Mumble has been suggesting that Howard could go to an election as early as August. It certainly would be feasible. As set out in the last post, Howard’s NT intervention has altered the dynamic of this election campaign the government‘s way. While it may not translate directly into votes or even opinion polls, it has filled a policy vacuum in the government created since the failure of the War on Terror. It gives the government a moral foundation from which it could re-try the attacks on Labor that it made so unsuccessfully earlier this year.

However, it does not have much time to do it. Despite the emotiveness of the issue, the basis of this intervention is weak. Evidence of a child abuse epidemic such as that contained in the NT report is based on hearsay rather than solid data. This has meant that the response of the indigenous communities has tended to be more bewildered and concerned than welcoming at the arrival of federal police and troops, especially the town that was at the centre of a child abuse smear last year. The original aims of the intervention are already starting to drift, as shown by the government position on health screening changing over a matter of days. Initially Howard talked of imposing compulsory checks to ascertain abuse, then Brough changed it to mandatory general health checks and then Abbott said that no medical examinations of any nature were to be compulsory. It has ended with Howard only giving a vague commitment to reverse the cuts in health spending he has already imposed on these communities. As the practical difficulties of this intervention becomes more apparent, the sense of purpose it has revived in the government may start to wane.

There is another problem that is restricting the government’s room to maneouvre and would certainly make Howard careful how he uses the issue in a campaign. Before the intervention, Labor was starting to have some impact by using an anti-politics sentiment against the government. An emotive issue like child abuse has allowed Howard to rise above the charge that he is doing this for political purposes – but not completely. The charge keeps coming back as it did on The 7.30 Report interview with Mal Brough, who appeared unprepared on how to handle it. For the same reason, Labor is also restricted on how much it can politically attack the government, instead having to leave the media to do it. However, the more the purpose of this intervention starts to drift from its original emotive premise and move to more mundane issues of housing, health and services the more the cynicism over this venture will become easier to express. A recall of Parliament flagged by the government may give it the last chance to lay the grounds for a winter poll.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 29 June 2007.

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