is likely to rely on its record (but attacking Labor’s union base) and Labor will personalise the mood for change in a new leader.
However, there is one wild card in this campaign, which has been behind most of the personal attacks all year. Both leaders are going into this campaign with parties internally weakened, the Liberals with fragile morale at their imminent clean sweep from government and Labor with its redundant internal structure. The tension within both parties, the fragmentation in the Liberals and a union movement that is being pushed aside in Labor, appears to be the real source of smears against both leaderships. Liberal faction fighting was the source of the leak that led to the fall of Howard’s mate Santoro earlier this year and appears to be the source of the latest gossip about a minister. For Labor, it was a union official who reportedly exposed the financial donations of Rudd’s brother to the media and the latest comments by CFMEU bureaucrat Reynolds that he has a ‘shit’ sheet on Rudd and Gillard shows the bitterness of a movement that is losing its grip on its own party. As the leaderships ride out the upheavals underway in their respective parties, it would be convenient for them if the problem was the smear units of their opponents, but the uncomfortable fact is that their real personal enemies are probably behind them.
Friday, 21 September 2007
The media saw what was the final day in Parliament (according to Costello), as just a rowdy mess. Yet within it were the themes of the coming campaign. What we have are two parties facing each other with no distinctive agenda between them. Labor’s closeness to the government on many issues is not a tactic, it is a reality of two parties that have lost their historical roles and now exposed as such. It is less a case of Me Too than Me Neither. In fact the parties have even gone out of their way to construct differences on issues where little in reality actually exists, such as industrial relations.
That is not to say there are no differences between the parties, otherwise there would not be a decisive shift to Labor. The change in the international situation and the change in federal-state relations have provided background to Labor’s lead. However, where Labor will differentiate itself in this campaign is on being anti-politics. As the main parties lack any clear agenda, the party in government ends up being seen as more for itself rather than for the electorate. This gives Labor grounds to accuse the government of being out of touch. It is the real point behind the housing affordability ‘crisis’, which is less that the government has not done something about house prices or interest rates, but that it does not seem to be concerned about it. For someone who used the charge of being out of touch so effectively to come to office, Howard has been surprisingly deaf to this attack.
The government’s agenda vacuum also makes it look like it is clinging onto power at any cost. This is the real content of Labor’s anti-politics attack on the government’s mysterious ‘smear’ unit. There is little substance to these ‘smears’, Rudd himself had no problem alluding to his surgery on Sunrise and if Labor hasn’t collated its unflattering information on government ministers into the type of file that was apparently shown to Jason Koutsoukis on Julia Gillard, then it should get a decent office organiser. But Labor’s charge that the government is becoming personal only highlights the fact that it is not about policies.
This won’t be a dirty campaign or especially personal. It might be if it was close, but neither party really thinks it will be as much as they say publicly. It is important in an anti-politics climate not to be seen as too cocky and for internal reasons, not to be too negative. In reality the parties are running campaigns not to win the election but over the real political issue, the future survival of the Liberal party. Howard may make a big show of going to marginals like Eden-Monaro but the Liberals’ campaign is really focussed on its survival especially in Melbourne and Sydney. It is the safe government seats where the swing, according to Newspoll, is on in earnest that Labor is also starting to target.
Labor enters this campaign as a party in transformation. So it will be run in many ways similar to the 2004 election, by a narrow cabal around the leadership, with a lot of flexibility to develop policy, but little of the checking mechanisms to avoid muck-ups. Labor is less likely to be exposed to the instability that could easily come back to the Liberals with another bad opinion poll. However, the fragility of Labor’s cohesion can still play a role in the campaign. After all, if Labor wants to get worried about it, the source of the two smears targeted at Rudd’s family this year, Therese Rein’s treatment of her employees and financial support for the coalition given by Rudd’s brother, came not from the government’s ‘smear’ unit, but of course, Rudd’s own party.
Thursday, 20 September 2007
Julia Gillard warned last weekend of the ‘mother of all scare campaigns’ from the government in the coming election. This is a sensible tactic as it turns whatever the government says into a political ploy. But the government already has difficulty in creating a scare campaign in the first place. The thought of what Labor might do is tempered nowadays by the view that governments of any persuasion can do very little.
An interest rate scare, for example, is likely to be much less effective this time because of a change in the way economics is talked about. Nowadays, government is seen to have little control over the economy, it being largely in the hands of the Reserve Bank and global markets. The thought that any Australian government can provide a ‘safe pair of hands’, as Howard is now claiming, against the current turbulence in the global markets is unlikely to have much resonance these days.
In fact the impotence of government plays much more into Labor’s scare campaigns and underpins the effectiveness of the Queensland nuclear ad. It plays on a deep pervasive fear that if complex and risky technology like nuclear power is developed, government will be unable to control its safety and prevent something horrific. This is the meat in environmental issues nowadays compared to a time when it used to be about little more than preserving natural beauty spots like the Franklin gorge. Environmental doom-laden scenarios imply impotence in the face of threats to our survival. That is why there has been no reappraisal of the risks of nuclear technology as there logically should be in the face of global warming, the mother of all doom scenarios, and a scare campaign that Labor well and truly owns.
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Yesterday’s post detecting a bit of a false note in Labor’s exuberance looked unfair given what seemed like delusional triumphalism from the government over what was still a lousy Newspoll. In reality, hard politics was at work. Both leaders were using the poll for all it was worth to manage the weaknesses in their respective parties. Howard made sure the party room got the message that history could repeat (even if it was Keating’s). Abbot used it on behalf of the leadership to settle scores with Turnbull by telling everyone that he didn’t rate. Rudd used it to sensibly rebalance the campaign from the weekend’s premature rally.
None of this meant that the leaders necessarily believed the government was on the way back. The Sydney and Melbourne press have picked up that the Liberal leadership is now becoming more concerned over the survival of the party than the government, and has shifted attention from the marginals to its safer seats. This focus is not only on resources but also on issues like union power and wall-to-wall Labor governments that will appeal to its core supporters. The air-time the Liberal leadership gave to backbench MPs yesterday in the party-room about the issues they wanted to campaign on, was probably more to manage them than anything else. Certainly a focus on housing affordability and the type of issues used by Labor in the marginals, is likely to be a luxury the Liberals now cannot afford.
However, despite the gap between the way political leaders used yesterday’s poll and reality, you could forgive those who brought out the poll actually taking it seriously. The Australian, which published the poll, took the opportunity to see if it could recover influence lost over the last month. Yesterday’s editorial used the poll to step back from its earlier dumping of Howard and try to re-apply some pressure on Labor’s agenda. Its Political Editor also thought it might be helpful to reassert his credibility and the importance of his close contact with the ‘body politic’ (unlike more isolated commentators). Probably the one who got most carried away was the Newspoll CEO, Martin O'Shannessy, who argued it showed Rudd was still defying gravity and had further to fall. Why on earth the head of a polling organisation would want to predict future polling trends is unfathomable given that if they diverge it will either be him or his polling that will be discredited. Given that the poll has moved one point to the government since the last time Mr O'Shannessy predicted the end of Rudd’s honeymoon two months ago, it seems to be the former.
The trouble that those who consider every Newspoll is sacred have with the latest one is this: either the last poll was an outlier (unlikely) or the current one is a blip (impossible) or alternatively, it would have to be explained how we got from one to the other. Since no-one can work out how the shenanigans of the last week translates to a 4% swing to the government, no-one has tried. Except one person, that is. A lone Treasurer thinks maybe it could be due to his semi-promotion to the leadership. Of course it is, Peter.
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
It was perfectly proper of Downer to admonish Labor yesterday for its slavish addiction to the polls given the mature response of his side of the fence to last week’s Newspoll shocker. This week’s poll showing a move back to the government will be a relief across the Liberal leadership - to Howard with less pressure of a challenge and to everyone else with less pressure to have to launch one. Leaving aside internal dynamics, it is hard to see what to draw from the poll for the electoral scene. Even Dennis Shanahan was struggling to explain the rise in coalition support, Matt Price’s suggestion it was the public’s reward for the entertainment of last week’s theatrics seemed as good as any.
Having said that, it is probably a good time to point out a slightly discordant note that has been creeping into Labor’s campaign over the last week. It seems the closer Labor gets to the election the less clear they are on why they are likely to win it. This election is about the crisis in the Liberal party, not the resurgence of Labor, and not as much has changed from 2004 as perhaps Labor likes to think. The international situation is much more favourable this time but Rudd still has to translate it to a convincing domestic agenda. Both parties and their supporters like to comfort themselves that the IR debate has substance but in reality they are facing each other while standing for not very much.
When Rudd proclaims ‘New Leadership’, it is less based on the strength of his own program than the vacuum in the Liberals' leadership. So what may seem reasonable when the Liberals are in disarray can look rather contrived a few days later when they settle back down. That is why government claims of Labor hubris with the weekend rally in Penrith and Labor indecisiveness with its penchant for committees and inquiries had some resonance yesterday. As neither party can really stand on its own respective platform, the dynamic of their campaigns are left dependent on each other and on the polls, which they breathlessly wait to be published and then don't know whether to believe when they are.
Monday, 17 September 2007
The crisis in the Liberal party is not shown by the questions about Howard’s leadership. That is the normal reaction of a party that by all indications is heading for a historic defeat. The crisis is shown by the fact that they can’t act on it. This is why the current problems of the Liberals are of a completely different order to the hellish leadership merry-ground of the Hawke/Keating years or the post-Menzies period before Fraser. Last week saw the crisis that has been bubbling under throughout this year finally come to the surface. Three features of the events of the last week show how deep it is.
1) There is no alternative
The inability of the party to put together a challenge to Howard by now is the clearest sign of the Liberals’ crisis. This blog has made much of the sham challenge of Costello and the way Howard has used Costello’s inability to grab the leadership as a way of managing the party. However, this tactic would not be viable if there was a real challenge waiting in the wings, but there isn’t. Turnbull, arguably the most likely to offer an alternative, illustrated how serious was his threat in front of his own party on Wednesday by his farcical toing-and-froing in front of the despatch box when questioned on his support for Howard.
2) Collapse of confidence at the top
The media have been consistently mistaking the crisis for a leadership challenge, despite the clear signs we have had that Costello was incapable of turning his moaning about Howard behind his back to an up-front challenge. But they were truly caught out on Tuesday when what appeared like a challenge was actually the top Liberal leadership having a collapse of confidence (Bolt’s apparent delusion that party was acting on his call for Howard to be replaced was especially amusing). This collapse of confidence appeared to originate from the very top if Peter Hartcher’s fascinating account of that meeting of the ministers is right.
The government has not really run a strategy focussed on marginals all year. Scare campaigns over union power and wall-to-wall Labor governments are less aimed at swinging voters than consolidating its own supporter base. Last week’s decision by Howard to talk about his retirement crossed the line into being wholly about holding onto the leadership of the party rather than his electoral position. Just how much his own party standing was weighing on his mind was his comment that he was more popular than the party, an observation totally about arguing his position with his own party (raising questions over his sincerity to share it with a less popular figure) rather than the voters. Howard’s retirement move not only has little appeal to the broader electorate but also now threatens to even erode his support with core supporters, indicated by Howard’s need to go back to his own electorate and undo some of the damage by committing to a full term.
The effect of what is happening to the Liberals goes beyond just the party. What we are seeing is a realignment in Australian politics that will impact the Nationals, the Greens and speed up the transformation of the ALP. The grounds for this have been present for a decade but have been suspended for the last six years by the international situation. The waning of the impact of the War on Terror on Australian politics has now brought it out to the surface. The main reason this blog was started in March was frustration at how this was being missed by political commentators most notably with the constant dismissing of Labor’s huge lead. The fact that it has been building up over years means that it won’t waste any time as the electorate starts to get its message across. The events of the last week show that the changes are now starting to directly impact the political order. Here we go.
Sunday, 16 September 2007
This ad shows how much the Liberals' real situation has come to the surface since Labor’s lousy ‘scratch cards’ Howard/Costello ads of the last election. Then the international situation still gave the government the appearance of a programme and it was Labor that had to fill the void with Latham’s free-wheeling policy-on-the-run. That meant that Labor could not really touch Howard. Accusing him of lying meant little if he could still be thought of as a ‘conviction politician’. Labor’s 2004 tactic of saying a vote for Howard was a vote for Costello just avoided the problem.
Labor is still policy-lite, although there is some content with its re-shaping of federalism (underpinning its initiatives on hospitals and pokies). But the important difference this time is that it is now the Liberals whose policy vacuum is obvious. This is not so much evident in the doubts about Howard’s leadership but the fact that they can’t replace him. The reality of the dithering is not only brought out in the ad by the stay-go-stay questioning but the look on Costello that suggests, rightly, he is being duped by Howard.
Is this ad really necessary? The media’s bizarre acceptance that this is an electoral tactic, rather than a short-term way to manage party discontent, surely cannot be shared by most of the electorate. Already Howard is having to manage the negative electoral impact from this move in his own seat. The ad’s impact is probably confined to core Liberal supporters who are Howard fans. The problem with a policy vacuum is that there is little to attack, which is why there is little anger at the government in the electorate. Against accepted wisdom, if Labor runs a good campaign this is probably one of the few negative ads it will need to run.
Friday, 14 September 2007
Tony Abbott, Howard’s real right hand man, gave the game away a bit on ABC radio yesterday when he stressed that Costello represents no policy difference from Howard, thereby squashing flat Costello’s rather feeble attempt to present an alternative agenda the day before.
In many ways, Howard’s ‘team’ strategy just continues the way he has used Costello before, flattering the Treasurer and presenting him as a feasible successor, not because Howard thinks Costello is, but in order to manage the party. By now promoting Costello as his successor, Howard hopes it will quieten discontent in the Liberal party long enough to get him to the election. The Treasurer’s complete inability to launch his own political challenge makes him ideal for the purpose (you could not imagine Howard promoting a more credible challenger like Turnbull in the same way). Costello will be given prominence while the party remains unstable, but if it settles down, expect to see Costello brushed aside. In a way, it is a little cruel to watch.
The problem for Howard is that this time his use of Costello, while helping manage the party, has had negative electoral consequences. It is not just because the PM has temporarily needed to give higher prominence to a less popular figure, as Liberals are already pointing out. His talk of retirement highlights the policy exhaustion of the government. As this is the real issue, rather than the leadership, there is not much Labor can do with all the shuffling around of the last few days, other than to highlight the confusion and the Liberals’ policy vacuum. Fortunately for them they have not gone down the 2004 route of making an issue of Costello taking over, as though he was something to worry about.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
During this year Howard has been running two campaigns. One was against Labor for his re-election. The other was an internal campaign aimed at keeping together his party and core supporters. Issues like union power and Workchoices had an element of both, not only intending to tap into electoral concerns about Labor but also to cohere his party and supporters and remind them what the Liberal party was about. There was always a bit of conflict between the two - banging on about union power is probably not as big a benefit in the marginals as it is for the morale of his own party.
As the polling continued to sap the morale of the party and his authority eroded over the year, the second campaign has grown in importance to the detriment of the electoral campaign. The PM’s announcement last night that he will retire after the next election shows that the second campaign has now eclipsed the one to win the coming election.
Electorally, it is a terrible move. It now formalises the leadership uncertainty and tells the electorate it will continue if the government is re-elected. It now also brings to the front Howard’s critical weak point, that his agenda is exhausted. This is the real reason why the issue of Howard’s age and whether he will stay in the job has had much more resonance this time than in 2004. It is not that 68 is such a different age from 65, but that now his exit is more credible to the electorate because it is harder to imagine now what he would stay around to do. His announcement last night gave the answer, not much.
It is clearly a response to the internal discontent within the party at his leadership that paralysed the Liberal leadership over the last few days. However, although it may stave off a party-room revolt and let Howard survive until the election it will do little good for the Liberals out in the electorate. It will especially not help with those who are sticking with the Liberals for one reason, they like Howard, the Liberals' most popular choice as leader. Anyone who is sick of Howard already switched to Rudd six months ago, is this announcement supposed to win them back?
It could be argued that bringing someone else in the equation will freshen up the government’s agenda. But politics does not work like that. Readers may have missed it, but Costello launched a little bit of challenge yesterday. At a doorstep interview, he talked something about tax and water and stuff. The irony of this year was that it would have been helpful to Howard if Costello did actually start to challenge him by proposing an alternative agenda, like he could have done with the Budget. It would at least have enabled the electorate to see a Liberal life beyond Howard. However, Costello has failed to do so. If this had been a convincing enough alternative to Howard, he would have been leader by now. If a Liberal party room desperate for another course than the one heading to a historic defeat is not convinced that Costello is an alternative, why should the electorate?
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
There was a lot of talk of meaningful silences yesterday as the media tried to make something out of very little as it continues to see a government implosion in terms of a leadership challenge.
But this is a challenge without a challenger. Much was made of Costello’s silence yesterday, but it was the silence of someone who could not attack Howard because he was incapable of mounting a challenge, yet neither could he support Howard in case the leadership was dropped into his lap. It was thought highly significant that Costello would not rule out becoming leader if he was offered it. But if being prepared to accept the Prime Ministership handed on a plate makes someone a challenger, then surely all but the most timid member of the parliamentary Liberal Party would qualify.
In hindsight, Howard’s mistake on The 7.30 Report the other night was not that he threw down the gauntlet to the party by saying the parliament would sit for the full two weeks. Rather it was admitting he needed to talk more about future plans, which he did not have. In doing so he put his finger on exactly the reason why the government would lose and undermined the one thing Howard has going for him, his record. It didn’t help either that last week he exposed the party’s discontent by asking Downer to sound out the cabinet, the findings of which spooked the inner circle and led to the last three days of ‘introspection’ and paralysis as the leadership woke up to the vacuum of support around them.
However, when it comes to taking on his party, what Howard has on his side is reality. There is no-one better than Howard to lead the Liberals to their defeat and the party knows it. This is not just because he is its most popular possible leader (probably made a little more so by staring down his party yesterday) but because Howard’s lack of future plans are also those of the party. This is a political party that cannot face up to the true cause of its coming defeat. For most of this year it simply dismissed the opinion polls (followed by the media). After that was made impossible by the last Newspoll, a poll held in high regard by the coalition, the blame turned on Howard’s leadership as the problem (followed by the media).
It is also why it is so frustrated with Rudd, who they see, fairly enough, as policy-lite but untouchable. But the issue is not Rudd, it is them, and the fact that the Liberal party has lost the role for which it was set up. What we are seeing now is the beginning of a historical crisis in the Liberal party, which will become apparent once it loses its last hold on state and federal government for the first time in its existence. The crisis has begun with conservative commentators tearing up Howard’s legacy, something that reached fever pitch in Andrew Bolt’s blog yesterday in his over-excitement as he waited for Howard’s dumping (taken off H-S's site but here for your enjoyment).
Where it goes from there is hard to see. Certainly it won’t get much help from deluded conservative thinkers like Albrechtsen who see Howard as another Thatcher (at least Thatcher implemented a programme before she was dumped). The debate on the right will probably go quiet, the sort of silence that will probably be present in the party room today where it is quite possible the leadership will not even be discussed, because while Howard has run out of ideas, he will remind the party that, in the words of their heroine, there is no alternative.
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
What is happening today is in many ways just a continuation of what we have seen all year. The government is heading to defeat because it has a profound policy vacuum. The party, however, is refusing to recognise it. For most of the year it has meant the Liberals have refused to believe the polls. Now that the polls are becoming harder to deny, they are beginning to tear up Howard’s legacy, first by questioning his leadership.
However, because of that vacuum, Howard can stare them down. He knows that there is no alternative, shown by the fact they have no-one to offer but a less popular Treasurer, with no policy alternative and incapable of launching a challenge of his own.
State politicians aren’t what they used to be. Beattie’s long-serving predecessor had his ministers jailed, himself under investigation and even when sacked by his own party, it still took a week to chisel him out of the Premier’s office. Beattie now becomes the fourth Labor Premier to resign in the last two years on the basis of not much more than being fed up with the job.
It is probably that state government isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays, it is really just providing public services, something that old ideologue Joh never worried much about, even for his own supporter base in rural Queensland. The focus on service delivery naturally advantages Labor with its public service connections. So it is no wonder that not only do Labor state leaders become entrenched, but perhaps get bored of a job that was not quite what their early years in the political trenches led them to expect.
Meanwhile in Canberra, an old man clings onto his job like it is the most important one in the country, little realising that it is also changing to being not much more than co-ordinating state service delivery and occasionally applying an adept touch at handling foreign heads of state. Who says Rudd is not experienced for the job?
Monday, 10 September 2007
Janet Albrechtsen’s column last week calling for Howard to step down was apparently one of the hardest she will write, which is understandable as it certainly was one of her most incoherent. It starts badly because she thinks that the government has had an agenda in its 11½ years. Apparently, Howard:
created the conditions for a whole new class of aspirational Australians to prosper from the inevitable forces of globalisation, confronted the scourge of terrorism and has fundamentally realigned the political landscape in this country on so many fronts.
On top of this, Albrechtsen claims that Howard made conservatism cool again. The fact that Albrechtsen equates Howard with ‘cool’ is a giveaway that she is talking about the wrong guy.
The problem conservative commentators have in this country is that the sort of policies they so admire, opening up to the markets, financial deregulation and marginalising the unions were done by Labor, not the conservatives (something that causes problems for left-wing commentators too). When it is over, Howard’s government will be credited with little but a tax suggested by Keating, and IR reform that even business didn’t need.
Because Albrechtsen doesn’t recognise the vacuum at the heart of the Howard government (unlike her employer), she can’t get what the Liberals’ problem is. Instead she blames the usual scapegoat for Australian political commentators - the electorate. For Albrechtsen, the government is in trouble because voters are too complacent to appreciate the wonderful government they have. Being a shallow lot, the best remedy for the electorate’s boredom is a fresh face so the media would start paying attention to the government again.
The electorate may be bored, but that is because the government has nothing of substance to say. It is hard to see how that can change. Never mind that other Liberals poll even worse than Howard (she says that such ratings were not the issue for Rudd succeeding Beazley, her colleague Mr Shanahan might have something to say about that). The problem is, once in front of the cameras, what would this fresh face say? Andrew Bolt, another conservative commentator calling for Howard’s replacement, on Insiders said that the Liberals have gone into denial over what is happening. Maybe senior Liberals are bewildered why they are heading to defeat, but at least they have a better grasp than Andrew Bolt why changing leaders will not help. They know there is nobody in the Liberals waiting with an alternative programme, best summed up by the sham challenger, Costello, whose supporters can follow their leader in moaning about Howard behind his back, but cannot produce an alternative agenda to challenge him.
This ‘challenge without a challenger’, where senior Liberals now doubt Howard can win, but can see no alternative, is clearly demoralising. Downer, who should have been managing such a transition, seemed resigned to the PM hanging on to the bitter end on Meet The Press yesterday. However, Bolt was right on one thing, this can only be ended either by Howard stepping down or calling an election. As the first is highly unlikely, it suggests announcing the election is the only way out.
APEC gave little positive momentum from which to call an election. The problem with the climate change declaration is not so much its vagueness, which is normal for an issue that is essentially just diplomatic protocol, but that Howard has no domestic agenda on climate change to link it with. What APEC did, however, was to highlight the shift in international relations caused by growing uncertainty over US leadership, and that Rudd was better placed to manage it (although he came very close to over-playing his hand with China).
But at least APEC did break the negative dynamic Howard created with his disastrous War on the States strategy of which the latest evidence comes out in ACNielsen this morning. Not much of a positive, more like a non-negative, but the best the government can probably hope for now. Unless Howard goes back to taking on the states, the government's standing has probably gone as low as it can go. Election timing is now caught between Howard waiting for that momentum to become positive and the demoralising impact on a party that knows what the result will be. The current focus on Howard should be seen as the start of the tearing up of his legacy once it happens.
Friday, 7 September 2007
Sydney residents must be wondering if they have been the victim of an elaborate and very expensive stunt. After all the inconvenience of the multi-million dollar show of fences, helicopters and snipers, none of it was enough to stop an ABC comedy team from whisking unhindered through two checkpoints. The high-profile security that surrounds political events these days always has more showmanship than practical effect. But it probably says something on the changing way the War on Terror is now regarded that exposing the security theatrics with a stunt that included someone dressed as Bin Laden, which might have been considered a little tasteless not so long ago, Is now treated by everyone as a joke.
The changing politics of the War on Terror and Iraq has created some awkwardness at the APEC conference because it is hosted by a leader who cannot adapt to it. Howard is locked into a political agenda that assumes US leadership is being excercised through the War on Terror, but that is not the way things are going. Bush’s hammering of the case for staying in Iraq, to help Howard, comes just in the week when Bush is actually trying to create wiggle room with his US audience to start pulling out (no wonder he was thinking of not coming). It also suggests that the supposed ‘showdown’ between Rudd and Bush over Iraq played out in front of the media might have turned into something a little bit different in a private meeting that went on for much longer than scheduled and unusually, was requested by Bush to be off the record.
However, while the facade that nothing has changed on Iraq was maintained to help Howard, the real transformation underway in international relations came out in the open with China’s arrival to the conference. China’s impact comes less from its own power in the region, but that it highlights that US leadership is now looking less certain. The awkwardness of China’s exclusion from the trilateral security meeting between Australia, the US and Japan is one sign of the shifting balance. But its major impact on the Australian political scene came in the welcoming dinner to the Chinese President. Rudd’s speech, made in front of not only top political leaders in China and Australia, but also the leaders of Australian business, was similar to the censure speech he made on Howard’s comments on Obama in February. Both were made to narrow, but influential, audiences and both emphasised his superior claim over Howard to be able to adapt to the state of flux in international relations we are now entering – all translated to the evening news by the simple act of speaking Mandarin, surely the classiest stunt of the week.
Thursday, 6 September 2007
It is absolutely unacceptable for the US President to come over here and meddle in Australian politics. The boost Bush gave to Rudd’s campaign yesterday represents an unwelcome intrusion by a foreign power into the Australian democratic process. By making a big deal over Labor’s position on Iraq, Bush has enabled Rudd to appear strong and principled on a policy that is basically a fudge. In reality, Labor’s proposes only to withdraw 500 of Australia's 1400 troops, and those are mainly training troops from the safe areas in southern Iraq. Labor will still keep troops in Iraq in order to retain its commitment to the US alliance.
The ultimate irony is that as Bush touched on at the end of his press conference with Howard, the US administration effectively has the same policy of phased withdrawal. The recent influx of troops had such a significant effect after so little time, apparently, that the US can now start doing the opposite. The surge looks less like a renewed commitment by the US administration but a short term way of clamping down the troubles enough for the US to claim success and join the UK in stepping away from the mess.
The only one that is showing no signs of cutting and running is of course Howard himself. At a basic level, Australia’s commitment to Iraq is so insignificant that the US and UK could do an awful lot of withdrawing before Australia’s presence becomes even proportionate to theirs. If Rudd’s principled ‘withdrawal’ from Iraq is a bit of a fraud, it is no less so than Howard’s ‘commitment’, something pointed out nicely by Obama back in February. More importantly, however, being seen to back down on this position is practically impossible for a government that stands for barely anything else.
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
The latest Newspoll has produced a sea change in the media’s expectations of a Labor victory. This is nothing much to do with the poll itself. It showed a move back to Labor in line with some other recent ones (except the F-F Morgan Poll) but otherwise repeated the landslide numbers that have been a feature of all of the polls since the start of this year. There's a major disconnect between the way in which the policy debate is conducted and what's actually happening on the ground in workplaces.
It is the media that has changed. It spent most of this year discrediting these numbers, even polling organisations like Newspoll and Galaxy joined in, doubting their own findings and arguing that the public could not possibly mean that. The Treasurer still thinks it could be that those polled have a chicken in the oven when answering the phone and are not thinking straight, and Mr Shanahan seems to think he has a point, but otherwise most media commentators are finally registering what has been staring them in the face all year.
Having finally to accept the obvious, the media now has to think of a reason. Kath & Kim’s timely intervention into the debate may account for the current preferences for Workchoices being the reason, it is hard to see what else would. It may be possible that concern over work contracts that apply to 5% of the workforce is sweeping the nation and ending Howard’s 11 ½ year government. It may be possible that polls like Galaxy, ACNielsen, industry surveys and the government’s internal polls that say the public is largely indifferent to Workchoices are all wrong.
But if Workchoices was a key reason for the government’s coming defeat, it would make the Labor leadership one of the most tactically stupid in modern electoral history, because why then have they spent most of this year toning down their objections to it? Kerry O’Brien asked this and whether Labor’s early objections was just posturing last night and got his answer as the debate between Gillard and Hockey progressed. At the beginning both sat opposite each other as though this was just another re-run of the great IR debates between these parties in the 20th century. By the end Gillard was reminding that Labor has no objections to individual contracts and they were only talking about awards on 5% of contracts anyway. Hockey was asking if Workchoices was so bad why Labor wanted to keep ‘vast chunks’ of it.
Away from all of this political play-acting the real situation was brought out in a report published yesterday by the University of Sydney, surveying employers in the eastern states just before Workchoices came in. In early 2006, 83% of workplaces were completely union free, only 3% reported industrial action, over two-thirds of those employers with unions reported good relations and only 4% wanted major changes to IR. In other words, Howard brought in IR legislation that even employers did not need. This would explain then why employer take up of AWAs has been so small and why they were so reluctant to defend Workchoices.
So if Howard’s IR laws were not even needed by his own supporter base, why did he bring them in? The Director in charge of the survey put his finger on it yesterday on AM:
IR policy debates are used primarily for product differentiation between the two major political parties. They really don't mean that much to most workplaces on the ground.
There's a major disconnect between the way in which the policy debate is conducted and what's actually happening on the ground in workplaces.
‘Product differentiation’ is what this is really about. The real reason this government is heading for defeat is that it stands for nothing. Rather than Workchoices being the reason for the government’s defeat it was meant to help it because, while unpopular like GST, at least it made it look like the government stood for something. By making it seem as though Howard’s electoral problem is that he is bringing in something draconian, instead of irrelevant, it turns reality on its head and misses what this election is really about, something that has been a feature of media commentary all year.
The fact is that the industrial relations debate is over. What we are seeing now is a ghost of something that died over a decade ago when Labor ended the role of the unions. This is its last appearance because Labor, headed by the first non-union sponsored leader in living memory, is about to end it. There are still those wedded to the past (in both parties) who think Rudd is toning down his opposition to Workchoices for electoral reasons but will turn back to the unions when in government. In reality, Rudd’s current direction is exactly where he is going. If anything he is probably being more pro-union than he wants to for internal reasons, something that will be much less of a problem after he takes the party to a resounding victory.
Tuesday, 4 September 2007
The latest 59/31 Newspoll confirms that the last month has been disastrous for the government, undoing much of the gains made since May. Even the strongest optimists for a government recovery are starting to give up. So it is worthwhile recalling not only why this has happened, but also deal with some of the less credible reasons now being put forward by those same pundits for the bad polling.
The government is in trouble because:
1) It stands for nothing ...
2) which is no longer covered by the War on Terror,
3) and Howard cannot adapt to the new agenda on global warming that would have given it a new sense of purpose.
Factors that are not key to Howard's decline, but nevertheless pushed by those who have been calling it wrong all year are:
1) Workchoices: despite what Kath & Kim say, this has had a modest impact on industrial relations as collective bargaining went out the door years ago under Keating. The issue may give internal comfort to Labor, but if anything, IR has probably had a modest negative effect in deterring small business from moving to Labor.
2) The hip pocket nerve: if ever there was an election that should have disproved this old media prejudice it was this one, but it still persists and explains why some pundits have called it so wrong this year.
3) Rudd: A new, ‘fresh’ face has emphasised the government policy exhaustion but not caused it. Rudd has admittedly been very sharp at using anti-politics sentiment against Howard. However, as much as this blog hates to admit it, even Beazley could have been in a winning position at this stage, i.e. this is truly a ‘Rusty the Dog’ election.
Monday, 3 September 2007
Back in June this blog suggested that APEC would provide Howard with one last, outside, chance of catching up with the shift in the international agenda from Iraq and the War on Terror to climate change. It is the inability of the government to keep up with that shift that, in this blog’s view, is the critical difference to the government’s current electoral standing compared to 2001 and 2004.
Instead Howard’s response to his problems with the international agenda was to shift the debate away from it altogether. First there was Howard’s intervention into the NT indigenous communities, a sort of internal ‘Iraq’, but where land rights lobbyists have proved much easier to manage than Shiite militia. Then there was the disastrous move into even more local issues with his War on the States.
Having forced the debate away from international issues, Howard is now being forced to turn back to them with the APEC summit, but now has little basis on which to do so. Climate change has barely been mentioned by the government since its carbon emission trading plan in July so any action at APEC will look insincere. Howard has been playing with a fantasy that he can use APEC to set up a parallel forum for dealing with climate change against the ‘Eurocentric’ Kyoto framework. But even China, left out of Kyoto, has made clear that any APEC proposals should be seen in the Kyoto and UN framework. China is rising as a global player and has no interest in locking itself out of the international framework. Neither does the US. It has never been comfortable with regional forums like APEC as a political body, even during Clinton’s time, and has sent a clear message on what it thinks of this one with both Bush and Condoleeza Rice leaving before the final day of communiqués. Both countries recognise that climate change is becoming the language of international relations and neither can afford to promote a solution that excludes Europe. Howard will not get an alternative from APEC and his wish for it only shows that he cannot adapt to events.
While Howard is struggling with the new, neither can he move on from the old. Iraq, once a favourite topic of the PM, has been even less talked about than climate change. It has barely been mentioned since his abortive trip to the war zone and the Obama gaffe at the start of the year. Bush’s visit will force the Man of Steel to stand up for an issue he clearly no longer wants to talk about.
Yet what is bad news for Howard is not necessarily good news for Rudd. Rudd may talk tough defending Labor’s Iraq stance but in reality it is only feasible because the US is also abandoning Bush’s strategy. The problem for Rudd is that the US, even on the Democrat side, has yet to work out what is to replace it. This is why Rudd is reluctant to be pressed on the Iraq timetable as in the end it will not be up to him, but how things pan out in Washington. Similarly on climate change, while becoming the international orthodoxy, it is not established enough for Rudd to translate it to a domestic agenda (which is why he has delayed details of how emission targets will be met until after the election). Labor’s heavy reliance for its alternative on international trends that are still uncertain and out of its control, is the fragility that lies at the heart of its case for government. It is why Rudd has never really resisted Howard’s turn away from international issues over this year and why he will be unwilling to make too much of Howard’s disappointments at APEC.
The lack of real enthusiasm from Australian political leaders for this summit leaves its purpose unclear to the electorate. Combined with all the security inconvenience that high profile events create these days, it has laid the grounds for a pollie-bashing festival, because if there is one thing more irritating than paying for national politicians, it is paying for those of another country. Some commentators have implied that any violence will politically benefit Howard, but it is unlikely. The protests are already trying to tap into this anti-politics feeling, so draining them of any real content. It is more likely to be seen as just part of the inconvenience of hosting such an international event. When the dignitaries have gone, it is likely that it will not just be Sydney-siders who will be relieved that Australia will not have to host APEC again for another twenty years.
Saturday, 1 September 2007
Michael Kroger on Lateline repeated an assumption that seems to be creeping into election date speculation, that the campaign itself will close the gap as the electorate focuses on the economy. This doesn’t make sense. We are already in effective election mode and if Howard had a winning tactic he would be using it already.
Election campaigns are more likely to speed up the direction of the campaign than change it and the campaign’s momentum looks if anything to be edging away from the government (the latest Morgan poll notwithstanding). However, it is likely that the first sign Howard can turn it back the government’s way, he will speed it up by announcing the date and the technical issues that commentators are factoring in (RBA interest rate announcements, Melbourne Cup etc.) will be very secondary.
While Howard is waiting for this turn, Rudd is using the third anniversary of the 2004 election to play the usual ‘bring it on’ game of the opposition leader, but with a twist. This time Rudd is less calling Howard a coward, but clever, i.e. not so much that he is delaying the election timing but that he is doing it to suit him. Howard’s response on this the other day was decidedly not clever by asserting it was his ‘right’ to decide the timing. There were similarities to his reaction to criticisms over fund-raising at Kirribilli, that it was his ‘right’ because it was his home. Rudd is capitalising on the growing feeling that election dates should not be in the hands of politicians, which has already led to the push for fixed terms in the states. Once again Howard seems to be slightly tone deaf to the anti-politics game Rudd is playing.