Today's Saturday Morning Musings is a round-up of some of the things that attracted my attention over the last week, things that I could have written about but didn't because of time.
The Rudd Incumbency Factor
One of the things that I completely underestimated with newly returned Australian PM Rudd is what I have come to think of as the Rudd incumbency factor. In normal circumstances, the sudden replacement of a Prime Minister on the eve of election by a Government in desperate trouble would leave that Government struggling to regain legitimacy. But these are not normal times.
Mr Rudd was a PM who was deposed. Now that he is back as PM the reaction from most, and I include the media, is to think of the new Rudd Government not as a new Government but as a continuation of the previous Rudd administration. Has he changed? Will he be more inclusive? What will he do now? That's a very powerful weapon, for it gives Mr Rudd something of the benefit of legitimacy and incumbency. He is taken seriously in a way that an alternative Labor leader such as Mr Shorten would not have been. In collective Australian mental mud maps, he is PM Rudd.
There is another variable, one that I struggle to explain. Australians like a fighter. They like a fighter who wins or, sometimes, fails. Mr Rudd draws from that.
The Political Landscape
Mr Rudd has changed the political dynamics. Here I am especially interested in the minority parties and in the Senate.
The New England independents and the independents movement were casualties of the Gillard period. By the end of the Gillard period, the Greens were in desperate trouble, with their Senate campaign in disarray. In a polarised electorate with support for environmental issues in decline, their support for the Gillard Government threatened their position in the Senate. By contrast, new political movements were gathering support from non-Labor voters who did not want to vote for Mr Abbott. There were a lot of them, including the parties established by Messrs Palmer and Katter.
The world has changed. It's become more fluid.
Accepting that views will change between now and the election, a slab of votes appear to have moved back to Labor. Some of those votes would have gone to the Greens, a few to the new parties, but most to the Liberals. With a more clearly demarcated contest and a more popular Labor leader, non-Labor votes that would have gone to the new parties will drift back to the coalition. And for those Labor people who absolutely detest Mr Rudd but who can in no way vote for Mr Abbott, they are likely to go to the Greens.
What happens between now and the election will be important in determining the final mix.
The Regionality of Australian Politics
All the Australian political parties are regional parties in that their greatest strength is concentrated in specific geographic areas. This is usually presented in socio-economic terms, but it is a little more than that. Local members argue for their local causes, what is seen as important for their electors and especially those who vote for them. This feeds back.
Of all the main parties, only the Nationals are explicitly regional and then it is presented in terms of regional Australia as compared to specific regions. Yet regional bias remains true for all parties. I make this point now because it is often ignored. The current media focus on the importance of Western Sydney to the national election is expressed in marginal seat terms, but it is still a very explicitly regional focus.
Earlier I commented on the real policy vacuum that had emerged with an Opposition that was not required to really focus on policy at this point and a Government that was failing to present an effective new policy direction, but instead focused on a few elements in the status quo.
This is no longer true. Everything is now up for grabs. Nothing is fixed, although in some ways nothing has changed. Still, people are actually talking policy.
The Biggest Party Winner?
Based on earlier discussion in this post, I clearly think that the Greens have gained. But the biggest winner in relative terms is the National Party. If my analysis is correct, they may have contained the challenges posed by Messrs Palmer and Katter. More importantly, they have regained the two seats held by the New England independents, restoring their control over the New England or Northern heartland that has formed the Party's core base since its formation.
With population shifts, New England is less important now in relative terms. But it remains the only large geographical area of Australia where the Party is seen as the natural party and has been since 1920,
After finishing this post, I wandered up to Kingsford to do some shopping. The Liberals were out in force, campaigning for Dr Michael Feneley. This is somewhat new, for Kingsford Smith is a traditional Labor seat. Previously held by Peter Garrett who has decided not to contest the election, it is now on the front line.
I worked my way through the Liberal Party workers, taking a few snaps. Sadly, I had to delete the best shot. "Did you take our photo", I was asked. It was pretty clear that this wasn't welcome, so I asked "Would you like me to delete the shot?" "Yes", was the firm reply. I did so, and chatted to the couple and a Liberal Party worker.
Like the first party worker I had spoken to, an extremely enthusiastic Chinese lady, this was one a patient of Dr Feneley, but also a long term Liberal activist. I explained to the couple that I was a free lance writer and analyst. On the spot, they searched for and found this blog.
We talked about current politics and a few other things. Both were clearly inclined to the Liberal Party. "You must join the Young Liberals", said the friendly campaign worker. It would be unfair to give the detail of the conversation, it was a private conversation, but it actually was fun.
It all reminded me of a very important thing about Australian politics. This rests on a volunteer bedrock who try to persuade others. It doesn't matter whether or not you agree, but you must respect their views for they care.
And for my friendly couple in case they come back to this blog? Do enjoy your three honeymoons! I wish you every happiness and success for your life together. I think that you will make a great go of it.