VCEpolitics.com: 1998 Federal Election – Week 4

12.30pm UPDATE

Howard Promises More Work For Dole, Money for Education, Rural Apprenticeships

HowardPrime Minister John Howard officially launched his re-election campaign at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta this morning. He defended his tax reform proposals, attacked the ALP as isolated on tax and promised more money to key coalition constituencies.

Howard promised $100 million over 4 years so that all unemployed school leavers who are not in education or training within 3 months of leaving school would be involved in Work for the Dole programs. Howard said the program had been cynically opposed by the ALP, but was an example of his government’s pholosophy of mutual obligation that had brought the work ethic to tens of thousands of young people.

Howard also promised $70million to establish 500 Rural Transaction Centres that would provide banking, postal, phone and fax services to rural areas. He also announced $91.5 million for rural apprenticeships. He reiterated the benefit to rural communities of the $3.5 billion reductions in fuel excise.

The Prime Minister announced $112 million over 3-4 years for programs to improve literacy and numeracy standards in schools.

Howard devoted much of his speech to defending his tax package, saying that in 24 years in public life he had never been more convinced he was doing the right thing for Australia in pursuing tax reform. He praised the Australian Democrats, saying they were a party to the left of the ALP that recognised the need for reform. He said the ALP was isolated on the tax issue, believing that if sales taxes on caviar and orange juice were altered that all would be okay. He said the ALP wasn’t honest enough to admit that tax reform was needed.

The Liberal leader opened his speech by praising Tim Fischer, saying that “if you ever get into a political trench, make sure he’s there.” He described the election as a chance to stocktake, reminded his audience of the 13 years of Labor government and stressed his government’s record of economic management.

Democrats Challenge Hanson to Debate, Claim Victory in Mayo

Senator Meg LeesSenator Meg Lees, due to announce her party’s election platform this afternoon, today challenged Pauline Hanson to a one-on-one debate. Lees said radio station 2WS was prepared to offer 30 minutes for a debate and SBS television had offered one hour.

Senator Lees also claimed the Democrats were well-placed to win the Liberal-held seat of Mayo in South Australia. There are also reports out of Adelaide this morning of vandalism of One Nation and Liberal Party election posters.

Lees denied an allegation by Labor’s Simon Crean this morning that her party is “playing footsie” with the government on the GST. She said the ALP was isolated on tax reform and reiterated her commitment to a consumption tax that exempts food. Simon Crean said the government was committed to a new tax that would be paid for with the sale of Telstra. He said it was necessary to vote Labor if you don’t want a GST.

Beazley Adopts Regional Strategy; Howard to Launch Campaign Today

BeazleyOpposition Leader, Kim Beazley, appears to have adopted a regional strategy in his attempt to secure the extra 27 seats he needs to form a government on October 3. During the past week of campaigning, Beazley went to Tasmania and promised to assist in the elimination of that State’s debt. The issue featured in the recent Tasmanian election when the former Liberal Premier, Tony Rundle, proposed selling the Hydro-Electric Commission in order to reduce debt. Rundle lost and Tasmania now has a majority Labor government. Beazley also visited South Australia during the week and offered a range of industry assistance measures. The ALP only holds two of the twelve House of Representatives seats in Tasmania and three of the five in Tasmania. It seems clear that the ALP has embarked upon a three pronged attack in its campaign: appealing to regional groups of voters, attacking the GST and having Beazley present a range of other policies that help create a more positive image of the ALP.

The Opposition has also begun intensifying its campaign against the GST. On Friday, Beazley warned that tax inspectors would wait outside shops and demand to see receipts from departing customers, a practice that exists in some European countries. He cited the example of tax inspectors waiting outside ice-cream parlours and said, “I’m a person who quite generously treats his children on the ice cream front … the last thing I want to do as I’m handling a mess of melting ice cream coming out of an ice cream parlor, is having to keep hold of a chit at the same time from the poor devil behind the counter.” Beazley also said a GST would add about $16,000 to a house and land package in most states, and $20,000 in Sydney. He said the GST would add $400 to the cost of stamp duty on new homes. This message is one that is now being pushed strongly through television advertisments.

ALP candidates are also being notified of a “GST Stunt of the Day” by the party’s national campaign office. These tactics involve cutout imitations of popular consumer items, such as aspirin, for distribution in shopping centres and the like. As polling evidence suggests that opposition to the GST is firming, it is clear that the most negative phase of the election campaign is now upon us.

However, both parties are conscious of the need to present positive messages to the electorate. Beazley has used the phrase “New Labor” on at least one occasion, although on Friday he apparently spoke of the party as “Today’s Labor”. At the Adelaide Press Club on Friday, Beazley said, “I guess old Labor was when you talk about nationalisation and controlling the command economy. Today Labor talks about intervention … as a government in the control of reciprocal obligations. The abilities of the unemployed to take up the opportunities the government offers, the obligation of industry to understand that they need a bit of government help, in return for good performances in relation to investment.”

John Howard will no doubt also aim to present some kind of positive message in his policy launch today. He can be expected to concentrate on his government’s record of economic management, particularly in the area of reducing the budget deficit and maintaining low interest rates. On the negative side, this week will very likely see a more aggressive campaign against Labor based on its record in government. Government ministers have made a mantra of talking about the ALP’s 13 years in government.

One Nation Vote In Dispute; Hanson Offers More Bizarre Policies

HansonVarious Opinion Polls suggest that One Nation’s vote is slipping as the campaign progresses, estimates varying around the 6-10% mark. It is now widely believed that Hanson will have great difficulty winning the Queensland seat of Blair where she is being placed last on all the major party tickets.

It is in this context that there have been media reports in recent days of a secret deal between Hanson and her Queensland Senate candidate, Heather Hill, a deal that would entail Hill resigning her Senate seat (assuming she wins it) and thus allowing Hanson to fill the casual vacancy that would then arise. Whilst Hanson has previously said she would not pursue this option if she lost in Blair, this now appears to be in doubt.

Section 15 of the Australian Constitution provides for Senate vacancies to be appointed by the relevant State Parliament and filled by a member of the same political party as the previous incumbent. Prior to 1975, a convention existed along these lines, but after it was twice broken in 1975, in events that ultimately led to the dismissal of the Whitlam Government, the Fraser Government proposed a constitutional amendment in 1977 which specified that members of the same political party must be chosen to fill vacancies.

As Hanson’s vote appears to be sliding in the published opinion polls, a study commissioned by the Australian Financial Review provides conflicting projections. Prepared by geographers at the University of Queensland, the analysis suggests that One Nation has the potential to attract more than 15% of the primary vote in 63 federal electorates. The study also says that the party could attract between 15 and 20 per cent of the primary vote in 40 seats scattered across the country. In a further 23 seats, mainly in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia, the party may be able to win between 20 and 30 per cent of the vote.

The model used in the study matched census data involved matching One Nation’s primary vote in each of the State’s 1,647 polling booths with the data collected from 6,447 districts for the 1996 Census. The Australian Electoral Commission estimates that 90% of voters use the polling booth nearest to their home, so this analysis allows for a detailed profile of each electorate to be developed. The study shows that One Nation supporters are highly likely to be fundamentalist Christians, unemployed, unskilled blue collar workers or agricultural workers, and home buyers.

Hanson’s party has failed to dominate the media during this past week, attracting most attention for its bizarre policy to abolish the Family Court of Australia and replace it with a series of tribunals comprised of One Nation supporters who would act as some kind of community council. The party appears to have thrown in its lot on this matter with the assorted loonies who call for the abolition of child support allowances and who argue that men are getting a raw deal from the Family Court. After the ridicule heaped on the party for its 2% “easy tax” proposal last week, one must wonder what kind of impression the party is now making on its erstwhile supporters.

Howard Campaigns on Tax Reform, More Money for Key Groups

HowardPrime Minister John Howard officially launched his re-election campaign at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta yesterday. He defended his tax reform proposals, attacked the ALP as isolated on tax and promised more money to key coalition constituencies.

Howard devoted much of his speech to defending his tax package, saying that in 24 years in public life he had never been more convinced he was doing the right thing for Australia in pursuing tax reform. Rather than use the official campaign launch to shift the focus away from the GST, the Prime Minister opted instead to focus the whole campaign on the tax package. He called on Australians to opt for “what is good for Australia.”

Howard praised the Australian Democrats, saying they were a party to the left of the ALP that recognised the need for reform. He said the ALP was isolated on the tax issue, believing that if sales taxes on caviar and orange juice were altered that all would be okay. He said the ALP wasn’t honest enough to admit that tax reform was needed.

In a speech that promised an additional $730 million in new spending plans, Howard promised $100 million over 4 years so that all unemployed school leavers who are not in education or training within 3 months of leaving school would be required to enter Work for the Dole programs. Howard said the program had been cynically opposed by the ALP, but was an example of his government’s pholosophy of mutual obligation that had brought the work ethic to tens of thousands of young people.

Howard also promised $70 million to establish 500 Rural Transaction Centres that would provide banking, postal, phone and fax services to rural areas. He also announced $91.5 million for rural apprenticeships. He reiterated the benefit to rural communities of the $3.5 billion reductions in fuel excise.

The Prime Minister announced $112 million over 3-4 years for programs to improve literacy and numeracy standards in schools and $85 million for poorer Catholic schools. $80 million was promised for respite care for carers of dementia sufferers and $24 million over 5 years to increase boarding allowances for isolated students

The Liberal leader reiterated the importance of the coalition arrangement, both through the new targeted campaign promises and by fulsome praise of Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader, Tim Fischer, saying that “if you ever get into a political trench, make sure he’s there.” He described the election as a chance to stocktake, reminded his audience of the 13 years of Labor government and stressed his government’s record of economic management.

New Allegations of MPs Super Tax Dodge

In an exclusive report out today in the newsletter Inside Canberra, it is alleged that the Federal Parliament quietly passed legislation late last year which allows federal members to avoid paying more than a fraction of the 15% superannuation tax on high-income earners. The legislation was passed with no debate and no dissent.

The newsletter claims that a politician retiring at the age of 55 can pay off the surcharge at the rate of $5 per oevery $100 owed to the Taxation Department.

Expect this issue to be jumped on by the commercial media over the next few days and to hear more anti-politician rhetoric than usual.

Turnover of Members Shown in Nominations

JonesNominations for the 148 House of Representatives seats show that 19 members of the 38th Parliament will definitely not be returning after the elections. This represents 12.8% of the total membership of the House.

Nine of the retiring members are from the ALP: Peter Baldwin (Sydney – NSW), David Beddall (Rankin – Qld), Bob Brown (Charlton – NSW), Steven Dargavel (Fraser – ACT), Ted Grace (Fowler – ALP), Clyde Holding (Melbourne Ports – Vic), Barry Jones (Lalor – Vic), Peter Morris (Shortland – NSW) and Ralph Willis (Gellibrand – Vic). Of these, Dargavel is “retiring” because of the reduction from 3 seats to 2 in the ACT.

Five members of the Liberal Party will not be returning to the Parliament: Bob Halverson (Casey – Vic), Ian McLachlan (Barker – SA), Stephen Mutch (Cook – NSW), Bruce Reid (Bendigo – Vic) and Bill Taylor (Groom – Qld). Halverson, the former Speaker of the House, has been appointed Australian Ambassador to Ireland, whilst Mutch was defeated for preselection. McLachlan, the current Defence Minister, first entered Parliament in 1990. His retirement was unexpected, but not surprising, given his oft-stated distaste for politics.

There are 4 members of the National Party retiring: Michael Cobb (Parkes – NSW), Noel Hicks (Riverina – NSW), John Sharp (Hume – NSW) and Ian Sinclair (New England – NSW). Cobb is facing criminal charges arising out of the Travel Rorts scandal and John Sharp lost his ministerial position over the same issue in 1997.

BradfordThe Independent member for for McPherson, John Bradford, is contesting a Senate seat for the Christian Democratic Party. Originally elected as Liberal member in 1990, Bradford resigned from the Liberal Party earlier this year. He is unlikely to win a Senate seat and his former electorate will revert to the Liberal Party.

Another 4 members of the House are contesting different electorates. The Health Minister, Dr. Michael Wooldridge, currently the member for the Melbourne electorate of Chisholm, is contesting Casey, the seat vacated by Bob Halverson. Pauline Hanson, currently the member for Oxley in Queensland, is contesting the new electorate of Blair, created out of the redistribution of Queensland electorates. In the ACT, Annette Ellis, the Labor member for Namadgi, has had her seat abolished and will contest Canberra. The current ALP member for Canberra, Bob McMullan, will contest the safer electorate of Fraser, currently held by Steven Dargavel.

Government Stokes Fears of ALP Victory

ReithThe government was going out of its way yesterday to talk up the possibility of a Labor victory on October 3. Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Reith, talked of what happened in 1993 when the ALP achieved a largely unexpected election victory. Reith talked of the anti-GST campaign that worked so effectively in 1993 and continued to push the line that the ALP would repeat its 1993 performance and raise indirect taxes if it won the election.

The campaign to generate a sense of unease about the crisis in Asia was also developed yesterday by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Fischer talked of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Kuala Lumpur leading to trade difficulties as a result of the crisis in Malaysia where the former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim has been arrested and anti-government riots have taken place in the capital. Howard talked of the seriousness of the crisis and the use of police. It is generally accepted that the government’s campaign would benefit from a sense of unease in the community about the Asian crisis in the sense that it may encourage voters to believe that now is not the time to change governments.

Clinton Video Evidence Released

ClintonThe election campaign will again suffer a major media incursion today as the networks cover the release of 4 hours of video evidence by US President Bill Clinton. Broadcast live overnight, the videotape is of Clinton’s appearance before the Grand Jury on August 17. Early analysis suggests that whilst the extent of his political injury cannot be under-estimated, Clinton’s evidence is unlikely to cause him further damage. Indeed, his performance is not what we were led to believe in recent days. Whilst occasionally testy and determined to challenge the Independent Counsel, Kenneth Starr, Clinton seemed conscious of the television camera and determined to prosecute his own case to the Grand Jury. The anger he displayed was controlled. Overall, this may well turn out to be yet another case where Clinton confounds his enemies.

The ABC’s Four Corners last night broadcast the first of two programs on the party leaders. It was a largely sympathetic portrayal of Kim Beazley, using interviews with former Prime Ministers, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. Hawke spoke of Beazley’s strength as a minister, particularly in his conflict with Keating over the telecommunications industry. Keating, used by the program as a kind of sidelined figure offering negative comments, patronisingly described Beazley as a “stayer”, rather than a “player”. The overall tenor of the program was to emphasise the religious and ethical nature of Beazley’s upbringing and to show that his relationship with his father imbued him with a sense of pessimism about politics. A man interested in the sweep of history shone through, including the observation that all civilisations ultimately decline. Like a Compass program the previous night, the viewer could hardly fail to come away with the impression of an intelligent and thoughtful man, a person of breadth, comfortable both in bookshops and with people at the football.

The Hanson Soap Opera

Following an interview in New Idea with one of her sons, the Pauline Hanson saga has taken on all the features of a shoddy soap opera. Steven Hanson’s story appeared under the heading, Pauline Hanson’s dying son: I can’t even speak to her. Apparently slowly dying from an unnamed illness, Hanson junior is quoted as saying he doesn’t expect his mother to support him through his agony. Hanson the younger says he has often asked his mother to “please explain” his childhood, but he hasn’t had a reply from her. Spare us, please!

Hanson will be campaigning today in the marginal Victorian electorate of McEwen. It is reported that Jeff Kennett will also be in the sprawling electorate.

What Happens to the Government During an Election?

A number of conventions come into force when an election campaign is held. These have been distributed to government departments during this election period by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Max Moore-Wilton.

The main conventions relate to the avoidance by the government of taking major policy decisions likely to commit an incoming government, making appointments of significance, and entering major undertakings or contracts.

Public servants have been advised that Cabinet documents and other material that is not released to an incoming government should be secured in the event of a change of government. There are rules relating to the updating of web sites, the mode of address of Members of Parliament during the campaign period and a ban on the distribution of political material in government office buildings.

Government Attacked Over GST’s Effect On Education

A dispute erupted yesterday over the effect of the GST on the cost of education. The government’s GST proposal came under attack from university Vice-Chancellors and private school parents’ organisations. A feature of the election campaign now is that interest groups are emerging every day to argue their case for exemptions from the goods and services tax. Treasurer Costello appeared on The 7.30 Report last night to again argue the case in favour of a GST. Costello claimed that people would be better off given the elimination of a range of other indirect taxes coupled with the planned income tax cuts.

KatterA National Party Senate candidate in Western Australia yesterday embarrassed the government by calling for food to be exempt from the GST. Howard dismissed the call by pointing out that it is at least 20 years since the National Party won a Senate seat in the West. However, overnight there have been calls by National Party backbenchers from Queensland, Bob Katter (Kennedy) and Paul Marek (Capricornia) to exempt food.

All of this comes in the light of an interesting article in yesterday’s Australian Financial Review by Peter Barron, a former adviser to Bob Hawke and Neville Wran. Barron argues that “there is just a whiff of 1993 in the campaign air.” In the 1993 election, the GST issue took hold during the campaign and ultimately led to Liberal leader John Hewson losing what many called the “unlosable election”.

Barron argues that few people are convinced that the GST will do anything about reining in the cash economy. Indeed, he suggests that small business owners don’t want a GST because it will force them to declare all their income. Barron says: “Denials will ring out around the country, but we all know what happens in thousands of small businesses throughout the nation. Some of the cash goes through the books, and some goes straight into the pocket of the proprietor.” He goes on to say: “Hairdressers, electricians, milk bar proprietors, restaurateurs, cab drivers, builders, and small business people of all types regard the evasion of tax on some cash as normal part of doing business …. The GST will change their lives forever. Instead of being tax evaders they will become tax collectos. Every time they make a sale or deliver a service they collect the GST for the government. Receipts and records become compulsory.”

Barron also argues that the reality of Australian life is still that wives conduct the housekeeping using money provided by their husbands. He suggests that the income tax cuts won’t be translated into extra housekeeping money. Combined with small business owners, Barron says “these are not the sort of voters who tell the pollsters what they are doing, or why. They simply slip into the ballot box and do the one thing they can to help remove a worry from their lives.”

The ALP clearly believes that the GST has the potential to win them the election and is concentrating its negative campaigning around the issue. A more positive approach to their campaign is likely to come today when the official campaign launch takes place in Brisbane. It is expected that Beazley will concentrate on job creation and the setting of a 5% unemployment target by an incoming Labor government.

The latest Newspoll released yesterday shows the ALP still holding a winning lead. The poll has the ALP primary vote at 43%, Coalition 42%, One Nation 6% and others on 9%. The poll shows a two-party-preferred lead to the ALP of 52% to 48%, one point down on last week. The one definite trend in these polls is the continuing decline the percentage of the vote achieved by One Nation.

Former federal ALP campaign director, Bob Hogg, issued a warning against the polls on Monday, writing that it was not uncommon in recent elections for the ALP to be ahead of the coalition a few weeks prior to polling day. He argued that this was often an expression of disquiet with the government that would not necessarily be translated into voting intentions. The polls over the coming days and into next week are likely to provide a more accurate indication of what it going on in the electorate.

Old War Horse Turned Out

Bob Hawke turned out in the electorate of McEwen yesterday in support of the ALP candidate, Graeme McEwen. McEwen is the nephew of Sir John McEwen, the former Country Party leader, known as “Black Jack McEwen”, after whom the seat is named. Hawke was greeted by a friendly crowd and gave a vigorous defence of Kim Beazley, attacking John Howard for not having the “ticker” to stand up to Pauline Hanson over the past couple of years.

Senate Voting Tickets

A full list of parties registered with the Australian Electoral Commission can be found here.

The parties have now all registered their how-to-vote tickets with the AEC for all Senate elections. These are of relevance to voters who choose to vote “above the line”, taking advantage of the Group Voting Tickets method. A vote above the line simply entails placing the number “1” in a single box. Nearly 95% of voters now choose to cast their Senate votes in this way. A vote above the line is deemed to be the same as a vote below the line and preferences are allocated in accordance with tickets lodged with the AEC. The tickets for all state Senate elections can be found here.

Those parties that wish to split their preferences between the major parties, as the Australian Democrats often do, are able to lodge more than one ticket with the AEC. Even the major parties lodge more than one ticket in most states.

A vote below the line is deemed to be valid if a number “1” appears and at least 90% of squares are completed in sequential order. In Victoria, for example, where there are 63 candidates for the Senate, a vote could leave 6 squares blank and still cast a valid vote.

Beazley Promises Jobs

The ALP launched its official campaign yesterday with a promise by Kim Beazley to achieve a target of 5% unemployment by 2005, the end of the second term of a Labor government. Beazley, in a passionate, sometimes strident speech, told his Brisbane audience that the Howard government had been bad for the country: “harsh, chaotic and incompetent”. He called on Australians when they voted to be “as sentimental about it as it has been about them.”

ALPBeazley’s most passionate moment came when he announced that the ALP would abolish up front fees for nursing homes. He said that the elderly who needed nursing care had a “bargain with our generation”. His voice rising in anger, Beazley said: “They saved this country in wartime and made it safe to live here – we must not repay our debt to them by making them sell their family homes to get into a nursing home in their moment of greatest vulnerability.”

The ALP is proposing to increase government spending by $9.3 billion in its first term, most of this going to employment creation, health and education. In a 263 page document (available for downloading here in PDF format), the party is planning to spend $980 million to create 18,000 jobs for older Australians. It proposes to inject an additional $1.5 billion into public hospitals, $500 million into schools, $315 million to re-institute the dental program and $400 million for small business. All this is on top of tax cuts worth $5 billion as previously announced.

Kerry Packer Supports Liberals

The owner of the Channel 9 Network, fresh from heart surgery in the United States, yesterday played his usual game of cat and mouse with the rest of the media, but managed to endorse John Howard, saying that the ALP needed “another few years in the wilderness.”

Packer was speaking at a Liberal Party business lunch in Sydney. Later, John Howard said that Packer was entitled to express his view “like any other Australian citizen”. We should all remember that when we next look over the earnings figures for our television networks.

Howard was introduced at the lunch by the Managing Director of the ABC, Donald McDonald, who described Howard in laudatory terms. We await demands from ABC Board member, Michael Kroger, for McDonald to step aside on grounds of political bias!

Costello Goes Missing

Treasurer Peter Costello appears to be adopting a low profile in the election. There have been a number of reports in recent days that the Liberal Deputy Leader is making minimal public appearances and has been keeping his daily itinerary under wraps. Many functions he has attended have been private and not open to the media.

It has also been noted the the Shadow Treasurer, Gareth Evans, has also not featured prominently in the ALP campaign. Evans is a particular subject of Liberal attack, having been attacked by Liberal Party President, Tony Staley, at the launch last Sunday and featuring in coalition advertising. The Packer publication, The Bulletin, ran a cover story on Evans a fortnight ago under the heading “Labor’s Fatal Flaw?”

Costello’s non-involvement, however, is particularly curious given the importance of the tax issue in the campaign. It has been suggested that Howard has wanted to take credit for the tax package, whilst others argue that Costello has sniffed the political breeze and is preparing for life after the election. A defeat for the government would see him well placed to take over the leadership, but this would be a double-edged sword since he would also cop some of the blame for the loss. A narrow win for the coalition would put Costello under pressure in some quarters to contest the leadership, as Paul Hasluck did when John Gorton scraped home in the 1969 election.

Is It Time?

Gough WhitlamFormer Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, now aged 82, was a prominent guest at the ALP’s campaign launch yesterday, sitting next to former Premier of NSW, Neville Wran. Wran is regarded by many in the ALP as the party’s most successful politician of the late 1970s and early 1980s, having wrested government from the Liberals by one seat in 1976, just months after the dismissal of the Whitlam Government and the ALP’s landslide defeat in the 1975 election. Wran went on to win 3 more elections, crushing the Liberals and taking the seats of two Opposition Leaders.

Whitlam’s own electoral fortunes were much more mixed. In 1969, he increased the ALP’s primary vote by 6.9% and took 17 seats from the Gorton government. This put him within striking distance of government, a goal achieved in 1972 by a further 2.6% swing and an extra 8 seats. The ALP’s famous slogan in 1972, “It’s Time”, was effective in part because the party had been in Opposition for 23 years. After Whitlam was effectively forced to an early election in 1974, he was returned to office with a decrease in the primary vote of 0.3% and the net loss of one seat. Whitlam campaigned on the theme of a “fair go”.

With Kim Beazley needing to take 27 seats from the coalition, requiring at least a 5% increase in the ALP’s primary vote, it is worth asking whether this election may well be a repeat of 1969. The ALP may make significant gains, but fall short because of a belief in the community that the party needs to spend more time in Packer’s “wilderness”.

John Howard will be hoping for a 1977 election, when the Fraser government was returned to office in a repeat of its massive 1975 landslide. The polls indicate this is unlikely, and thus the 1969 scenario gains currency. Similarly, the 1980 result, when the Fraser government lost 12 seats, could also be in the offing.

Howard and Beazley Argue Over Jobs Target; New Poll Shows Government Struggling

As a new opinion poll in the Fairfax newspapers showed the ALP maintaining its primary vote lead over the coalition, but needing preferences to win, the election campaign yesterday turned away from the GST onto the question of unemployment.

Kim Beazley promised to create 500,000 jobs in his first term of government, an intermediate goal that was ridiculed by the coalition. Visiting a SkillShare project in Bendigo, Howard said he would not commit himself to targets and argued that it was more important to have the political courage to embrace policies that would produce employment growth. Howard quoted a survey of business leaders who claimed the Beazley plan will not work. He claimed that governments don’t create jobs, rather they come out of the private sector.

Beazley, however, claimed that there were lots of jobs that could be created in communities around the country with an injection of Commonwealth funds. He appeared at a playground in Brisbane and defended his target as an important means of ensuring that governments have their “feet held to the fire”.

This debate came as the latest AC Nielsen poll published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald shows the ALP primary vote steady on 43%, the Coalition on 41%, Democrats 5%, One Nation 7% and others 3%. The poll has Labor polling 52% of the two-party-preferred vote, a figure that is unchanged from last week.

The poll was taken on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, after Howard’s policy launch but mainly before Beazley’s. 48% of voters still believe the coalition will win, with only 31% backing Labor. The poll shows both leaders on 43% as preferred Prime Minister, a two-point increase for Howard and a three-point decline for Beazley. The same poll shows support for the GST continuing to slip, down two points to 37%, whilst opposition has increased to 53%, up 11 points since the election was called. Shadow Treasurer, Gareth Evans, remains a weak spot for the ALP with only 25% of those polled nominating him as a better Treasurer, compared to 47% for Peter Costello. According to the poll, even 21% of Labor voters chose Costello.

ABC’s McDonald Attacked Over Partisan Stand

In the light of constant allegations by the coalition of ABC bias during the election campaign, the ABC Chairman, Donald McDonald, yesterday defended himself against suggestions that he should stand aside from his position. At a Liberal Party luncheon on Wednesday, McDonald, an old friend of the Prime Minister’s, introduced Howard and described him variously as a “true gentleman” and a “patriot”, and called upon the audience not to welcome, but to “celebrate” John Howard. McDonald claims that he has no influence over the daily editorial decisions of the ABC and does not need to stand aside. Kim Beazley wryly wondered on radio about what would have been said if an ABC Chairman had officiated at a Labor Party fundraiser.

Australian Democrats Senator Vicki Bourne expressed concern about the government’s plans for the ABC, citing significant budget cuts over the past two years. She pointed out that there are 5 board positions up for appointment during the term of the next parliament.

GST – The Facts

Thanks to the ABC’s 7.30 Report, a number of facts about the Goods and Services Tax can be reported. There are 23 OECD countries that impose a value-added tax of some kind and the majority of these tax food at a concessional rate.

Of the 23, only 4 countries (Denmark, Japan, New Zealand and Norway) tax food at the full rate.

Another 17 countries (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey) tax food, but at a partial rate between one quarter and one half of the full rate. Some of these countries tax only some food. In some cases, not all food items are taxed.

In 6 countries (Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Poland and South Korea) food is totally exempt from the tax, although in some cases restaurants and take-away food is taxed.

The debate about exempting food is developing momentum in the campaign, possibly casting more doubt on the government’s policy.

One Nation Releases Health Policy

One NationOne Nation released its Health policy yesterday at a wild press conference. Journalists, especially the Sydney Morning Herald’s Margo Kingston, claimed that party officials never give press conferences without walking out of them. Kingston tried to ask Pauline Hanson a question about women’s health centre funding, only to be subjected to a snide comment from the odious David Oldfield.

Kingston’s daily voice reports on the Ballot 98 web site and her weekly spot with Phillip Adams on ABC radio are real gems. Kingston has been with Hanson for the duration of the campaign. On Tuesday night she told Adams that the mad car dashes from town to town were physically dangerous to all concerned. Dying on a country road thanks to Pauline Hanson wasn’t Margo’s preferred form of departure!

A Boring Election?

Anecdotal evidence indicates that many people regard this election as boring and uninteresting. I was standing in line at my local newsagent yesterday afternoon and a man buying a newspaper made that very comment to the saleswoman. When I offered her the view that it was actually quite interesting, she looked at me somewhat pityingly!

Whilst the leaders argued about job targets today, the evening news, here in Melbourne at least, concentrated on the floods in north-east Victoria and preparations for the AFL Grand Final. It certainly appears to be the case that people don’t find the election particularly captivating, yet there is a record number of candidates. No seat in Victoria has fewer than 5 candidates. Many have between 8 and 12 candidates. New political groupings abound. There is Unity, an anti-Hanson group. There is One Nation itself. Many independents are running. There seems to be an anti-established-party mood.

Even former members of parliament, such as Barry Cunningham, the member for Macmillan between 1980 and 1990 and then again between 1993 and 1996, are now running as independents. In Cunningham’s case, loyalty to the ALP counts for nothing; not even the memory of the cushy job the Keating government provided for him as Administrator of Norfolk Island after his loss in 1990 is enough to keep him in the party that gave him so much. Sensing the independent mood, he’s out there trying to get his old seat back.

So is there a mis-match between the politically active and the general populace? There is a glaring difference of opinion between the political and media elites in the United States, who want Clinton to go or be impeached, and the general population, who want him to stay. It similarly seems to be the case in Australia that those people who participate in or follow politics are enthralled by the drama of a government that ought to be unassailable struggling to survive, whilst the rest of the community is concentrating on sporting events.

Does this mean that people have made up their minds? Could it be that they simply don’t think it’s time to return Labor and will therefore re-elect the Howard government, possibly with a large majority? Could it be that their disappointment with this mediocre and malicious government solidified some time ago and they are simply waiting for the chance to vote it out? Could it be that the electorate is confused or distrustful of all the major political players and has not yet made up its mind? Could it be that One Nation will attract far more support than the polls are indicating, as voters turn away from the traditional parties in despair and disgust?

Which ever it is, how can anyone think this is a boring election? The very fact that a government with one of the largest majorities in Australian electoral history may be facing defeat is remarkable enough. That a one-term government is struggling is historically rare. Not since 1932 has an Australian government been defeated after only one term in office. That a tax proposal widely credited with having defeated the Liberals in 1993 should be at the centre of another campaign is also remarkable. Will people react to the fear (or fact) campaign being waged by the ALP and others, or will they see its introduction as inevitable?

Boring? Hardly!

5.30pm UPDATE

Beazley Picks AFL Winner!

The Adelaide Crows this afternoon won the Australian Football League Grand Final, coming from behind for most of the match to defeat the heavily favoured North Melbourne by 105 points to 70. At the North Melbourne Grand Final Breakfast this morning, ALP leader Kim Beazley said his heart was with the Crows.

North Melbourne has won three premierships in its long history, all in federal election years: 1975, 1977 and 1996. Beazley would be all too conscious of the fact that these election years all saw the ALP annihilated by the coalition. No doubt he will be hoping to emulate the Crows next Saturday!

Party Leaders Pitch for Preferences as ALP Struggles in Marginals

As the fourth week of the election campaign drew to a close yesterday, John Howard and Kim Beazley both made it clear that they believed preferences will decide the election outcome. Howard made a bid for the preferences of all minor parties saying: “I would say to One Nation voters, I don’t agree with the policies of the party that you’re proposing to vote for. But when you cast your vote, think of your preference. I quite unashamedly want the preference votes of all minor parties.” Howard’s comments came as the Liberal Party’s federal director, Lynton Crosby, said that a protest vote could see Labor “flopping over the line”.

Beazley accused Howard of hypocrisy, whilst admitting that Labor also needed preference votes to win crucial seats. Beazley said Howard was “out there criticising the Labor Party a day or so ago because we always draw attention to potential voters of other parties when their preferences are directed against us and we urge them to support us with a second preference.”

Allegations of Liberal Deals With One Nation

In a sign that the backroom operators in both parties are in receipt of private polling data that at least confirms the published opinion polls, the campaign director of the Liberal Party, Lynton Crosby, sparred in public with his Labor counterpart, Gary Gray. Gray held aloft a One Nation how-to-vote card for the Queensland seat of Oxley, currently held by Pauline Hanson, that showed preferences going to the coalition. Gray accused the Liberals of doing preference deals with the Hansonites. Later in the day, Hanson and NSW Senate candidate, David Oldfield, claimed the card had been withdrawn over a week ago and that double-sided cards were now in preparation.

The ALP has said it won’t believe anything the others say until they see the final tickets on polling day. Beazley claimed One Nation was double-dealing over preferences by claiming to issue double-sided cards, but ultimately directing preferences to the coalition. One Nation had done this in the Queensland election, Beazley said. Labor claims that One Nation preferences are going against Cheryl Kernot in Dickson, despite claims to the contrary.

Both Crosby and Gray talked of the importance of preferences in the election. What is most interesting about the preference choices of One Nation voters is that whilst the bulk of them are previous National or Liberal party voters, their stand on issues such as the GST (opposed) or the sale of Telstra (very opposed) suggests they should give their preferences to Labor. However, the ingrained anti-Labor attitude of most One Nation supporters suggests that actual preferences will be split. To some extent, One Nation is adopting a policy of targeting individual members, regardless of party, in an attempt to unseat them. Hence their attitude to both Tim Fischer and Kim Beazley. It seems clear that the coalition believes it needs the support of One Nation to win.

Newspoll Shows Parties Even in Marginals

The latest Newspoll data published in The Australian suggests that it is possible the ALP’s increased primary vote may be concentrated in electorates it already holds. This has some credence given the massive losses the party suffered in its traditional areas in 1996. Newspoll shows that the two-party-preferred figure in in the key marginal seats is exactly 50-50. It says there has been a 3.4% swing to Labor in nine marginal seats in NSW, Queensland and Victoria. This is just below the uniform swing required for Labor to win government. The poll also shows that whilst the coalition vote has dropped dramatically in marginal seats, the beneficiary has been One Nation, rather than the ALP, hence the flurry yesterday over preferences.

CameronAC Nielsen polling also shows Labor struggling to win marginal seats such as Parramatta in NSW, where the sitting Liberal, Ross Cameron, is maintaining the 47% primary vote he secured last time.

The polls suggest that Labor is also struggling to win important marginal seats such as La Trobe in Melbourne.

Some interesting battles are now emerging around the country. A variety of media reports on Tim Fischer’s seat of Farrer in southern New South Wales suggest that the National Party leader is in trouble. In 1996, Fischer polled 66.34% of the primary vote, compared to 24.67% for Labor. He won the seat with 71.23% of the two-party-preferred vote. This was almost identical to the vote he received in 1993. Reports say that Fischer’s primary vote has dropped to the 30-40% range. One Nation has variously been reported as polling around the mid-20% range, or as low as 14%. Given the preference exchange between the ALP and the Nationals, it is impossible to imagine Fischer losing, but what would happen if One Nation polled over 40%? A leakage of preferences, combined with the support of other minor candidates, including one from the Citizens Electoral Council, could see him lose.

BishopBronwyn Bishop is reported to be struggling to survive in the traditionally Liberal seat of Mackellar in Sydney. Bishop polled 54.66% of the primary vote in 1996 and won the seat with 66.53% of the two-party vote. She faces a strong challenge from One Nation and the Australian Democrats this time around, as well as facing a Greens candidate and Bob Ellis. Ellis ran her a lot closer than many thought possible in the 1994 by-election when Bishop replaced the former member, Jim Carlton.

In Melbourne, the grapevine has whispers of a challenge to Peter Reith in his electorate of Flinders. This, of course, is the electorate lost by Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce in 1929, the only PM ever to lose his own seat in an election. The modern Flinders is a difference beast, however, and has been a safe Liberal seat since the redistribution of 1984.

Elsewhere, the Australian Democrats have said they are confident of doing well in the South Australian seat of Mayo, currently held by Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer. Downer polled 57.02% of the primary vote in 1996.

What all this suggests is that whilst many of these seats will not change hands, traditionally safe electorates are being called into question in this election. Many sitting members in safe seats are having to fight for their political lives in a way they have never had to before. Safe rural electorates may throw up surprising results, especially for the National Party. In NSW, the Nationals have lost sitting members in a number of safe seats. Ian Sinclair is vacating New England and Noel Hicks is retiring from Riverina, whilst John Sharp is leaving Hume after having been sacked during the travel rorts affair in 1997. In Parkes, Michael Cobb decided not to run again after he was charged with 11 counts of defrauding the Commonwealth over travel expenses.

The Nationals are fearful of losing Hume in a three-cornered contest to the Liberal candidate, Alby Schultz, a former member of state parliament. The Nationals have nominated Christine Ferguson, a farmer with local government experience. Three-cornered contests will also occur in Riverina and New England. Under the terms of the coalition agreement, when a seat is vacant both parties run candidates.

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