Maybe there are grounds for optimism after all.

Many of the initial reactions to the NSW result were the same old arguments: incumbency factor, voters switching between Labor at state level to Coalition federally etc. This now seems to be giving way to a much more negative ‘read-through’ for the Federal Liberals to the point that one article called for Howard to put himself out of his misery now.

Is there much direct political read-through from the NSW election to Federal? Not really, as there wasn’t much politics raised in NSW in the first place. Debnam’s inability to run a gym or look good in Speedos does not really have much read-through to Howard.

However, the NSW result may be important in undermining the confidence of the Canberra government and of the media observing it. The growing perception over the last three months that the Federal Coalition is in trouble is why the NSW election result is creating a much more detrimental read-through than last year’s Queensland debacle, despite the latter probably having more unsettling implications for the Coalition. There is a chance that the NSW result will only increase fragmentary pressures on the Federal Liberals.

This is why one needs to be cautious taking at face value claims that Howard’s Workplace Reforms had an impact on the NSW result. Even ignoring the absence of the workplace reforms on polls taken on leading state election issues, this more looks like a stick to beat Howard with, and not just by the ALP. Watch for any Federal Liberals noting that the workplace reforms are becoming an electoral concern, that is code for “dump Howard!”

Are workplace reforms a vote winner for the ALP? Yes and no. It is likely that it makes a minority of the work-force less secure, but they were probably Labor voters anyway. The point that has been missed, however, is that it is all to no purpose. Unions have not been seen as a major barrier by the broad sections of Australian society for years and Howard’s strange faux Thatcherite domestic agenda (and Debnam’s support for it) comes across as irrelevant and a nuisance. Howard’s ‘big idea’ is tackling a problem that no one especially thinks exists (which is why he has that strange defence that no one is using the reforms anyway). Without his global agenda to prop him up, Howard’s domestic agenda is being exposed as pretty thin.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 27 March 2007.

Filed under State and federal politics

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