Press "Enter" to skip to content 1998 Federal Election – Week 1

These reports are reproduced exactly as they appeared in 1998. Only the formatting has been changed and links updated. They are retained here as an archive from the earliest days of this website.


Day 1

HowardFollowing the Labor Party’s near-certain win last night in the Tasmanian election, Prime Minister John Howard went to Government House at 8.30 this morning to advise the Governor-General to call a General Election for Saturday October 3. Howard made the official announcement at 11.30am. The election is to be held 6 months earlier than is required.

Howard claimed that the election would be about economic management, saying that he had a ‘plan’, whereas the ALP did not. The Prime Minister also said that he would not make any deals with One Nation after the election.

The Howard-led Liberal/National Party coalition government was elected in March 1996 following 13 years of Labor rule under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. The coalition holds 91 seats in the House of Representatives, compared to 49 held by the ALP. There are 8 Independents, 5 of whom are ex-coalition members. The ALP needs to win an extra 27 seats to form a government.

The 5-week election campaign gets into full swing today following yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister John Howard. A hectic round of radio and television appearances can be expected by the party leaders throughout the day.

This is the first Federal election to be held in October since 1980, when the Fraser government was returned to office with a reduced majority. Then, the coalition won partly because of a last-minute television and newspaper advertising campaign that falsely argued that the ALP intended to impose a capital gains tax on the family home. Television advertising probably won’t begin for several days in this election.

It is now clear that the PM was keen to avoid a sitting of Federal Parliament in the lead-up to the election. Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, has announced that State Parliament will not sit during the campaign, indicating that the Federal government is diligently avoiding any possibility of parliamentary questioning or scrutiny. The Opposition’s campaign against Resources Minister, Senator Warwick Parer, over claims of conflict of interest, was one line of attack best suited to the parliamentary arena and the legal privilege that attaches to it.

Today is likely to see the first of many opinion polls predicting the election outcome. In recent years the NEWSPOLL organisation has established a reputation for being the most accurate poll, a reputation that was enhanced by its polling in the weekend’s Tasmanian election.

BeazleyThe first skirmishes of the election campaign occurred yesterday. The Prime Minister was called a drunk by an RSL member. Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, visited a milk factory. Shadow Treasurer, Gareth Evans, was on the defensive over the ALP’s economic record and the Government was defending the last-minute appointment on the weekend of Bob Halverson as Ambassador to Ireland. Halverson was the former Speaker of the House of Representatives. He resigned earlier this year and it was widely believed that he had been forced out by John Howard.

The diplomatic posting to Ireland is an appointment steeped in controversial political history. In 1974, Gough Whitlam appointed his arch-opponent, former DLP leader, Senator Vince Gair, to the Dublin post. The outrage over this attempt to create an extra Senate vacancy resulted in the early election of 1974. Later, the Labor government appointed former Western Australian Premier, Brian Burke, to the same post. Burke was forced to relinquish the position and returned home to face criminal charges that saw him consigned to government housing at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Former Prime Ministers Fraser (Liberal), Whitlam, Hawke and Keating (Labor) issued an open letter to all Australians imploring them to put last any party that supported racism. Pauline Hanson said she favoured removing former Prime Ministers from the public payroll. The Australian Democrats also opened their campaign, urging a vote for Democrats to counter Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

The battle for the marginal seats will be the focus of the election campaign. In Victoria, one marginal seat that the ALP has to win is the Dandenongs-based electorate of La Trobe. Currently held by the American-born Bob Charles, the ALP is fielding Carolyn Hirsh. She requires a swing of 1.4% to win the seat. She was interviewed by Steve Price on 3AW yesterday afternoon.

FischerLike a football grand final where the two teams size up each other in the opening minutes whilst doing a lot of pushing and shoving, the second full day of the election campaign was characterised by a series of incidents.

The Liberal Party’s web site was hacked into, the party officials argued over whether there should one or two televised debates during the campaign, and the first television commercials were screened.

The Newspoll showed support for the government at 40%, the ALP 40%, One Nation 10% and Others 10%, suggesting the possibility of a tight race dependent on One Nation preferences.

Liberal Party adThe Sydney Morning Herald’s Margo Kingston suggested that we could all be in for one of the wildest election rides in living memory as the major parties contemplate the need to attract the preferential support of One Nation. The party (David Oldfield?) suggested that One Nation may issue a split how-to-vote ticket, rather than put Labor last, as it did in the Queensland election.

Amidst all this, rumours persist that Howard will announce a drastic funding cut to ATSIC as a way of shoring up One Nation support in rural electorates.

In the policy contest, the ALP announced an Industry policy as commentators wondered whether the government will be able to keep the focus of the campaign on tax.

Electoral Footnote: Reports from the American state of Oklahoma show that 21% of voters in a Democratic Party primary last week voted for a dead candidate.

Day 5

DemocratsYesterday, despite predictions that Australia’s unemployment rate will continue to rise, Prime Minister Howard proclaimed us the “strongman of Asia”, a phrase redolent with unfortunate dictatorial connotations. Perhaps this was part of the emerging Liberal campaign to paint Kim Beazley as a weak leader, or as Howard quaintly put it, a man without a “ticker”.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political divide, the Australian Democrats targeted One Nation with a series of campaign bill-boards linking the Hansonites with guns and racism. It’s a strange tactic considering that the Democrats may have less to fear from One Nation than they do from a polarised vote between the major parties which leaves them left out like they were in the 1993 GST-election.

HarradineSenator Brian Harradine yesterday continued his routine of never committing himself to anything until he has to by first announcing his retirement and then spending all day suggesting that he’ll probably stay after all. Those who regard his conduct over the Wik legislation as disgracefully letting Howard off the hook will no doubt be hoping that he finally decides to give the game away.

Opposition Veterans Affairs spokesman, Laurie Ferguson, found himself under attack at an RSL conference in Sydney yesterday after he delivered a speech attacking the impact of a GST on the elderly. Aged diggers slow handclapped from the gallery and one of their number said that politics and religion were never discussed in the RSL and probably shouldn’t be discussed in Lodge meetings either!

The ALP has produced a cute little computer game which is available on their web site and allows you to chase Howard ministers around your screen, click on them and watch Howard bash them with a mallet. If only…..

Day 6

As the first week of the election campaign draws to a close, the commentators are unanimous that it hasn’t been a good week for the ALP’s campaign. Beazley is said to have been let down by his front bench, namely Evans and Ferguson, and to have been distracted by the allegations of involvement of ALP staff and campaign workers in the hacking of the Liberal Party’s web site. It is said that Beazley has failed to capitalise on the latent hostility to a GST.

Meanwhile, One Nation released its 2% flat tax and transaction tax “policy” yesterday, amidst much ridicule from all the other political parties, business groups and the media.

In a more serious setback for the ALP’s campaign, ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Service) attacked the ALP’s tax policy as “fair enough, but not good enough”. In an election where the support of lobby groups and the preferences they may be able to deliver will be crucial to the outcome, this was not a good development for Kim Beazley.

With opinion polls showing the ALP polling extremely well in Victoria, perhaps this election may turn out to be like 1980 when the Fraser government was re-elected, lost a substantial number of seats, but survived because the swing in Victoria wasn’t replicated in the other states.

Day 7

Kim Beazley yesterday began to concentrate on attacking the GST, whilst John Howard attacked the ALP’s tax policy. It was the end of the first week of the campaign, a week in which the tactics for the rest of the campaign began to take shape. The Prime Minister has spent much of his time in radio and television studios, whilst the Opposition Leader has been out and about visiting factories, child-care centres and the like. As Barry Cassidy argued last night on the 7.30 Report, there has been no dominating message emerging from either side in this first week. This will begin to change in the coming days, especially when the paid television commercials begin in earnest. The ALP’s ads are reported to begin airing tomorrow night.

In his own electorate of Brand, a Nielson poll has Beazley polling 53% of the primary vote, despite a strong challenge from One Nation. In Tasmania, Brian Harradine has now confirmed that he will be running for the Senate again, despite an earlier announcement of his retirement.

A good analysis of the first week of the campaign appears in today’s issue of the Sydney Morning Herald: So far, so good. An article by Craig McGregor argues that One Nation has turned the Australian political equation on its head and created an election in which Labor and the coalition will campaign along class lines. McGregor attacks the ALP for having deserted its traditional base during its 13 years in office, a working class base that has suffered most from economic restructuring, globalisation and downsizing, and is now joining with disillusioned coalition supporters and transferring its support to Hanson.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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