Howard wanders off into the swamp

Friday, 17 August 2007 

Howard should take plenty of Cherry Ripes, because where he is heading he is likely to be up a tree for a while.

When commentators say Howard’s move into Queensland is desperate, they are usually referring to his lag in the polls. That is underestimating it. The polls are feeding into a growing certainty of the government’s defeat which in turn is undermining its control of the national agenda. Unable to impose his agenda on the states he is now trying to undermine them.

For most of the life of the Howard government, it has been helped by Queensland voters distinguishing between state and federal politics. He is now looking to save his government hoping that Queensland voters will do that no longer.

On the surface, the Queensland government looks vulnerable. The amalgamation of the councils has been contentious. Although Howard, and the media, are making a mistake if they think it is because Queenslanders are especially wedded to their councils. More it is because it gives them a chance to play one of their favourite sports, bashing the politicians. The heavy-handed amalgamation of the councils is just a stick to beat Brisbane with. As the most decentralised and least urbanised of the mainland states, the political outlook of the Queensland electorate is similarly detached from, and sometimes hostile to, the state government down in Brisbane.

One way Brisbane governments have historically dealt with this has been to divert the focus of discontent by pitching themselves against an even more detached centre of power, Canberra. Beattie has now given Howard a warning that if Canberra is going to start whipping up anti-politician sentiment against him, he will reciprocate in kind. An anti-Brisbane plebiscite on council amalgamation will be accompanied by an anti-Canberra plebiscite on where the government will place its nuclear power stations. As Beattie ominously said, “I’m not going to walk into the Prime Minister’s trap on these matters – what he might have done is walk into one of ours”.

Although the media has generally trundled after Howard into the swamp in admiration, this is a disastrous move. Howard has effectively taken on a fight with one of Australia’s smartest politicians, not on a point of principle (Howard doesn’t even oppose the amalgamations) but on anti-politics, in the state most adept at using it against Canberra. Worst of all, while he is embroiled in this, it will mean absolutely nothing to the voters in Sydney, Melbourne and the rest of the country. Howard is effectively wandering off from the national stage a few months before he will be forced to leave it.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 17 August 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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