Sunday, February 27, 2011

O'Farrell, carbon taxes & the NSW election

Here in New South Wales we have an election campaign well underway. Nationally, Prime Minister Gillard has announced that the Commonwealth Government will introduce a carbon tax. NSW opposition leader Barry O'Farrell has responded by calling on NSW voters to make the tax a central issue in the NSW election campaign.

On the surface, Mr O'Farrell's position seems politically sensible. The tax is deeply unpopular with some sections of the electorate. Certain of the talk back hosts on commercial radio are running hot against it. The PM appears to have broken a promise. Liberal Party testing with voters on the Central Coast suggested that opposition to the tax was a vote winner. Yet I find Mr O'Farrell's position puzzling and a bit disturbing.

In NSW the Labor Government is on the nose with voters to the point that the ALP's primary vote at 22-23% measured by the opinion polls is so low that it it is hard to see it going any lower. Labor is in disarray to the point that the Party has been struggling to find candidates and money. It faces electoral disaster. The carbon tax adds to its problems.

Why, then, do I find Mr O'Farrell's apparent desire to make the make the carbon tax the central issue of the campaign puzzling? Well, my first reaction was that if he was successful in doing that it might actually increase the Labor vote!

There are two reasons for this. First, it takes attention away from the key question of the performance of the NSW Government. Secondly and more importantly, the proportion of the electorate that actually supports a carbon tax is, I think, significantly above the present ALP vote in NSW. So if Mr O'Farrell were to get his way, any votes that the opposition might gain from the low ALP base might be more than offset elsewhere.

In practice, the issue is going to be just one among many. Still, I continue to find the way Mr O'Farrell has defined his precise position a little puzzling.

I said earlier that I also found it a little disturbing. Why? Well, he has really done something of a Kristina:

  • He is attempting to take advantage of a Federal issue based on polls and, no doubt, the dreaded focus groups.
  • Some of his rhetoric such as his demand that NSW residents be fully compensated for any tax is just not sensible and falls in the same class as Kristina's suggestion that NSW should in some ways be exempt from the proposed flood levy because Sydney's cost of living was higher.
  • The use of a somewhat extraneous issue to attract attention away from more substantive issues is something that NSW Labor has done for years. 

These are personal opinions and not important in an election that Mr O'Farrell cannot lose. However, I am interested in what they tell us about the way a coalition Government might work. 


Anonymous said...

Totally agree with this; well said Jim. One of the problems (and it has been going on for over twelve months now) is that Mr O'Farrell has succeeded in stating what he is against, but has managed to put very few ideas out as to what he actually stands for; what he will do in government.

That old saying about getting the government we deserve is going to get a pretty good test this election. I just thought we were better than that - but it seems not.


ps good luck with the move, and thanks for those really interesting links in your preceding post.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for the move wishes, KVD. And I am glad that you enjoyed those links. I thought that you might!

I am holding fire a little on Mr O'Farrell and the coalition in general because I have yet to analyse what they have said in policy terms. You don't get a lot of serious policy analysis in the media. The focus is all on the froth and bubble, dictated in part by the practical deadlines people work under.

Before commenting further, I want to revisit what I wrote prior to the last state election. I also want to do some policy analysis.

Subject to any revisions through thought and experience - after all, its four years since the last election - I want to use the benchmarks set then to review stuff.