Thursday, 29 July 2010 

Forget climate change, asylum seekers, the debt, industrial relations and company tax. None of these issues will decide the election. It’s not just because there is no real difference between the major parties on any of these issues. In fact the reason why there is no real difference between the two parties is because the real deciding issue of this election is stability – or, to put it more bluntly, which party can show it’s the least dysfunctional to run the government.

For most of the last three years it has been the Liberals who have clearly looked the most dysfunctional. But over the last six months it has been shifting back to Labor, and now has come out to such an extent that Labor is in danger of losing power.

Comparisons are being made between this Cabinet leak and the leak in the last election that Turnbull argued in Cabinet to sign up to Kyoto. But that at least was about Turnbull saving his seat, even if doing no good to the government at the time.

These leaks are simply destructive and about making no one look good. The sole purpose of these leaks from inside Labor is to undermine Labor’s election campaign and damage the government. But it is hardly new. The premature Cabinet leak of the government’s dumping of ETS earlier this year did the government no good either. Nor did the constant feeding to journalists of threats to Rudd’s leadership, even if it meant bolstering some of the biggest critics of Labor (to the point where its confused some of them who thought a challenge was on when they were told by a Labor source, and then thought it wasn’t when they looked at the quiescent caucus – clearly looking in the wrong place). Briefing against Rudd to the detriment of Labor as a whole reached its apogee just before he was dumped with internal party polling, that was highly damaging to Labor, being given to one of Labor’s biggest haters in the media.

Rudd’s dumping has not ended it, just broadened it out. We now have top level leaks against Rudd and against Gillard going to and fro in a destructive tit-for-tat. Neither the anti-Gillard leaks nor the anti-Rudd are helpful to the government, because to most there is no issue between them, it just makes the ALP look out of control. Indeed, the media are portraying this as two camps, but that is probably looking at it too neatly. Part of the reason why this would be causing such difficulties to manage, as suggested by Swan last night, Is because the reasons why such leaks are happening in either direction is probably not entirely clear given there is no real difference between the two camps. Rather it is part of a broader malaise in a government losing its direction.

The other reason why it is hard to manage this instability is because there is little else to fall back on. The media have widely praised Gillard’s passionate performance yesterday, just as Swan seemed to finally come to life on The 7.30 Report last night, after dull campaign performances from both. But that is because there has been nothing else to be passionate about. This even applies to the issue for which Gillard claimed a passionate belief for yesterday, paid parental leave. Chris Bowen on Lateline argued that if Gillard was really worried about the cost, PPL would never have happened. But it certainly explains why its one of the stingiest in the developed world. What we saw with the sudden burst of animation yesterday was that for Gillard and Swan, the programme Labor is fighting an election on clearly invokes far less passion than the real battle, within the party itself.

If the campaign is not dull, then it’s trivial. If Bob Brown was horrified by some of the personal questions journalists were asking Gillard on the campaign trails, then he will be mortified by the ones the Women’s Weekly will be asking her. Without having seen the article it’s a safe bet it won’t be on the credibility of Treasury forward projections in the Budget. The WW appearance, of course, has been a deliberate part of Labor strategy to trivialise the campaign and minimise any policy debate with the Coalition. It’s why we are having an election only a few weeks after a new Prime Minister took over promising a new direction, so that we can quickly move forward and not ask too many questions about what exactly that direction was. Using an election this way may have made wonderful sense inside the Labor party, but is now looking highly risky.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 29 July 2010.

Filed under State of the parties

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13 responses to “Instability”

  1. Tweets that mention Instability :The Piping Shrike -- on 29th July 2010 9:06 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Peter Martin and Mr Denmore, RedJohnRocket. RedJohnRocket said: The Shrike is always worth a read RT @1petermartin: Sharing: ALP is trivialising the campaign. Piping Shrike […]

  2. Tim on 29th July 2010 10:05 am

    Shrike I am dismayed at the course of events that has taken place in Australian politics over the last year. From the hope and optimism of Kevin 07’s campaign to this, who is the least incompetent because no one stands for anything?

    Still you think Abbott has a serious shot at winning? I cant help but think the man is simply unelectable, I mean people (me included) may be disillusioned with the government but will they actually vote Tony Abbott into power? I just cant see that as a realistic outcome.

  3. Sandra on 29th July 2010 11:20 am

    Why are you so sure that the links are from Labor? Just as likely to me that a public servant (remember Gresch?)is responsible, particularly about the PPL and Age Pension increase. Do you not know that the processes for Cabinet require public servants, not Ministerial advisers, to prepare briefs to Ministers on all Cabinet items? Also Cabinet minutes are prepared and distributed – Cabinet in Confidence – across all Departments.

    Why not question instead whether Treasury still has public servants who do not believe that Public Service Codes of conduct apply to them. And have their own justifications (like Gresch did) for damaging both government and particular Labor Ministers. Like any murder mystery who done it, surely the key question should be, Who Benefits?

  4. Al. on 29th July 2010 1:14 pm

    Would a bitter Rudd be responsible for the leaks ? Kerry O’Brien said it looked clear to him last night, there was a lot of tit for tat going on here. Rudd discredited/ embarrassed, then some payback ..

    Maybe one of his supporters, the outgoing Lindsay Tanner, who has nothing to lose / didn’t love Julia, as I recently learned …

    Interesting to me also is that Garrett, who was surely a boost to them last election, is ‘invisible’ as one tv show noted last night. I’d actually forgotten about him !

  5. The Piping Shrike on 29th July 2010 4:51 pm

    Sandra, I think the question of who benefits is a difficult one because I think Labor is so self absorbed that the electoral benefits are becoming secondary. Look at Barry Cohen’s article in The Australian this week attacking Rudd. Clearly unhelpful if he was wanting to re-elect a Labor government. The journos have said “government” sources, (Uhlmann’s story seemed to come from the PS and the government), but this is a carry on from nearly six months of journo briefing from party figures before Rudd was dumped, I don’t think it has changed since.

    Al, I think this is broader than just Rudd. But then those briefing against Rudd are not helping Labor either. Garrett has been put into hiding, like much of Labor’s program.

    Tim, I wouldn’t underestimate the degree to which lousy Labor tactics have rehabilitated Abbott and made him more credible than he was six months ago.

  6. john on 29th July 2010 5:56 pm

    I’m worried about an Abbott victory, because remember how sure people were Howard was unelectable?

  7. adamite on 29th July 2010 6:52 pm

    John – you might want to read Glen Milne’s article in the Australian on feedback from lesser known pollsters. The message they are getting is that people have tuned out of the elction campaign because its so boring. Apparently the consistent message they are getting is that people are inclined to give Julia a go unless Abbot does something extraordinary to change their minds i.e. his negativity is highlighting Labor’s weaknesses but not giving them anything positive to lure them away from the Government.

  8. Graeme on 29th July 2010 9:12 pm

    Abbott: I Will Stop the Leaky Boats.
    Gillard: I Will Stop the B***y Leaks.

  9. Val on 30th July 2010 9:44 am

    Read Milne’s article and I do not trust him. He could be applying a bit of reverse psychology here.

  10. john on 30th July 2010 11:41 am

    There’s a reason Paul Keating called him the Poison Dwarf.

  11. Just Me on 30th July 2010 9:23 pm

    Abbott, for various reasons, has alienated far too many in the electorate over the years, including more than a few moderates (at least nominally) on his side of politics. He is also too closely identified with the Howard years, and is seen as too much of a hardline atavistic cultural warrior (hence the Gillard emphasis on ‘moving forward’.)

    I really cannot see Abbott being elected PM.

    Voters (including me) are rightly displeased with Labor. But come the time they have to actually make their choice and mark that ballot paper, they will hold their nose and Labor will scrape back in on preferences.

    But not a good result for anybody, really.

    More interesting and important is what is going to happen in the senate.

  12. The Piping Shrike on 30th July 2010 11:15 pm

    I think what you say about Abbott was true a few months ago. But again, I think the degree to which Labor’s disastrous tactics are rehabilitating Abbott and making him electable is being under-estimated.

    The media aren’t picking it up because they never really though Abbott was that much of a problem anyway. So for them, banging on about border protection or being cautious on climate change made perfect sense.

    It’s only with the leaks of this week that they are now getting a sense that something is seriously wrong with Labor’s campaign.

  13. Just Me on 31st July 2010 3:43 am

    [Written after learning of the latest Nielsen poll, favouring the Coalition.]

    I concede there is a possibility that the passage of 3 years has dulled the voter’s memory of the Howard era, making it perhaps more rosy in faded hindsight than it really was, and hence Abbott look a better choice than he really is.

    I also concede that my judgement for this particular election is heavily tainted by my intense personal loathing of Abbott and the hard religious right, who will have a very favourable seat at his government table. Plus the fact that if they win then people in my lowly position in life will be in their ideological sights, and if history (and certainly the Howard years) is anything to go by they will show little mercy, an unpleasant prospect to have to face again so soon, just when things were starting to improve.

    An Abbott government is very unlikely to have a favourable senate, which will prevent or at least soften its more regressive, punitive, and ideological policies. But there will be many lost opportunities at a time when we need some serious reforms, that can ill afford to wait, and many vulnerable individuals will pay heavily and without good cause or benefit to the broader community.

    It is also true that Labor have not handled the politics of their first term well, at least over the last year or so.

    OTOH, I expect Labor have a lot of historical footage of Abbott’s less impressive side ready to roll when the crunch comes, about ten days from now. (And he has been unwittingly generous in that regard over the years.) I don’t think it will take too much to remind enough undecided voters of what he really stands for, and what they could really lose under his government.

    In many ways Abbott is his own worst enemy. His lack of consistent self-restraint is a weakness that Labor would do well to exploit. For example, given that a substantial majority of the electorate consistently want serious and prompt action on climate change, a figure that is only likely to rise, Abbott’s very arrogant and foolish dismissal of climate science as “crap” is a serious vulnerability. Nobody believes he is genuine about tackling that big one. There are other important issues he is similarly vulnerable on.

    Despite this latest Nielsen poll, I still think he has too much baggage and too much ground to make up at this point. One poll 3 weeks out from the date, maketh not an election result. And, of course, we need to keep this in perspective. It looks a lot worse than it probably is, mainly because Labor have had such an extraordinary run in the polls over the last 4 years. Most returned governments lost some polls during the election campaign.

    This campaign could also easily produce a pretty nasty end game. Labor cannot afford to lose after one term, and this is almost certainly the last chance for Abbott, a natural brawler, to take the big prize.

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