Tuesday, 10 July 2007 

There is no doubt that the government was toying with toning down the importance of the Iraq policy last week with The Age picking up a shift even before Brendan Nelson’s comments.

Attempts to bring in other reasons like oil for staying in Iraq is tempting because of the decreasing political effectiveness of the War on Terror. This was highlighted in the very same week when terrorism again hit the front pages of the Australian papers, but nowadays tends to be interpreted as a consequence of being in Iraq than a reason for invading it in the first place.

The danger in motivating Iraq on oil is that it adds to the cynicism over government actions. This would especially be a danger on something as important as war. As Costello noted on Insiders, “Australian troops don’t fight for petrol prices”. Anti-political cynicism has been a constant danger for this agenda-less government and Labor was starting to take this attack to a new level around such issues as Kirribilli fund-raising and government ad spending.

The NT intervention was supposed to deal with that by giving a sense that the government was about more than just its re-election. While polls are showing there is still cynicism over why the government has done it, it does not extend to questioning the premise of the intervention. As Labor has accepted that there is an epidemic of child abuse and come in behind the government, it will find it hard to accuse Howard of being a ‘clever’ politician.

While the NT intervention has stopped Labor’s strategy dead, last week’s polls from Morgan and Galaxy suggests it has yet to take advantage of it to begin to clawback Labor’s lead. The problem is that the government has entered an area distinguished by one failure after another by the Australian political class. As a result, it has very little authority to act, as seen by the back-down on medical screening (now even NT police are moaning about the proposed alcohol ban). Nor have they found the authority for the intervention from discovering a child abuse epidemic, the evidence for which is weak, and becoming more exposed as such. While Brough must struggle to prevent the whole venture becoming a farce, bored soldiers are left to play football with the kids.

Labor’s attack on the government over special interests was not just a tactic. It was also a response to its own problem, the irrelevance of its ‘special’ interest of the unions. The NT intervention has brought that to an end for now. For the government, the NT intervention has partly dealt with the cynicism, but not enough to allow it to start to dump some of its baggage, like Iraq, that it now would like to. This has left both sides in limbo, but with Howard still well behind. Through the NT intervention and the attack on special interests, both leaders have shown they are willing to break new ground to win this election, even if it will be to the long term detriment of the political class as a whole. The actions of both have brought this election campaign to a standstill, but neither can they stay where they are. It looks like Howard’s move.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 10 July 2007.

Filed under State of the parties

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