Oh frabjous day!

by John Quiggin on November 24, 2007

Not only has the Labor party won a crushing victory in Australia’s national election but conservative Prime Minister John Howard has, very probably, lost his own seat. Details here.

Given that the economy is going very well, and that the Iraq war, while unpopular, was not a central issue in the campaign, I think it’s reasonable to mark this down as the first national election in which climate change played a pivotal role. Howard, following Bush, refused to ratify Kyoto. This was highly unpopular, and served as a more general symbol of a government stuck in the past.

The other big losing issue for the government was the passage of a package of anti-union laws called Workchoices.

{ 45 comments }

1

P O'Neill 11.24.07 at 2:20 pm

No doubt Howard is getting a private “heckuva job” phone call from Bush. I suppose one key difference in the Kyoto debate between Australia and the US is that in the former, people could see the consequences of climate change up close whereas in the US, water shortages not withstanding, there’s no similarly obvious source of unease. There also seemed to be some symbolism in the APEC summit a few months ago, with Rudd speaking in Mandarin to the visiting Chinese while Howard and Bush did their usual love-in.

2

Henry 11.24.07 at 2:21 pm

Callooh! Callay!

3

dave 11.24.07 at 2:31 pm

graphical map of electoral results:

News.com.au is a Murdoch organ, and much of those huge blue areas are probably empty outback. Does anyone have one of these plots by population?

4

dave 11.24.07 at 2:48 pm

A probably more honest map from the ABC. It uses Google Maps, so it’s more interactive.

5

I heart Antony Green 11.24.07 at 3:00 pm

Hallelujah!

Unfortunately, it looks like the Greens Kerry Nettle will lose her spot in the Senate, but they won a couple of others, and it’s going to be 37 coalition, 32 labor, 5 green, 1 family first, 1 nick xenophon. Which will be interesting.

I like Nick Xenophon, but he and steve fielding both ahve a wierd mix of policies. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Climate change is definitely a consensus ‘we need to deal with this shit now’ issue in Australia in a way it isn’t in the US. I think J-Ho’s belated recognition of this was one of the factors that helped lead to the perception of him as out of touch, too old, time for a fresh face. That, plus the slow accululation of lies and skulduggery [brilliantly symbolised by Jihad Jackie Kelly and her husband and co in the last week of the campaign].

Does anyone else think Annabel Crabb’s election coverage in the smh has been fantastic?

6

Kieran Healy 11.24.07 at 3:12 pm

much of those huge blue areas are probably empty outback

“It’s OK lads, we’ve lost the cities but we still control Kalgoorlie.”

7

P O'Neill 11.24.07 at 3:23 pm

Late last night, John O’Sullivan at The Corner:

I’m following the news from there via blogger Tim Blair and the online version of “The Australian.” Blair’s blog directed me to signs of a late swing to Howard. Labor’s lead of eight per cent last week has been cut to four per cent which, in the Australian system, is close to a dead heat. The Australian’s report online said: “Pollsters said the survey, which came a week after a Newspoll showed former diplomat Rudd ahead by a winning eight-point lead, reflected a major shift in the key states of Queensland and Western Australia.” It might be an exciting night, after all.

8

Bob B 11.24.07 at 3:23 pm

Thanks for that, John.

For some reason, the news media in Britain have been presenting this election result today as an outcome of the Howard government’s refusal to sign up to Kyoto and Australia’s engagement in Iraq. The widespread opposition in Australia to Workchoices hasn’t featured in the broadcast reports I have listened to.

A possible excuse is that Workchoices legislation has been previously under-reported in Britain and – as I’ve just discovered – it is long and complex so it would be challenging to summarise Workchoices in short reports about the change of government.

9

foolishmortal 11.24.07 at 3:27 pm

Good on you all! No offense, but Howard was an embarrassment. Who’s the incoming PM?

10

harry b 11.24.07 at 3:30 pm

Enoch Powell’s comment that all political careers end in failure is always worth remembering; but it is nice to see it illustrated so vividly!

11

Kim 11.24.07 at 3:47 pm

For many people, especially in the NT, this government’s “intervention” into Aboriginal communities since June was also a major issue. Although Rudd supported the move, he also said he would reinstate the permit system and CDEP-two of the most contentious points in the Coalition’s scheme.

12

dave 11.24.07 at 3:53 pm

I agree with Bob B that Work Choices (or the Howard plan to make all work contracts like what you might get in Texas) has been a major factor.

Most of the TV Advertising I saw in BNE revolved around Work Choices and Union Paranoia (ALP and LIB, resp.), which seemed to me like one party was saying “we shouldn’t be like Texas!”, and the other saying “if you vote for the Reds, we won’t be like Texas anymore!”.

Of course, the fact that much of Urban QLD has had very severe water restrictions for much of the past year has made Kyoto a very urgent personal issue. “We should save water” is quote different from “I can’t shave in the shower anymore, and washing the car is right out!”

13

JP Stormcrow 11.24.07 at 3:58 pm

Good news. I’ve been counting on the vorpal blades good sense prevailing since reading this letter to the editor in Sydney Morning Herald during a visit earlier this year.

City’s empty streets mirror Cheney’s empty rhetoric

Dear George,

Had a nice sleepover in this place called Sydney. They closed city streets and bridges and we could drive our cars real fast. Chatted to some really fine people and a couple of little guys with good and bad attitude. Most spoke American with an accent. We had fun.

Regards, Dick

More power to little guys with “bad” attitude.

14

dave 11.24.07 at 4:09 pm

#6: yes, but in .AU terms, that means that we’ve lost the 4 million people in Melbourne, but we’ve won the 4 people who inhabit an area the size of the USA west of Chicago. Unfortunately, all of those voters were our candidate, his son and his driver. His wife and daughter voted against him, for the pool cleaner.

15

dave 11.24.07 at 4:13 pm

s/4 people/6 people/g above, obviously. and clearly the pool cleaner voted for the opposing candidate, or may have just been an appliance.

16

aaron_m 11.24.07 at 4:19 pm

“His wife and daughter voted against him, for the pool cleaner.”

Ha ha, thanks for the smile on a gloomy day dave (note not gloomy because of anything to do with Australian politics).

17

snuh 11.24.07 at 5:03 pm

Enoch Powell’s comment that all political careers end in failure is always worth remembering; but it is nice to see it illustrated so vividly!

actually, the one man in australian political history who managed to contradict that saying was howard’s political hero, and it was pretty sweet to see howard robbed of the chance to go out like him.

18

Steve LaBonne 11.24.07 at 5:44 pm

Progressives the world over rejoice at the prospect of one fewer asshole in power. Congratulations to Australia.

19

Barry 11.24.07 at 6:21 pm

Bob B:: “Thanks for that, John.

For some reason, the news media in Britain have been presenting this election result today as an outcome of the Howard government’s refusal to sign up to Kyoto and Australia’s engagement in Iraq. The widespread opposition in Australia to Workchoices hasn’t featured in the broadcast reports I have listened to.”

The elite MSM in all english-speaking lands is oddly anti-labor, as far as I can tell. Odd, that. One might think that the elite corporate MSM reflects elite corporate interests.

“A possible excuse is that Workchoices legislation has been previously under-reported in Britain and – as I’ve just discovered – it is long and complex so it would be challenging to summarise Workchoices in short reports about the change of government.”

John Quiggin: “The other big losing issue for the government was the passage of a package of anti-union laws called Workchoices.”

Sounds like a concise and accurate description to me, definitely within the grasp of the average reporter and editor.

20

MikeN 11.24.07 at 6:35 pm

Well done, Oz.

Though as someone who spent a year there many moons ago, may I suggest that anyone who introduces a bill with “work” in the title isn’t going to get elected to anything Down Under.

Only kidding, only (half) kidding…

21

Jacob Christensen 11.24.07 at 8:03 pm

I’ll just throw in a Danish perspective and note that Anders Fogh Rasmussen now is one of the few political survivors of the Iraq war. Similarly AFR used to be closer to Howard and GWB line on climate change (Lomborg, anybody?) but he is now a repentant sinner and has even set up a Climate and Energy Ministry.

Unlike Howard, the present Danish government has never tried to introduce anything looking remotely like anti-union legislation.

22

Jacob Christensen 11.24.07 at 8:05 pm

Note to self: Proof-read comment before pressing “Post”. What I meant was

Similarly AFR used to be closer to Howard’s and GWB’s stance on climate change (Lomborg, anybody?) but he is now a repentant sinner and has even set up a Climate and Energy Ministry earlier this week.

23

CJColucci 11.24.07 at 8:32 pm

How does it work in the Australian parliamentary system. Did Howard have to defend a real seat, where he actually lives? As I understand the system in Great Britain, the party leaders are more or less assigned safe ridings that they don’t have to live in. Is that right, and is it different in Australia?

24

John Quiggin 11.24.07 at 8:49 pm

I don’t know about GB, but the Australian PM has to defend a real seat where he lives – though a couple of official residences come with the job. Totally coincidentally, and somewhat anomalously since there’s nothing comparable in other states, there’s an official residence in Sydney, in (or maybe near) Howard’s electorate and he’s lived there (and not the main residence in Canberra) since he became PM.

25

dsquared 11.24.07 at 9:20 pm

s/4 people/6 people/g above, obviously. and clearly the pool cleaner voted for the opposing candidate, or may have just been an appliance.

he might have lived somewhere else and been one of the plucky “Flying Pool-Cleaners” who maintain a peripatetic service to the pools of the outback, communicating by wind-up radio.

26

Bob B 11.24.07 at 9:54 pm

Re: #19

This was the only link I could find to reports on the BBC website about Australia’s recent Workchoices legislation on industrial relations:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/6580635.stm

John Quiggin is a far better guide on this than me although this link to a ACTU factsheet on Workchoice likely gives a more accurate account of the scope and complexity of the legislation as well as why so many Australians objected to it:
http://www.actu.asn.au/Images/Dynamic/attachments/5183/OneYearOnFactsheet.pdf

27

Duncan Young 11.24.07 at 10:22 pm

So given unions (especially QLD coal miners) won it for the ALP, isnt there going to be a lot of tension with the Kyoto promises? It seems that under the Australian system, it is a lot less politically costly to blow off the Greens than the forego the organizational muscle – the preferences will go the Labour anyway.

28

Duncan Young 11.24.07 at 10:24 pm

It was, after all, the green vs. labour miscalculation that killed the ALP in the last election.

29

Chris Williams 11.25.07 at 12:42 am

My bet is that Rudd will begin to diversify Aussie power generation, while at the same time allowing megaton coal exports to China.

30

SG 11.25.07 at 2:42 am

I think John is a bit wrong about kyoto. this was a workchoices election plain and simple. Johnny the Rodent is only the 2nd prime minister in history to lose his own seat, and the last one to do so also presided over radical industrial relations reform. This is no coincidence.

Kyoto and Aboriginal rights are an assumed part of the package in Australia. People voted for a repeal of workChoices, and whatever their view on the Apology (which is going to come! At last!) or Kyoto (which the majority of people in Oz support), they were willing to accept those policy positions in order to get their workplace rights back.

Now hopefully the Liberals (if they aren’t completely destroyed in the next 3 years) will have to wait another 80 years before they have a maniac in charge who is willing to try this kind of industrial relations reform again.

What a great day!

31

nick s 11.25.07 at 6:43 am

Watching it from the outside was weirdly reminiscent of Labour-with-a-U in 1997. Rudd’s visuals are Blairish, the gestures are Blairish, the collateral damage to the outgoing party are 1997ish, with Howard himself taking the place of Portillo.

(I’d heard that Alan Milburn was part of the Kevin07 branding, and you could even say that the QLD resurgence is part of another north-eastern political base.)

The cognoscenti at PollBludger are more or less split on the prospect of a double dissolution in the summer, though that depends on the shape of the Coalition, particularly now that Costello has said he doesn’t want the leadership job. It was pretty clear last night, though, when his speech was missing the name ‘John Howard’.

32

Timothy J Scriven 11.25.07 at 9:20 am

I’ve heard that there’s a possibility that the Greens might get a sixth senator and a Greens/Xenophon bloc might hold the balance of power with no need to worry about the Family first party. Is this true?

33

kate 11.25.07 at 11:20 am

Yeah, I heard that too Timothy.

I went to the abc elections site, and they had the liberal in front with 72%[?] of the vote counted, but the greens were pretty close.

It’s complicated I think, because they’re projecting how preference flows occur, when in fact some people vote below the line, and that can affect the order in which people get knocked out, which affects where the voted go etc etc. It’ll probably be a week before we know for sure, but I imagine we’ll get an idea of whether the greens have a shot in the next day or so.

I really hope that happens, having to work with Steve Fielding would be bloody annoying.

34

Amit 11.25.07 at 1:15 pm

Guys, guys, get it right – for the maximum in sinister irony/paradox (as in “Ministry of Love”) fused with go-getter corporate-branding diction, it’s important to stick to the original and best “WorkChoices” (as opposed to “Workchoices”, “Work Choices”, “workChoices”…)

35

Ian Milliss 11.25.07 at 1:29 pm

Strangely enough FamilyFirst have serious problems with workchoices because it’s anti-family (and probably stops people getting to church on Sunday because they now have to work).

I would have thought the result was caused by work choices until I looked at the actual vote and you find that much of Labor’s majority was delivered by Greens’ preferences. To complicate things further, the Greens are not a single issue party and are picking up a broader range of votes, up to 20% or more in a few electorates. Probably more people are waking up to the fact that Greens policies are similar to Labor’s policies back in the days when Labor was a centre left party, before the corporate right got complete control of Labor. Some of the unions are now making moves to back the Greens rather than Labor and it was interesting that the unions ran their own campaign (“your rights at work”) separate to the Labor campaign, they don’t trust Labor to deliver for them any more.

36

SG 11.25.07 at 1:56 pm

Ian, I think it was a workChoices election. The minority who also cared about Iraq, immigration and terror laws voted Green to register their disapproval of Labours position on this, then passed their preferences back to labour. In previous elections more of these people (incomprehensibly!) gave their preferences to liberals, probably because there was no workChoices to make them choose the ALP.

A lot of people seem to think the chances that Labour will listen to this protest vote are pretty slim. But in his victory speech Rudd said first that he will “govern for Indigenous Australians”, which is a pretty strong signal. He has committed to removing combat troops from Iraq and repealing much of workChoices, he has a clear agenda for education and health and excellent people (Roxon, Wong, Gillard etc.) to push those policy changes. I think things may well change for the better after 11 years of panic-mongering, economic mismanagement, and infrastructure decay. At last!

37

graeme 11.25.07 at 2:42 pm

workchoices or rather lack of them is what lost it for the liberals. As father of 3 adolescents voting in their first federal election I must say their desire to rid this country of this rotten piece of legilation was something to behold. The policy had the effect of turning our young into an underclass and stifled any ambitions for the future. They have endured the last 18 months of being treated as acommodity and not a valued employee, if they complained the perception was that the supply of labour was endless and they were expendable. they had no job security and were generally treated with contempt. As i work in a unionised full time job the policy had not affected me yet but changes were in the wind and were not nice at all. Good riddance to Howard, Costello and Workchoices

38

lemuel pitkin 11.25.07 at 4:18 pm

So this WorkChoices law — it’s going to get repealed, reformed, or what?

39

Ian Milliss 11.25.07 at 10:25 pm

sg, I’m sure you are correct about the process, I too voted Green knowing it was hopeless then preferenced Labor in the hope they might change their policies if it was demonstrated many people only vote for them under sufferance. I’m probably a typical former Labor supporter (and I’m a former union official) too disillusioned with them to ever give them my primary vote again. For every decent Labor member there is still a right wing hack like Smith or Swan or a show pony like Garrett.

To lemuel pitkin, workchoices is going to be partially reformed by Labor but not entirely repealed. At the very least the parts that made unionism almost illegal will be repealed and collective agreements resumed.

Even if in the end this wasn’t a climate change election I think everyone should consider that the next few certainly will be. I think the stage is now set for the Liberals to slowly disappear entirely, Labor to remain as the party of business and the right (no contradiction here, unions and business are mated for life no matter what Liberals might think) and the Greens will become the second major party with their credibility and power rising each election as climate change bites more. The dynamic is no longer a battle between classes for a share of the spoils of industrialisation, it is a battle between an individualist consumerist model of society and a co-operative ecological model.

40

SG 11.25.07 at 11:24 pm

That is very true Ian. Once the troops are out of Iraq and workChoices is fixed (so that we are no longer worried about terror, and have our national ideals back on track) then Rudd and the Greens will have to work together to fix Australia’s real actual problems. These aren’t so much climate change as how we remedy its effects, and what we do about the destructiveness of farming in Australia.

Plus of course we have to ready ourselves for what some are predicting will be an epidemic of high inflation, and in our case the collapse of the mining boom as China’s economy slows under the burden of inflation. As usual, Labor has inherited an economic disaster from the Conservatives. They love nothing more than to wreck our nation, those dirty bastards…

41

lemuel pitkin 11.26.07 at 2:38 am

the very least the parts that made unionism almost illegal will be repealed and collective agreements resumed.

You’re kidding, right? exaggerating for effect?

Recommend anyything to read on this? It’s frightening to imagine a first-world country even more anti-union than the contemproary US….

42

Ian Milliss 11.26.07 at 2:49 am

Yes it’s an economic disaster that hasn’t yet sunk in to most people although the inflated house prices and massive personal debt to finance consumerism are hints.
Labor inheriting economic disasters has been the cycle throughout the 20th century. The conservatives would mismanage and distort the economy by their pork barreling and squandering on electoral bribes (like tax cuts). Labor would get voted in to reform it because they would be trusted to behave in an equitable and fair way. In the process of reform they would have to make difficult decisions that hurt a lot of people including their own supporters. When everything was done and it all felt safe again they would be dumped as punishment and the conservatives would preside over the successful restructured economy, squandering the results yet again to a media chant of what good economic managers they were. After ten years or so it would all start to go wrong again because of their mismanagement, Labor would be voted in again to fix the mess etc etc. And so the cycle continues. Yet again.

43

Ian Milliss 11.26.07 at 3:22 am

Lemuel, it’s not much of an exaggeration. Check this link for Australian Council of Trade Unions President Sharan Burrow’s speech to the ILO. This link and this link are academic papers covering similar concerns.

The most bizarre clauses are those fining workers $6000 for even raising certain issues in negotiations. Of course it still may not be as bad as parts of the US but in Australia it constitutes the destruction of over a century of industrial relations progress. If nothing else it begs the question of why any business would believe that you can have organised capital without organised labour.

44

ajay 11.26.07 at 1:52 pm

As I understand the system in Great Britain, the party leaders are more or less assigned safe ridings that they don’t have to live in. Is that right, and is it different in Australia?

That’s not the way it works in Britain – you don’t get assigned a new seat when you become party leader. Tony Blair, for example, was elected MP for Sedgefield in 1983 – and he stayed as Sedgefield MP for the rest of his career. Brown changed constituencies, but only because they were reorganised.
Now, it turns out that party leaders tend to come from safe seats. Neil Kinnock came from the Labour heartland of South Wales. But that’s largely because, if you’re in a marginal seat, you probably won’t be there long enough to become a senior politician.
I can’t think of a recent British election in which the PM lost his seat – even in the 1997 and 1945 landslides, Major and Churchill were re-elected.

45

SG 11.26.07 at 2:21 pm

It is no different in Australia. Johnny the Rodent had a safe seat when he entered it in 1974, but demographic change and redistributions slowly made it unsafe. He took it for granted for too long, and then by the time he realised the danger he was in, he couldn’t move to a new seat without looking like the cowardly wretch he is. So he had to tough it out. They spent $20 million losing that seat… with a 5.8% swing, so I suppose they bucked the state average a little.

I’m sure it’s not the only time in his miserable life that Johnny thought money could buy him friends…

Comments on this entry are closed.