Becalmed, and adrift

Wednesday, 11 August 2010 

The Age says Gillard has gathered momentum over the last few days. Momentum is a strong word. Stabilised would be more accurate. This is an election about two severely destabilised parties trying to prevent their instability coming to the surface over the course of a few weeks.

The Coalition had to grapple with their instability first, led by a leader that had been more about standing up for Coalition ‘values’ than winning an election. So he was unable to deftly handle the Workchoices pantomime because he couldn’t just resist reminding voters that he still thought it was necessary – even if no one else did.

The way the Coalition has resolved it, or at least patched it up, is to go back to the Howard years. Some re-writing is obviously necessary of the last year of Howard’s government, when he was forced to dump most of the positions that Tony Abbott is now so much for. Howard, trying to portray himself as the true conservative, is only too willing to help and let everyone forget about proposing an ETS, watering down Workchoices and suggesting some politically correct re-writing of the Constitution.

However, Abbott still remains the problem. Much has been made of Abbott parading his family as an underhand way of making a point about Gillard’s marital status. But it would be more accurate to see it is as more addressing Abbott’s problems than highlighting Gillard’s. Abbott is the oddball of this election, not Gillard. And it’s not his religious background that’s the problem; it didn’t stop our previous bible-bashing PM from being highly popular. Abbott’s problem is his political, not his religious, fervour. His action man stance was fine for cheering up the Liberals against a Prime Minister who was happy to put everything up for review. But when the question comes to stability, as it has now come down to, it leaves open the question what exactly is he wanting to do If he got in?

While the Coalition’s instability comes from trying to hide a political agenda, Labor’s comes from almost the complete opposite. The vacuum that was exposed by the Rudd dumping has brought the hollowness of what has become a technocratic shell out into the open. Gillard made an attempt to ‘Move Forward’ from it with an agenda designed to distinguish herself from Rudd and ‘key’ into the electorate; cobbled together from the media, Abbott’s agenda, and the insecurities of the ALP right about their declining base. However, after the collapse in Labor’s primary in the second disastrous week of the campaign, distinguishing from Rudd was a luxury that Labor couldn’t afford and like the Coalition, Labor also had to take shelter in something that would provide stability, marked by the emergence of the ‘real’ Julia.

The emergence of the ‘real’ Julia was in reality the opposite, in as much as the agenda that had distinguished Gillard, and justified her takeover, was now dropped. Instead, she ended up campaigning on the same issue that Rudd himself would have been left with – the economy. Adopting the campaign meant allowing the man himself back into the campaign. After a disruptive presidential-style comeback, Rudd seems to have disappeared into the Queensland marginals where he is unlikely to do any good at all, but hopefully for Labor HQ, stay out of the limelight.

Both parties have focussed on the economy, but it is not an economic debate as such. There is no real alternative of economic policy. Rather one is hiding behind the stability of the Howard years three years ago, the other the recession that was avoided last year. Take your pick on the past you prefer. ‘Forward’ looking themes like climate change, Big Australia and even the Broadband network have died a death.

Finally, if there is one other factor that has led to this strange mid-campaign calm of the last few days, it is what happened to the other player in the campaign, the media. For the media, last week brought out something that has been a growing feature of the last few years; how much it is now getting caught up in this mess – a subject of another post.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 11 August 2010.

Filed under State of the parties, Tactics

Tags: , , , ,


20 responses to “Becalmed, and adrift”

  1. john Willoughby on 11th August 2010 8:14 am

    most Australians think “free Tibet” is the national credo
    and on that score the bookies have labour shortening in the
    market. Its the poll that counts and a lot of the tightening seems to be laid off bets from persons who got some of the nearly five dollars on offer for Umbut a month ago.

  2. Al. on 11th August 2010 8:54 am

    The ‘teacher’, Kerry O’brien made Abbott look a REAL dunce last night on the 7.30 report (great!)

    As he kept admitting, he was no Einstein when it came to broadband, but O’brien chided him for not being up on this stuff, the most basic, easily understood facts (‘peak speed’) …… Abbott could not digest from Kerry .. he just tuned out, like a stunned mullett, looking VERY uncomfortable, hoping for the conversation to turn to stuff where he could stay back on script, throwing in ‘school halls’ / ‘pink batts’ at every opportunity …(which he threw in as the interview started out).

    As per usual, he also was determined to give the government NO credit for their handling of the GFC, reckoning $20 billion or so of taxes saved was more relevant to us, sitting in the vaults, then 200,000 jobs that would have gone. These guys are great as ‘bean counters’ (and I’m not even sure about that), aren’t they ?

  3. dedalus on 11th August 2010 8:58 am

    Shrike, I think you’re way off the money on the broadband issue. This is a very clever and effective strategy that labor planted as a seed before the 2007 election. It didn’t have a great effect then, obviously, but the real agenda was its long-term (ie the NEXT election) pay-off as a vote winner, which it will be in this election. Web usage has grown strongly in the last 3 years. It will be a vote changer for many. The liberals are floundering on this, as can be seen by the shambles of the Robb-Smith press conference, Abbott keeping as far away from the topic as possible, and finally him showing a complete lack of knowledge of the basics on Kerry’s program Tuesday night.

  4. kymbos on 11th August 2010 9:40 am

    Yeah, it’s over. I actually think the media has switched on over the past week, realising that Abbott may be PM very soon and no one in the MSM has provided any analysis of his ‘policies’. Once Labor stopped leaking against itself, they have finally turned their attention to Tone. Meanwhile, Julia has finally shaken off her nerves and is looking strong.

    Broadband is the final straw. Yesterday’s efforts will have completely lost the youth vote. Labor to win with a slightly smaller majority.

  5. Graeme on 11th August 2010 9:57 am

    Looking forward to your shriking about the media. The obvious interpretation is that the media is partly filling a vacuum by injecting itself into events. Though the forces undermining the MSM are even deeper: declining and splintering audiences and readerships; infotainment and technology driven tail-chasing replacing news values.

    Watching Nine deliberately make itself a ‘controversy’ in the hope that Mad Mark L may boost their 60 Minute ratings a little almost evokes a little pathos.

  6. Michael on 11th August 2010 10:01 am

    As the broadband non-interview on 7.30 Report displayed, Tony Abbott doesn’t care where Australia can be. He just wants it back where it was. “Turn back the boats”? Turn back the clock.

    Since so much of Abbott’s plans for a future Australia seem to hinge on what will be of advantage to his daughters – paid parental leave becoming legitimate, indeed essential, “visionary” (I wonder what premonitions he’s had here?), as his daughters enter the age of fecundity – perhaps he should talk with one of them about modern technology. Maybe the one who reckons it’s “gonna be awesome living in Kirribilli House”. She seems to have the vocabulary and social priorities of a modern girl.

  7. Graeme on 11th August 2010 10:10 am

    To talk of pantomimes… Nine thinks ‘Oakes v Latham’ is up there with World Championship Wrestling:

    Does anyone seriously think these blokey sideshows would be going on if we didn’t have our first woman PM?

  8. Scott on 11th August 2010 1:51 pm

    The media is dominated by the pro-Coalition media, who didn’t focus on the Coalition’s policies and how they’d run the country as a deliberate ploy to have them elected.

  9. dedalus on 11th August 2010 3:02 pm

    Re Abbott placing his faith on boat people vs Gillard on broadband. Big mistake. It was noticeable at the Lib launch that the boat people line got no bigger applause than any other line. I think the electorate has moved on from the specifics of this issue. “Boat people” is just a euphamism for background racism that always exists, in this particular decade a phobia against Muslims. The 2 most dramatic racist events since Tampa have been the Cronulla riots and the protests against the Muslim school at Camden NSW. The ALP has taken strategic steps to counteract their electoral disadvantage on this issue with outer metrop seats by joining with the coalition on a tough stance against “people smugglers”. Decoding this, both parties are sublimating the racism issue onto “people smugglers” for political correctness purposes. If you like, it’s a dog whistle. But consider, will even a racist vote for the coalition if it means that his/her broadband fantasies are going to be disappointed? I hardly think so.

  10. The Piping Shrike on 11th August 2010 5:59 pm

    I think the boat people was never much of a deal in the first place, other than a focus in some areas for government incompetence and loss of control. It’s why I think it was a mistake Labor going on about it (whatever one thinks of the ethics) because it legitimised Abbott while doing nothing really with the voters it was suppposed to be aimed at.

    More broadly, I think it is a very different environment to 2007. Pre-Kyoto, pre-Obama there was a sense of things changing and more optimism about what government could do and in that context action on climate change and issues like broadband, laptops in every school and ‘vision stuff’ had more resonance.

    I think that is less the case now. Abbott’s miserable performance on The 7.30 Report on broadband may not has been discordant as some suggest.

  11. adamite on 11th August 2010 7:06 pm

    ‘There is no real alternative of economic policy’

    Not sure what you mean by ‘economic policy’ but if youre talking about policies to develop the Australian economy I’d say there’s a huge difference between Labor and the Coalition. Without sounding like a mouthpiece for Labor, the Broadband contrast is just the most obvious expression of this difference – a Government which has a clear vision of building the basis for sustainable economic growth versus what? An opposition fixated on a ‘debt problem’ that noone else gives any credibility to and a ‘waste reduction’ program which looks like sending the economy into recession, particularly if the global economy goes backward.

  12. The Piping Shrike on 11th August 2010 8:10 pm

    There is a greater willingness of Labor to talk about infrastructure projects although this has been toned down along with Big Australia, but more importantly by the fiscal constraints to return the budget to surplus that are similar to the Coalition.

    The Coalition’s view on ‘waste’ and stimulus spending is really more a political stance than an economic one. As we saw on The 7.30 Report even Abbott is hesitant to say where he would have spent less.

    Really though, I see economic debate has only really been based around responses to organised labor (whether around wages, inflation, and government spending) and international developments. For example, the 1980s reform was how to restrain wages to allow opening up to global capital markets. I don’t think there has been much economic ‘debate’ since then.

  13. adamite on 11th August 2010 9:51 pm

    ‘There is a greater willingness of Labor to talk about infrastructure projects’

    PS – In case you havent noticed, they havent just been talking about it. Theyve been acting on their electoral commitments. To give you just a few examples – the Broadband network is already rolling out in Tasmania (on budget); the national Health reform package (barring WA)has been agreed and is being implemented; the promised education revolution program is being implemented, (admittedly helped along by the stimulus package) and, most recently, the Gvernment has set in place a new mining tax which will boost infrastructure.

    What is abbot proposing? Apart from an improvised, pre-historic broadband scheme, he is essentially promising to rollback most of the above initiatives and replace them with a debt reduction strategy.

  14. The Piping Shrike on 11th August 2010 10:34 pm

    But Abbott’s debt reduction strategy is little different from Labor’s. At the end of the day, the funding commitment to spending is not much different (but to Labor’s mining tax to fund infrastructure, the Coalition has its PPL).

    At the start of this government there were quite rightly complaints that the Education Revolution was significantly underfunded. That disappeared with the stimulus but is likely to re-emerge with its withdrawal.

    Labor has become sensitive to the ‘waste’ meme. I don’t see them pushing infrastructure anywhere near like they did the last election. Maybe ‘talking about infrastructure’ is a bit glib, but there are no plans to spend outside the very tight constraints both parties have placed themselves under: what I see as a handy fiscal excuse for a wariness of grand projects.

    But I think this issue of infrastructure and how it is politically represented is an interesting one. One of the things that has coincided with Rudd’s rise and fall is a change in the discussion on the role of such infrastructure projects. In the US there has been a loss in confidence in the usefulness of infrastructrue projects to take the US out of recession. Globally there are also increasing concerns that the benefit from China’s infrastructure stimulus is fading. As usual Australia is a hyper-sensitive example of what is going on elsewhere.

    The main point, though, is that because the Broadband debate is not happening in the same context as 2007, I don’t think Abbott’s lousy performance on the issue is such a negative as some think. They are forgetting that the waste debate has some resonance.

  15. dedalus on 12th August 2010 8:16 am

    I think there’s a general reason that outer metrop seats swing regularly every 3rd election or so. It’s not completely to do with labor vs liberal at all. It’s more something to do with geographic location. Outer suburban voters are unhappy people due to mortgage stress, long commute times, poor services and lack of cultural amenities. They take it out on whatever government is in power after 2 or 3 electoral cycles, and switch to any opposition astute enough to exploit this underlying angst. Inner city voters don’t have these above concerns at all, and vote along class lines.

  16. Riccardo on 12th August 2010 12:06 pm

    TPS, there is acknowledgement that in China, at its current state of development, more central-government funded infrastructure isn’t going to do much good. China’s road, rail electricity etc is already quite good for what is still a 3rd world country at the local level.

    More ‘micro’ improvements required.

    I would have thought Japan was the better example of a government addicted to concrete, roads to nowhere and diminishing marginal utility of construction.

    Abbott is playing to a constituency who have been left behind by the internet, who don’t think it is of much benefit. More stirring of resentment. Probably a significant minority would agree with him – but most were going to agree with him anyway.

  17. Tezza on 12th August 2010 3:28 pm

    The broadband issue is the real clincher. The libs either don’t understand it (surely someone there has some idea of the economic impact of the internet) or the are just paving the way for their media mates to dive in, divide it up and make a fortune from us taxpayers. I’ll bet Rupie already has his plan mapped out.

  18. john Willoughby on 14th August 2010 10:23 am

    if you go here
    you can see that peak broadband speeds are the least of the
    Its December 2009 and our Tony has never heard of the
    “arcane” concept of “peak oil”.
    Those Rhodes scholarships must come easy because Iv’e talked to road workers who have a better general knowledge
    than whats on display from Umbut.

  19. Riccardo on 16th August 2010 10:20 am

    BTW, is there competition for political blogs that can nominate TPS for?

    Mr Rabbit is now trying to run on the ‘elites are after me coz I’m stupid like the rest of you’ line which might get a run in the bogan lands. I don’t think parading your ignorance is the vote winner it used to be.

    And Rabbit runs the risk of each new generation being raised is more comfortable or used to IT than he was.

    I can imagine Howard needing his emails printed out, but Rabbit is a bit younger and to me it is the badge of conservative honour rather than a practical issue of Howard being too old to learn.

  20. James on 16th August 2010 5:27 pm

    I think Gillard linking broadband with health at today’s launch was really clever and flanked Abbott on broadband again.

    Meanwhile I thought Latham was a fizzer on 60 Minutes. In 2004 his handshake was political poison but now that he’s an anti-politics media crusader, the narrative was that it’s indicative that he’s “fair dinkum”.

    He also presented the media as passive recipients of spin (go figure), except for their coverage of him, which he described as a beat-up and sensationalist.

    Meanwhile he lauded Hanson for her plain speaking but she sounded more stage managed than anyone else when he interviewed her.

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