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It’s Not Time To Change Government: Advertiser Election Editorial

The is the election editorial from the Adelaide Advertiser.

The Advertiser is a News Limited publication.

Editorial from The Advertiser.

It’s Not Time To Change Government

Prime Minister John Howard contends the Australian electorate is flirting with change. He is wrong. The electorate is enamoured with change and has been for some time. The polls are testament to this.

So much so, it is equally clear the Labor Party under the leadership of Kevin Rudd has regained most if not all of the ground it lost in the last Federal election. To what extent this popularity manifests itself will be seen tomorrow night when the election counting begins.

Mr Rudd has been in the ascendancy almost since he became Opposition Leader late in 2006. He has presented himself to the Australian public as a leader who has a clear vision for the future built on fresh ideas, energy and innovation.

He has cleverly and correctly broadened the election debate from an economy-based focus to engage the government in battle in a range of issues, most notably education, industrial relations, health, the environment, co-operation and collaboration with the states, broadband communication, housing affordability and cost of living.

At the same time Mr Rudd has herded his party into line, imposing a discipline and focus reminiscent of the Howard Government in its early years. In particular, unions have been kept in check and forced to keep their natural inclinations and desires under cover.

This combination of factors gave Mr Rudd enormous momentum going into the election campaign. During this past six weeks he has not lost any of that impetus but he has adopted a small-target philosophy to do nothing remotely risky and make no mistakes. Consequently he and his party are coasting to the finish line rather than sprinting.

Mr Rudd would contend he is playing to win, a concept his immediate predecessors struggled with. It is not a concept which troubles Mr Howard, who is fighting a desperate defensive campaign seat by seat and attempting to restrict government losses. It is also a highly negative approach in stark contrast to the image Labor is trying to project.

Mr Howard has suffered through his Government’s handling of WorkChoices (it had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table before agreeing on instituting a fairness test), the environment (he won’t be dragged anywhere while arguing he is protecting business growth) and broadband communications (Australia’s penetration and delivery quality is clearly sub-standard). Recent and recurring rises in interest rates, so long the great Liberal strength, have counted against the Coalition.

The Prime Minister may also be suffering from a public perception that after almost 12 years, he and his Government are tired and lack vision and that he is not long for office because Treasurer Peter Costello is lurking in the wings. The latter should not be an issue. Mr Costello’s economic credentials could not be more obvious and he also holds promise of being a more progressive and socially aware leader.

Predictably if not understandably, Mr Howard has continually retreated to his strength – the economy. Here he is on firm footing in arguing he is the Prime Minister for all business, big and small. Under his stewardship Australians have enjoyed remarkable economic growth – record low interest rates, low inflation and unemployment, and strong jobs growth.

In pitching to those swinging voters who have benefited most from Liberal policies, Mr Howard is also attacking Labor’s inexperience and lack of economic policy, the Rudd promise of abolishing Australian Workplace Agreements, as well as the looming threat of a union revival in the workplace under a Labor government.

Issues of the economy were always going to be Mr Rudd’s weak point and he has failed to convince otherwise. While painting himself as a fiscal conservative, the Opposition Leader presented a tax policy made up on the run and consistently refuses to address the issue of workplace flexibility which has been provided to employers through industrial reform.

This is of crucial importance to an emerging economy such as South Australia where much of future prosperity is based on mining, an industry which relies on such flexibility.

There are many issues which are important in this election. None are more important than a resilient economy, especially given the emerging threat of the Prime Mortgage failure and economic weaknesses in the United States.

Mr Rudd has indeed championed the mood of change. This is not the time for that change. Whether led by Mr Howard or Mr Costello, the Coalition should be returned to power.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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