Monday, October 01, 2012

Will PM Gillard win the next election? And possibly why

Here in NSW and also the ACT, today is the Labour Day public holiday. The holiday marks the achievement of an eight hour working day and is held on different dates across Australia because an eight hour day was achieved on different dates in the various colonies. For my part, the holiday gave me a little time to browse across my various interests. 

The relationship between sons and fathers is often complicated. I was reminded of this by Ramana's post Faces. Here Ramana is speaking a little more broadly, but the post led me to do a Google search on a half remembered book title, journey through my father. I still can't remember the exact name of the book, but the search generated a range of references dealing with the complexity in the relationship. I also enjoyed Ramana's Seredipity? Synchronicity?.

I have written a couple of posts recently - Curious cows Walcha-Nowendoc Road was one, Armidale - the sounds of distant bagpipe music a second - that attempt to capture the serendipity of the moment, Life is full of fascination, of strange by-ways to be enjoyed. In Faces, Ramana draws from the concept of the Janus god, of two faces. Technically, it seems that Janus (our month of January comes from Janus) had two faces because the god looked to the future and the past. I didn't actually know that. The opening stanza of the poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850 - 1919) captures one aspect of the two faces that many of us would know. 

Laugh, and the world laughs with you:
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth
Must borrow its mirth,
It has trouble enough of its own

For a blog that it often classified as a political blog, there has been remarkably little politics on this blog recently. It's partly that I have been busy on other things, partly that I have had little useful to add. However, because we are now at something of a transition point in Australian politics, I thought that I would make a comment.

Sometime ago, I commented on the difficulty that PM Julia Gillard faced in finding that quiet place on which to stand while she regrouped. Events kept pushing her. Now, however, the opinion polls are showing a slow shift back to the Labor Party, giving her a little time. There is a tendency to want  to explain this in simple terms. The carbon tax is in and the sky hasn't yet fallen. It's a little more than that.

At  least in his public utterances, Opposition leader Abbott is not a subtle man. He crafted a small number of messages and then hammered them relentlessly: one was the cost of the carbon tax, a second stop the boats, a third the need to control Government spending. This approach was very effective, but is now losing traction.

It was always going to be the case that the affects of the carbon tax would take time to work their way through the system. Just looking at the commentary and analysis, there is actually far more serious criticism of the tax than there was in the past. Mr Abbott's problem is that this doesn't matter. In terms of message, the sky hasn't fallen. On stop the boats, the Government has effectively neutralised the issue through a combination of inquiry and adoption of key Opposition planks. It remains a divisive issue within the general community, but is no longer one where many in the community believes that the Opposition would actually do better. On the need to control Government spending, we see the Government's constant focus on budget surplus, while Mr Abbott himself has announced new spending initiatives. There is another factor here as well, and that is the presence of Coalition Governments in the three most populous states all engaged in cuts. That hurts.Graph: Job Vacancies, Total and Private sector—Trend

The Australian economy is weakening. This graph from the ABS shows the slow but steady decline in Australian job vacancies. The fall is mot pronounced in in public sector job vacancies. In August 2012, public sector job vacancies were  down 9.0 per cent from May 2012, and at the lowest level since May 2004.

All this has affected the Federal Opposition to the benefit of the ALP. The problems don't end there.

In Queensland, the Newman Government is now seen by an increasing number of Queenslanders as just too ideological for its own good. In Victoria, the impact of some of the cuts such as those to technical education appear to have side-effects that were not properly foreseen by the Government. In NSW, the O'Farrell Government has its own problems.

I am now prepared to call the NSW move to mega Departments a failure and for the reasons that I outlined earlier. They have added to overhead while complicating decision making in an already sclerotic system. However, Mr O'Farrell has another problem, and one not of his own making. During the long years of the previous Labor Government, spin reached the point that nobody believed a word that the Government said.

This disbelief transferred to the new Government. Mr O'Farrell's challenge was to find a way to make people believe again. He has failed. The NSW Government is actually trying to do new things. Unlike Mr Newman in Queensland, it adopted a cautious approach. And yet, the message hasn't got across, in part because the language used is much the same.

All this helps Ms Gillard. For his part, Mr Abbott is trying to change track. Journalists have noted and measured with glee the change in the pattern of questions at question time. He has started talking about policy more broadly. Yet he will have a hard time getting the new messages across simply because he has been so focused and relentless.

Does this mean that the PM can win the next election? I don't know, although I think that she has a far better chance than current polls would suggest. There is a very particular reason for this.

Borrowing and altering a concept from the on-line world, Government decisions have a very long tail, as do events in the economy. The pain inflicted by Premier Newman in Queensland may be in that state's interest. But in any fundamental restructure, it takes a fair while for the gains to flow. Mr Abbott doesn't have that time. There is a pretty fair chance that by the time Ms Gillard goes to the polls, the pain in Queensland, NSW and Victoria will still be there. The economy is even more problematic, a wild card that none can control.

I generally avoid economic forecasts. I just don't know enough. There are too many variables. But I have to say that there is a pretty fair chance that the economy will be down by the time Ms Gillard goes to the polls. Normally. this would favour the Opposition since the Coalition is seen as better economic managers. In this case and considering events at a state level as well as Mr Abbott's approach, I suspect that the economy may work in the Government's favour; a sure pair of hands, as Treasurer Swan would say. Of course, if the economy is better, the Government will try to claim credit!

I must say that I'm really tempted to call the next federal election for the ALP. That's really chancing my arm! Yet the probabilities look far better than I had expected.


Anonymous said...

The headline story in to-day's Australian shows that the spending cuts in Q have had a negligable impact (if any) on the standing of the Newman government. Remember that States' cuts in spending are in any case directed at public sector employees - part of the the bed rock (and noisy) Labor constituency.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi anon and thanks.I hadn't seen the poll, I don't read the OZ anymore because of the firewall. Looking at the results on Poll bludger, there are some odd things about the results, including the fact that they are so at variance with recent polls.

In any event, I think that I would argue that I am trying to focus on a trend, not a result at a point in time. On your last sentence, I will respond later in a separate comment.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi again anon. This piece tells a very different polling story -

Evan said...

John Mortimer (who created Rumpole of the Bailey) wrote an autobiographical work A Journey Round My Father.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Evan. Appreciated.