Political Idiocy Rightly Abandoned As Funding “Reform” Set To Face Axe

ONE OF the most appallingly stupid political acts of recent times has abruptly ended this morning, with Tony Abbott withdrawing Liberal Party support for an ALP funding “reform” that would have seen the major parties share a $58 million windfall in taxpayer funding after this year’s election.

Irrespective of any argument in favour of this initiative, a “reform” gifting tens of millions of additional dollars to political parties was always going to be unsaleable at a time when the national budget is heavily in deficit, and when politics and politicians are held in extremely low regard by the electorate.

This measure — brought to public notice in the past few days and met with a firestorm of disapproval — was part of a package that included, among other things, a reduction in the disclosure threshold for political donations from $12,100 to $5,000, which would suit the Labor Party’s political interests far more than it would those of the Liberal Party.

But before I sink the boot into the ALP for another truly reprehensible “policy” initiative that betrays that party yet again as a collective snout in the public trough, first things first.

As a member of the Liberal Party, I’m mortified the party even entertained consideration of this package, let alone gave it tacit support.

The whole thing (as I will elaborate) appears to have been designed in an attempt to permanently advance the Labor Party’s financial interests at the direct expense of its opponents at the very instant it stands to be hurled out of office in a landslide.

And whilst the Liberal Party stood to gain additional funds from the proposed laws — if enacted — the fact the Coalition opened negotiations with Labor at all shows a distinct lack of political judgement, even before the issue of the taxpayer money is addressed.

Labor has been trying to rope the Coalition into “bipartisanship” on a range agenda items, from the NDIS to Gonski, desperately hoping the “bipartisanship” provided by Malcolm Turnbull on emissions trading (which was the death blow to his leadership of the Liberals) could be reacquired.

Senior ALP figures probably couldn’t believe their luck when the Liberals agreed to talk.

And in turn, whoever it was in the Liberal Party who advised Tony Abbott to negotiate with Labor and/or agree to support these measures ought to be fired.

From a purely political perspective, whoever it was has done the party no favours and, indeed, opened Abbott to a ridiculous Labor attack over his trustworthiness.

Readers should contemplate the point: the ALP is accusing Tony Abbott of being untrustworthy — because he reneged on an agreement that would have shovelled nearly $60 million to political parties.

Clearly, “Labor Values” include the binding nature of any agreement to shaft the taxpayer.

Abbott, for the record, made it clear that Coalition support for the package was conditional on its acceptance by the Coalition party room, which obviously has not been forthcoming.

But that hasn’t stopped Labor, or the Greens, or the Independents, from lashing out.

“There is a huge gulf between what Mr Abbott says and what Mr Abbott does and that means for the Australian people if Mr Abbott says to them that he won’t cut schools you can’t believe him,” she told reporters in Canberra.

Never mind the small detail that the states run schools.

Treasurer Wayne Swan — a pious specimen of self-importance and a dreadful political communicator at the best of times — claimed that the government’s proposals were essential “reforms” to ensure the “integrity of our political system.”

Never mind the fact they do nothing of the sort; they cash up political parties.

“This will really undermine public confidence because Mr Abbott is saying he wants to be regarded as trustworthy and competent,” Greens leader Christine Milne said, adding “I think the effort today has shown none of those adjectives can be used to describe him.”

Never mind the fact the Greens consistently state they will refuse to accept a Coalition election mandate under any circumstances.

And Independent Tony Windsor joined in, saying “some people criticised Rob Oakeshott and myself for not doing a deal with Tony Abbott (after the 2010 election)…I think many in the Australian public and the Labor Party will see an indication of that logic today.”

Never mind the fact Windsor has been trying to obstruct the conservatives for decades.

So what is this outrage all about?

As it stands, any candidate for political office receiving more than 4% of the primary vote receives $2.47 per vote in public funding of their election campaign; this netted the Coalition $23 million after the 2010 election, and the ALP $21 million.

The proposal that has just been short-circuited by Abbott was to introduce an additional “administrative funding” component of $1 per primary vote; this was to be paid quarterly over three years, but backdated to the imminent June quarter, to enable an injection of funds ahead of the looming election: $890,000 to Labor and $975,000 to the Coalition.

The other main component of the package was the lowering of the donation disclosure threshold, as outlined earlier.

What Abbott has torpedoed is no more and no less than a cash grab by political parties from the taxpaying public.

The Liberal Party deserves criticism for contemplating supporting it at all, and credit for coming to its senses and abandoning it.

Labor, on the other hand, defies contempt.

It is public knowledge that its campaign budgets for this year’s election have been predicated on the party receiving just 29% of the vote, or 9% less than it recorded in 2010.

Such a result would inflict a multi-million dollar hit on the ALP’s campaign finances.

Donations to the Labor Party have all but evaporated, which is unsurprising given the party is on track for a total shellacking. Who wants to donate to what will be an opposition party destined to spend perhaps 10-20 years out of government?

And as if this attempt to fix its campaign finances by daylight theft from the public purse weren’t enough, Labor seeks to advantage itself at the expense of the Liberals by making corporate donations less attractive by subjecting them to publicity at lower dollar values, the idea being that no anonymity is a disincentive for business to donate to political parties.

I have a fundamental philosophical problem with this sort of thing when the ALP sits safely on a guaranteed war chest of union money — compulsorily pilfered out of the dues paid by union members — as a bedrock.

The Liberal Party collects  more in corporate donations than Labor — with no equivalent to the ALP’s union money to underpin it — and almost always has done, so lowering the disclosure threshold for such donations is an attempt by Labor to permanently advantage itself relative to the conservatives.

I have no problem with such a lowering, provided the Labor Party first renounces — and refuses to accept — all claim on money from the union movement in any way, shape, or form.

Then — and only then — will it be in a position to talk about “reform” of political financing with any authority worth acknowledging.

I understand all too well how much political parties cost to run, and how expensive election campaigns are to conduct.

But this “reform” package is nothing more than a cynical attempt by Labor to profiteer in perpetuity from its final few weeks in office, with the fact the Liberals would also get a bit more money as its justification.

Now go back and look at what Gillard, Swan, Milne and Windsor have said about Abbott and, indeed, see what other figures outside the Coalition have had to say.

It doesn’t sound so noble when their real motives are laid bare, does it?

And whilst the Liberal Party stands rightly criticised for even contemplating agreeing to this — and I am literally seething over it, in case anyone doubts my sincerity — at least Abbott backed down.

Better late than never, and better too late than not at all.

The ALP, on the other hand, has provided one more reason in attempting this heist from taxpayers as to why it should face the full wrath of the electorate — and why it simply isn’t fit to govern this country.

Labor and its acolytes are outraged not on principle, but because their attempt to rip taxpayers off has been thwarted.

So much for its claims of leadership, relevance, and the high moral ground.

Is There One More Crack At Leadership Change Left For ALP?

WITH THE ELECTION now less than four months away — and the start of the “formal” campaign in nine weeks — the mutterers are again muttering; they haven’t stopped since Julia Gillard skewered Kevin Rudd in June 2010. But could Labor change again now, and what impact would such a change have?

I have stated, many times now, that a cornered Labor Party is a dangerous beast indeed; with its back to the wall it tends to do something, and right now the ALP is both cornered and faced with an existential threat, in the immediate electoral sense and in terms of its future viability.

Coalition frontbencher (and chief Parliamentary tactician) Christopher Pyne attracted the ridicule of some in Labor’s ranks last week when he claimed he had “reliable information” from within the ALP that one final challenge to Gillard’s leadership would occur “either on 3 June, or in the week of 3 June.”

Labor types would rubbish such a claim of course, true or not.

But I said after the non-coup the ALP indulged itself with in March that I felt the party probably had one more attempt at a move over its leadership before the approaching election; for it to happen it would need to happen very soon now, so at the very least Pyne’s timing is spot on — even if his “information” proves unreliable after all.

And it’s not as if Labor hasn’t been trying to “do something” for some time.

In the last seven months we’ve had Gillard’s “misogyny” stunt; superannuation “reforms” designed to curry favour with lower-income earners; the NDIS, despite the fact there’s not enough money for it; Gonski, which is almost completely unfunded (and which carries an attempt to cut increases to funding for non-government schools — a barb which has done no good against the Coalition, and may well backfire badly); and this month’s budget, which talks the talk but, typically, fails utterly to walk the walk as an economic management instrument and as a politically adroit statement.

None of it has ultimately worked; William Bowe, who authors psephological analysis column The Poll Bludger for Crikey, finds a small increase in Labor’s two-party average across the polls in the past fortnight.

But Bowe’s analysis still puts the Labor vote at 45.9%, which also just happens to be virtually identical to the figure I came up with in calculating an average polling result for Labor since the 2010 election.

It is well known — and has been widely reported for a long time — that Gillard remains “confident” of Labor’s electoral prospects in the face of published polling and despite every political indicator suggesting otherwise.

Since the budget, however, and increasing number of Labor MPs — from Gillard down — have been opining that they are “certain” the ALP will win this year’s election; ordinarily such sentiments expressed publicly would betray a dangerous hubris, but this is no ordinary election cycle for the Labor Party.

The direct consequence of Gillard’s “assassin at midnight” replacement of Rudd as Prime Minister has been the incessant leadership speculation that has bedevilled the ALP; thus far there has been one crushingly unsuccessful challenge from Rudd, and another abandoned when the party’s number crunchers found Rudd would fall several votes short despite a clear movement of MPs in his favour.

I tend to think that anyone in the ALP who is “certain” of an election win is delusional, or sitting on inside knowledge of a filthy political plot to undo Abbott so greasy and sensational as to be virtually unprecedented.

My inclination is to the former; even if Labor has something it could use, it has shown itself so spectacularly inept at political strategy and tactics that its execution of such a stunt would probably add votes to the Liberal tally rather than its own.

So it is safe to say — everything of the past three years considered — that if things remain as they are, the Gillard government is cruising downhill toward defeat.

I think if Gillard makes it to 14 September unchallenged, it will be purely because the number crunchers find a shortage of votes for a challenger, and will have nothing to do with solidarity with or any real faith in Gillard as a leader.

And Labor — under Gillard — will be electorally butchered.

In this context, Kevin Rudd’s recent (and highly public) conversion to the cause of gay marriage is significant; at face value he may very well have arrived at his new position on the basis of the purity of thought he claims.

But a more cynical reading of his conversion says that faced with the recognition a significant slice of the electorate also favours legalising the measure, Rudd’s switch is more about product differentiation in a leadership sense.

Similarly — in a direct play to the ALP caucus — Rudd has thrown his support behind a move to restore the selection of ministries within Labor to a vote of the party room, removing the right of the leader to select whomever he or she wishes.

It was Rudd who claimed the right to select his ministry in the first place in the wake of his election win in 2007, a practice continued under Gillard.

But there seems little doubt the measure — widely backed by Rudd’s supporters — is aimed at clipping Gillard’s wings in the unlikely event she survives the looming election.

This article — from yesterday’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney — also makes a reasonable case of the notion that Rudd and his backers are, at the minimum, tilling the ground for one last tilt at restoring the former PM as their leader.

But were Labor to change, would it necessarily be to Rudd?

Certainly, with an election this close, the damage from a mass resignation of ministers from Cabinet or MPs from Parliament would be reduced, but not altogether averted; aside from the dreadful imagery such a walkout would gift the Coalition and the adverse reporting it would attract, the primary risk from such a debacle would be a shortage of Parliamentary votes to stave off a no-confidence motion that the Liberals would almost certainly move.

If Rudd were to reclaim the leadership — and quickly — I would expect the 14 September election date would be dispensed with in favour of the earliest constitutionally allowable option of a House plus half-Senate poll on 3 August.

Rudd would thus calculate such a switch, and a snap election, would enable him to maximise the impact of any honeymoon effect emanating from his political resurrection. Crucially, however, it would also allow him to dispense with the final scheduled sitting weeks of Parliament next month before the election is held.

I tend to think that it is now too late for any ALP candidate other than Rudd to become Prime Minister this year, although it has to be noted that the desperate machinations of the ruthlessly power-hungry Labor machine can’t rule anything out conclusively.

Even so, Simon Crean probably had to become leader at the time of the March non-coup to have any real prospect of establishing himself in the role with credibility before an election, to give him time to prove to voters that his would indeed be a government changed.

The same can be said of Stephen Smith, who in any case is at real danger (depending on whose read of the polls you listen to) of losing his marginal seat of Perth at the election.

And Labor’s apparent leader-in-waiting — Bill Shorten — is unlikely to sign on for six to eight weeks as Prime Minister just to be permitted to lead the party to a bloodbath.

His ambitions in the longer run would be destroyed in the process, and even Shorten knows his interests are better served by waiting for the electoral cycle to turn again, even at the risk that the Coalition will remain in office longer than he does in Parliament before Labor eventually returns to government.

So I think any change will involve Rudd; not because he’s necessarily desirable or would lead a government any less odious or ramshackle than his first, but because a leadership change is the only card the ALP still holds, and Rudd is its only option in this regard.

Readers who follow Peter Brent’s Mumble column in The Australian will know that as much as he talks about the outcome of this year’s election, every article on the subject he publishes carries the clear disclaimer that were Rudd to return as Prime Minister, all bets would be off.

I’m prepared to go out on a limb and restate my view that even a switch to Rudd and a snap election will still see the ALP banished to opposition, and by a wide margin to boot.

The question, of course, is how wide.

Rudd, as a Queenslander, might — might — improve Labor’s dire prospects in Queensland to a marginal extent, no pun intended.

But even that is far from certain, and in the rest of the country I doubt it would make much difference to the election outcome at all — whenever he opted to hold it.

And Rudd remains at a very real risk of losing his supposedly safe seat of Griffith this year, Prime Minister or not; it was won by the Liberals in the landslides of 1966 and 1996, has been held by the Coalition for six of the 18 Parliamentary terms since 1966, and has a history of changing hands that dates back to its creation in 1934, so it is certainly possible that Rudd won’t even be in Parliament by Christmas.

Yet as I said at the outset — as I have many times this year — I still believe there is one attempt at a change of leadership left in the ALP.

The survival instinct of a dangerously cornered beast may well trump the visceral loathing many of Labor’s MPs bear, with absolute justification, toward Rudd; in the end, any challenge is likely to be successful, and will come down purely to a hard-headed calculation of just how many of their otherwise doomed electorates the change is realistically likely to salvage from the oncoming election debacle.

It would, however, send the clear signal of a party in turmoil, with four moves on its leadership in less than three years — something the Liberal Party will exploit with utter ruthlessness and, in all likelihood, to devastating effect.

If it doesn’t eventuate, take it as gospel the votes for a challenge are still simply not there, and that the party’s MPs are clinging to their leader like lemmings headed to the slaughter.

Which is what, as at today’s date, they are anyway.

The Guardian A Welcome Addition To Australia’s Mediascape

THE LAUNCH yesterday of British newspaper The Guardian‘s online Australian edition is welcome, timely, and deserving of support; it adds a refreshing third voice to mainstream media coverage in this country, and provides some much-needed diversity to coverage of the nation’s events.

In posting this afternoon, I simply wish to acknowledge The Guardian‘s presence on a computer screen (hopefully) near you; I am very pleased to see this long-mooted startup finally come to fruition.

I am a longtime reader of the original British Guardian site (and its newspaper when in England); I have always found its centrist approach to issues to be relevant, topical, and surprisingly balanced  when compared to other mass media enterprises either here or in the UK.

The Guardian will be published online only in Australia; it’s the way of the world, and in spite of being an old-style troglodyte still very happy to sit down with a newspaper proper, The Guardian‘s format is clear, simple to navigate, and easy to read.

Readers will find The Guardian Australia at www.guardian.co.uk/australia.

I wish The Guardian every possible success in its Australian venture, and urge all readers to get behind this exciting new media venture as well.

A Final Word On Misogyny: She’s A Piece Of Work, Our Prime Minister

MISOGYNY, or its incantation, is always close when it comes to Julia Gillard; this gormless, conniving specimen has used the worst form of political attack — baseless personal sledging — to try to flee her own incompetence. Tony Abbott will be Prime Minister, and Gillard the irrelevance she deserves to be.

We’ve spoken a lot about this; it’s been hard not to.

Julia Gillard and her government have trailed the Coalition in the polls ever since her minority government — cobbled together with a hotchpotch of Greens, Independents and conservative turncoats — was formalised almost a month after the 2010 federal election.

And not simply trailed: for most of the intervening period, reputable published polling has pointed toward the ALP suffering an unprecedented electoral slaughter, something which has been borne out by the private polling conducted by the major parties.

The only time Gillard has been within striking distance was near the end of last year, after a despicable speech under privilege in the House of Representatives, when she ripped into opposition leader Tony Abbott with charges of sexism and misogyny against him.

Even being called “a piece of work” by Abbott was apparently tantamount to his commission of the..er…mother of all misogynistic sins; not just against her, but against all women everywhere by proxy.

The immediate result was a narrowing in the polls on voting intention, and personal approval numbers for Gillard that briefly assumed respectability.

But like a sugar hit that wears off and leaves its sufferer under a cloud of exhausted pallor, voters saw through the ruse — not least as they began to understand Gillard was actually defending serial grub Peter Slipper, and once they realised his form on the exact subject Gillard was making accusations against Abbott over.

Of course we’ve spoken a lot about this, such as here and here and here.

And as people have become awake to the ruse, Gillard’s approval numbers have crashed back to the floor where they should be, and voting intention for the ALP has followed suit.

I raise all of this again tonight because I have come across an excellent article on the subject; in fact, it’s probably the best refutation of Gillard’s vile charges I have yet seen.

It’s from the conservative-leaning online community Menzies House; written under a pseudonym (presumably to protect a high-profile author/ess), it may be accessed here.

This is the sort of thing mainstream media commentators should have run in the aftermath of the Gillard speech to shoot her down in flames; politically effective as the speech may have proven, it was intellectual and ethical dishonesty of the lowest possible type.

But mostly, they didn’t: some spoke of the “political brilliance” the speech represented tactically; others, sympathetic to Labor and/or Gillard personally, simply let it stand unchallenged.

And whilst there is a contingent in public life in Australia who cower warily at Gillard’s propensity to issue legal proceedings at the drop of a hat as a tool to protect herself politically, nobody ought harbour such fears in this case when she is just plain wrong.

Gillard can cavort with the likes of Kyle Sandilands all she likes, and rattle on about misogyny and Tony Abbott until the cows come home, but it doesn’t alter the fact that Abbott is no misogynist, nor the fact that Gillard is simply a hypocrite.

She’s a piece of work, our Prime Minister.

 

This Week At The Red And The Blue

JUST A teaser this afternoon; over the next week or so I will be talking about some direct frontline issues rather than the strictly political side of them; these are issues of great everyday importance, and represent ground on which most of us can agree irrespective of political stripe.

There are a few things I have been thinking of addressing in this column for a little while now; issues that occur every day, in our daily lives, on which I feel action is required or about which I want to put my position on the table to bolster one side of an argument.

These are issues relating to health, transport and the like: and I do think that what will be published here will offer some common ground as a little bit of a break to the typically adversarial nature of political discussion and debate.

And they are relevant: government is ultimately the arbiter for the kind of things I will be discussing, and in talking about them here I will be keen to see if others do share my view and — if so — what we may do to bring pressure to bear as appropriate.

Of course, we will continue to follow the issues of the day in politics as they arise; the next cab off the rank, of course, is Newspoll: due for publication in tomorrow’s issue of The Australian, the figures will be available late tonight, and when they’re through I will be posting on them too.

The first poll of the week is out this afternoon; an Essential Research survey finding an unchanged Coalition lead from last week of 55% to Labor’s 45%, after preferences.

Will Newspoll remain unchanged from last fortnight’s 56-44 result as well? We will see.

Finally this afternoon, I’ll take the opportunity to reiterate the invitation to readers to follow me on Twitter for those not already doing so: you will find me @theredandblue .

Barring unforeseens — the eternal qualification when it comes to planning content and the issues we provide coverage to — I will be back again late tonight to talk about polling.

UPDATE, 11.49pm: There is no Newspoll tonight; that gem will have to wait until next week. As I said, barring unforeseens…

State By-Elections With Federal Implications

A THUMPING win by the National Party at yesterday’s state by-election in the NSW seat of Northern Tablelands offers clues to the looming federal election; it gives context to a recent by-election in the Victorian seat of Lyndhurst, and taken together give the clearest pointer yet to the Gillard government’s fate.

It isn’t so much the result, but its magnitude; National Party candidate Adam Marshall won yesterday’s poll with a primary vote above 62%, which — after preferences — will deliver the Nationals the seat with close to 70% of the two-party vote.

The gain takes National Party representation to 19 of the 93 NSW lower house seats — its highest representation since Bertram Stevens was Premier of a UAP/Country Party coalition in the 1930s.

Many will argue there are no federal implications in such a by-election and — in this specific instance — that the National Party’s win represents no more than the reclamation of a prime seat in its own heartland, after the resignation of Independent-cum-National Richard Torbay amid the stench of a corruption scandal.

But I beg to differ, and — taken in conjunction with the Lyndhurst by-election in Victoria late last month in a vacant, safe state Labor seat uncontested by the Liberal Party — I think there are some clear clues as to what might happen to Labor at the polls federally.

NSW is arguably the state in which, historically, Independents have had the greatest success at both state and federal level than anywhere else in the country.

The 2011 state election there returned three of the six seats held by Independents in NSW to the major parties; yesterday’s by-election moved a fourth back to the Coalition.

The by-election took place against a backdrop of a Coalition government that was elected in 2011 by a record margin and which — based on reputable published opinion polling — would be re-elected today with its huge majority virtually intact.

In counter to the two year old O’Farrell government is the ICAC investigation into the allegedly corrupt misconduct of key figures in its Labor predecessor, which for months now has generated an endless stream of negative headlines for the ALP in NSW.

Yet like Victoria, Labor federally has attempted to portray the “record” of O’Farrell’s government as a reason for voters across the country not to “risk” electing the Liberals and Nationals federally under Tony Abbott.

The Northern Tablelands result suggest such considerations do not bother electors in NSW, and I would suggest people outside NSW couldn’t care less about O’Farrell and his government: be it good, bad, or abominable by the ALP’s jaundiced standards.

Labor, for its part, polled just 9.7% in yesterday’s by-election; damningly, even this was a 6% increase on its 2011 result (and I’m just waiting for some idiot in the ALP to try to claim that a 6% “swing” to Labor, in Northern Tablelands, is somehow indicative of the party’s prospects nationally).

And, significantly, the area in which Northern Tablelands sits overlaps Tony Windsor’s federal electorate of New England — and in this context, the portents for Windsor’s chances of holding on against Barnaby Joyce later this year aren’t good.

To sum up this part of the point, the smashing win by a state Coalition government candidate — when its opponents are desperately trying to smear that government as an extremist failure — points to a fairly benign view of O’Farrell’s regime at this stage in the electoral cycle.

We’ll return to NSW a little later, but having digested the by-election results in Northern Tablelands I’ve reconsidered the by-election last month in Melbourne in a vacant Labor seat, and I would argue there are pointers from this contest as well that reflect on Labor’s prospects at the federal election scheduled for September.

As Northern Tablelands in NSW is heartland to the National Party, so too is Lyndhurst in Melbourne to Labor; the seat was held by former Brumby government minister (and leadership prospect) Tim Holding, who decided his heart was no longer in politics, and quit.

Even without the Liberal Party contesting the by-election, the ALP primary vote dropped by 15 percentage points, and by 7% after the distribution of preferences.

Even without a Liberal Party candidate for the non-Labor vote to coalesce around, the ALP could manage just 41% of the primary vote in Lyndhurst, in a working class area that overlaps four Labor-held federal seats that are comfortably — but not overwhelmingly — safe for the party.

And it brings up the core of my argument that these by-elections actually do matter in terms of the federal election drawing nearer, and there are a couple of unmistakable pointers as to what they may portend.

NSW and Victoria are the states with the largest number of sitting Labor MPs left in Parliament; it holds 26 of 48 seats in NSW and 22 of 37 in Victoria, and the two states comprise exactly two-thirds* of the federal Parliamentary ALP’s lower house numbers.

The established wisdom, until very recently, was that Labor is seriously on the nose in NSW, but that the O’Farrell government dealt Julia Gillard the chance to save more seats in that state than she otherwise would.

Similarly, Victoria has been Labor’s strongest state for years, and until recently has been perceived as remaining that way, with the state government of Ted Baillieu offering Gillard the means by which to retain most of its seats there.

In the meantime, ICAC has made a daily spectacle out of the ALP in NSW by association with its former ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald; indeed, Richard Torbay’s resignation from Northern Tablelands (and as the Nationals’ candidate to stand against Windsor in New England) is the direct result of allegations of improper dealings with Obeid.

And in Victoria, Baillieu is now gone; new Liberal Premier Denis Napthine has revitalised the Coalition’s fortunes to the point it is now favourite to win next year’s state election, and with that change any prospect Gillard may have had of leveraging votes off the state government has vanished.

Viewed thus, I see these by-elections as providing a litmus test: not failsafe and certainly not confined to federal issues, but at the minimum, influenced by them.

And so the smashing Nationals’ win in Northern Tablelands — combined with the lacklustre, tepid Labor win in Lyndhurst — tend to underline what the most recent internal polling on both sides show, and that is cataclysmic losses for Labor in NSW, and losses in Victoria that far transcend the three seats it holds there on margins below 5.5%.

Add in the likely Coalition gain of at least three of the five seats in Tasmania, which are rarely ever polled for federal voting intent, as well as another half-dozen or so seats elsewhere around the country, and the indicator is a likely Coalition gain of between 20 and 30 seats.

Of course, that’s the sort of win everyone is expecting Tony Abbott to record anyway; it is also the story that can reasonably be extrapolated from these two state by-elections.

But with yesterday’s poll confirming all of this is still well and truly on track, it’s a clear indication three and a half months from an election that Gillard and Wayne Swan and Labor remain in line to suffer a colossal electoral belting.

*Counting Craig Thomson’s seat of Dobell.

Difficult Issues And The Thin Edge Of The Wedge

I READ an article in the Weekend Australian today that I want to share with readers, and invite comments in answer to; there are a lot of hot-button, emotional issues at the forefront of public discourse and debate at present, and that debate is marked to a worrying degree by intellectual belligerence.

Gay marriage, abortion, and I’d add “man-made” climate change: issues never far from divisive (and often ugly) confrontation, with adherents and proponents resolutely welded to their respective positions, often with well-reasoned arguments to back their cases.

Yet there is a slow movement to outlaw the right of the individual to hold an opinion different to those who would set the agenda; typically this movement has come from the Left, and those who disagree with their positions are being worked into the insidious choice of either complying with the agenda of the Left, or facing the prospect of committing a criminal offence for thinking or saying anything in defiance of it.

I’m not speaking necessarily, mind, of the political Left, but rather the ideological Left; there is considerable confluence between the two, of course, but we’re talking here about the social engineers, the thought police, and everyone else who would dream of a nanny state inspired social Utopia.

This article from the Weekend Australian is food for thought, and I would love to know what readers think.

I think it’s disgraceful that people are being railroaded into a single-option choice when it comes to a position on delicate issues such as these; there is no easy answer to things like abortion, or gay marriage, or whether single women should have access to taxpayer-funded IVF, and what answers there are — on both sides — a generally not ideal in their entirety and raise other questions of their own.

I’m going to post another article here as well; I published it in this column quite some time ago, and I think it is instructive to read the two side by side.

It’s by American author, columnist and scholar Jeff Nyquist, and whilst he frames his piece in terms of the Cold War struggle between Communism and Democracy, it is interesting to spot the similarities in the two cases.

The striking thing about it for me is the case made by Nyquist is to some extent echoed in the article by the Murdoch columnist, but almost in a causal sense; when you think about it we don’t as a society really consider hard, tough questions of governance and world politics in the way we used to do, and the issues Nyquist identified are shaping a very different kind of society indeed.

Anyway, the purpose of tonight’s post is simply to share a couple of articles, dealing with thorny issues from very different perspectives, but asking the question: what sort of society, and world, do we want to live in?

Please feel free to share your opinions by way of comment; I’m curious to know what readers think, and I’m sure you will be keen to see what others are thinking as well.