Oz elections

by John Q on November 7, 2007

It’s election time here in Australia, and there are some reasons why readers Down Under (from our perspective)
might be more interested than usual.

George Bush has no more reliable ally than the Liberal (=conservative) government of John Howard. Howard has backed Bush straight down the line on Iraq and climate change, and (unlike Tony Blair) raised no objection when Australians were held in Guantanamo Bay for years on end. The general assumption among political hardheads until about a year ago was that, although these positions might be unpopular, Australians would not vote against an incumbent government when the economy was going well. Labor was ahead in the polls, but no-one really believed it. But after a change of leaders at the end of 2006, Labor moved to a large lead in the polls, which it has kept ever since.

Under pressure, Howard backed away from some of his most vulnerable positions. He cut a deal with Bush under which Gitmo prisoner David Hicks got to plead guilty and serve a sentence in an Australian prison, just long enough to keep him out of circulation until election day. Then he started shifting position on climate change, trying to hose down the denialists/delusionists in his own ranks, and accepting the need for targets and an emissions trading scheme. The government came close to ratifying Kyoto, but Howard was not up to an overt break with Bush. Finally, the government toned down radical labor market reforms it had introduced after (somewhat surprisingly) gaining control of both houses of Parliament at the last election.

Meanwhile, Labor has also been making for the centre as fast as it can, copying Howard’s policies on tax cuts, aid to private schools and hospitals and so on, and hedging a bit on Iraq. The result has been a mind-numbingly dull campaign in which the government has made at most marginal inroads into Labor’s lead in the polls and betting markets. (You can follow these at Pollbludger, Possum’s Pollytics and Sportsbet if you want).

Despite the pre-election convergence, a Labor win will make a significant difference to some international issues (at least by comparison with Australia’s usual insignificance). Ratifying Kyoto will leave Bush without an ally going into the forthcoming Bali meetings aimed at negotiating a successor agreement. And Australia’s main force in Iraq (currently the fourth-largest in the CoW) will be withdrawn by mid-2008, about the same time as the UK plans to pull out most of its remaining troops.

Of course, with a bit over two weeks to go, it’s not a done deal. But the Reserve Bank just raised interest rates (a hot topic in a country with sky-high housing prices and a sore point because, last time around, Howard promised to keep rates low), and it’s hard to see how the government can make up the gap of 6-10 percentage points shown in recent polls.



Henry 11.07.07 at 4:17 am

John – there was a bit in the _FT_ a couple of weeks ago suggesting that Howard might lose his own seat – is that still a possibility???


jacob 11.07.07 at 4:52 am

Sorry to be niggling, but the Wikipedia article you link to has Australia as the fourth (not third) largest contingent in Iraq, after the US, UK, and Georgia.


Leinad 11.07.07 at 5:29 am

End of 2006


Maria 11.07.07 at 5:29 am

Isn’t the opposition running a very high profile woman (newsreader?) in Howard’s constituency?


Leinad 11.07.07 at 5:34 am

Henry, yes it is a distinct possibility: the latest poll from Bennelong had his challenger (a former journalist/TV presenter) Maxine McKew ahead 52-48 — most polling has had her at 53-47 or thereabouts since midyear. The more likely a Liberal defeat appears the better her chances, as Howard has announced he would retire from politics were the Liberal party to lose.


Down and Out of Sài Gòn 11.07.07 at 5:44 am

1: yes, and 4: yes. See this Poll Bludger thread.


John Quiggin 11.07.07 at 5:51 am

2-fixed, thanks. I wasn’t counting the US as a CoW member,but I should have
3. fixed, thanks


SG 11.07.07 at 7:04 am

John I take issue with your claim Kevin Rudd (opposition leader, for other readers) has been rushing to the centre. He has been rushing to the right, which is where the modern radical conservatism of Howard has forced the centre to go. Tax cuts at the expense of basic public services, govt subsidies of private schools, and his rather weak repeal of the workplace relations laws aren’t the act of a centrist party (at least not in Australian politics). A centrist party at the moment would be promising to spend John Howards 34 billion in tax cuts on social services, not offering to nearly match it.

(not that this will make much of a dent on the sweet, sweet feeling of satisfaction I am going to get when the Rodent has to stand in front of national TV and announce the loss of his own seat to a journalist from the TV station he hates. And I’ll be able to watch it live in Japan thanks to that same TV station. Oh the joy!…)


John Quiggin 11.07.07 at 7:29 am

sg, I take your point, but these are relative terms.

Also, I think you underestimate the extent to which Howard has given ground on this issue. In 11 years in office he has not reduced the ratio of public expenditure to GDP or scrapped any major public expenditure program. Even the tax cuts do little more than maintain the status quo in this respect, after bracket creep.


SG 11.07.07 at 9:14 am

John, I suspect that is a redistribution of government expenditure up the social scale and into inflationary measures like first home buyers’ grants. This has made it easy for the labour party to hammer him on inflation issues now, and just goes to show that if you pork-barrel your way into election wins, they may still actually come back to bite you… and what a bite it looks like he’s going to get!


Disinterested Observer 11.07.07 at 9:33 am

Actually, the latest ABS income surveys state “while it is difficult to assess changes in income distribution over time due to the methodological improvements introduced with the 2003-04 survey, it appears that there has been no significant change in income inequality from the mid 1990s to 2005-06. The change in income distribution since 1994-95 is affected by the inclusion of all salary sacrificed amounts in 2003-04 and 2005-06, and the exclusion of an unknown amount in 1994-95.” and “Some of the change in some of the income distribution measures between 2003-04 and 2005-06 reflects the changes in personal income tax rates and thresholds. For example, if the 2003-04 taxation rates and thresholds had been applied to 2005-06 incomes, the Gini coefficient would have been 0.303 rather than 0.307.” So the tax scale changes – to date – have had realatively minor effects on income distribution.
See http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/6523.0Main%20Features22005-06?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=6523.0&issue=2005-06&num=&view=

The report also shows that changes in social security benefits, particularly family payments have had a progressive effect.


P O'Neill 11.07.07 at 2:41 pm

At the rate things are going, the people could be going to the polling booth with the Australian dollar at parity with the US dollar, which is not a benchmark that either country will be especially pleased about.


marcel 11.07.07 at 2:43 pm

This North American feels dizzy. Looking at your map is making all the blood run to my head.


bh 11.07.07 at 11:34 pm

John, you should post a link to a photo of the journalist who might defeat the Prime Minister.

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