Labor Pain: Even Hawke And Keating Support Spending Cuts

PRESSURE IS RISING on the ALP and its “leader,” Bill Shorten, to stop their mindless obstructionism and allow government spending cuts to pass the Senate; with Labor legends Bob Hawke and Paul Keating lending their imprimatur to the need to urgently restore the federal budget to health, the cynicism and sheer bloody-mindedness of the ALP’s blocking tactics are stripped bare: not that further proof of their hypocrisy is required.

It must be galling, if you’re Bill Shorten, to find two of Labor’s most successful modern leaders publicly repudiating your entire political strategy; that is what Bob Hawke and Paul Keating have, in essence, done, and it’s time Shorten — and his erstwhile colleagues — woke up to themselves.

Not content to have merely served in a government that did its level best to bankrupt Australia (an enterprise foiled, in no small part, by the solid condition in which the books were left by John Howard and Peter Costello), the ALP has refused to allow a single bill containing expenditure cuts pass the Senate since Parliament reconvened after last year’s election.

To date, this has involved some $20bn in spending cuts, including — damningly — $5bn in cuts the ALP itself proposed from government.

The best we can say about that is that it really does show how much backbone there is to the “conviction” the ALP rattles on about nowadays.

Now — speaking on the occasion of the release of cabinet papers from 1986-87, during the Hawke government — both Hawke and Keating have urged the Abbott government to cut expenditure deeply and rapidly to restore the budget to health, likening the present mess in the nation’s books to that which confronted them in 1986 at the time of Keating’s infamous “banana republic” remarks.

Implicitly, these calls crucify the present incarnation of the ALP and the wilfully destructive course it has determinedly embarked upon.

In the interests of expeditious use of space, readers can access this report from The Australian, detailing the comments of the two former Labor leaders.

It is interesting that the best Labor figures seem to be capable of in response is to bluster and to obfuscate; shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen seems to be the designated driver of the ALP’s response, and his replies speak of “a con” (in relation to the Coalition’s declaration of a budget emergency) and the singling out of a decision to abolish the means testing of the private health insurance rebate that was introduced on the watch of the Gillard government.

Labor’s position seems to be that the Abbott government has no entitlement to make any changes to the revenue/expenditure mix that, in gross terms, increase outgoings; such a position is naive and assumes its audience is stupid enough to be unable to differentiate between individual measures and overall outcomes.

On the health rebate, I would make the observation that if it didn’t exist, the total pool of health funding — comprising federal government monies and consumer expenditure on private health insurance policies — would immediately shrink by tens of billions of dollars as ordinary Australians dumped their policies en masse and strained the already-overloaded public system beyond breaking point.

But in terms of “a con,” Labor is the last party to national events with any moral authority to cast stones in relation to the bona fides of the new government, its intentions or its actions, so woeful is its own recent record in office on measures such as honesty, accountability, or integrity.

A lot of Labor’s approach to politics these days — especially on issues where it occupies extremely shaky ground, such as economic management — is to make bold proclamations of its own competence and the uselessness of the Liberal Party, then stand back — with a bow and a wave — and wait for the adoring masses of voters to swallow every word like wine.

That’s the “con,” if ever there was one when it comes to the state of the budget, and the ALP’s paw prints all over it.

Labor simply can’t be believed, as it seeks to depict “blowouts in spending” as the result of new initiatives announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey, when it steadfastly refuses to allow one cent of the offsetting savings presented by the Liberal Party to the Senate to pass.

And the fact it has refused to even allow the cuts it itself claimed to intend to enact to pass simply beggars belief.

Hawke and Keating have both suggested that a similar amount should be cut from the budget by the Abbott government, as a percentage of Commonwealth outlays, as Keating cut during 1986-87; in 2014 dollars this equates to some $40bn per annum, and — as The Australian notes — such a program of savings would see the budget return to surplus within two years.

In other words, the bills Labor has rejected would have already done half the job; Hockey’s 2014 budget — coming as it will in the wake of the report of the Commission of Audit — can more than reasonably be expected to do the rest.

After all, astute fiscal management and an emphasis on budgetary rigour were the keys to the Howard government’s reputation as a competent economic steward: it’s a record the Liberal Party is rightfully proud of, and a key difference with its opponent to be defended — especially as the ALP appears determined to perpetuate its achievements of economic vandalism from opposition.

The point is that the ALP — not content to have virtually wrecked the structural integrity of the federal budget, and having attempted to enshrine its sabotage by legislating tens of billions of dollars in recurrent spending measures for the Liberals to either fund or try to unpick in the Senate — is happier to run the country into the ground than it is to behave as the responsible participant in national affairs it claims to be.

It seeks to split hairs over semantics; dismiss Coalition savings measures from reality in order to focus on ridiculous claims of a Liberal Party spending binge; and prevent the government from doing what it was elected to do which is, rather quaintly, to govern.

In fact, about the only thing the ALP has to say which contains more than a shred of truth is its oft-stated claim of ownership over the fact Australia retained its AAA credit rating during the six years of the Rudd-Gillard junta: a claim whose truth ignores the fact that ratings agencies adjust credit ratings over a period of years, not weeks or months.

Indeed, the expectation of a change of government may in itself have preserved the AAA ratings Australia continues to enjoy. Conversely, were those ratings to be downgraded during a period of expenditure reduction and fiscal consolidation under the Coalition, it would be only because that process proceeded too slowly: ultimately, something else the Labor Party would have to wear responsibility for.

But with legendary Labor figures apparently now giving public backing to the Abbott government’s objective of hauling in recurrent government expenditure, Labor has few rocks behind which to hide.

The only people who really believe what it has to say — apart from itself — are its hacks and cronies in the union movement, whose only desire is to see a conservative government fail.

Few doubt the enormity of the task Abbott and Hockey face to push the country back onto a sustainable financial footing, and the results from Hockey’s Commission of Audit — which will be forthcoming soon enough — should dispel any remaining doubts that linger.

Budget crisis? You bet there is. Labor knows it, which is the reason it is acting like a group of headless chooks; it knows the true state of the books will soon be laid bare.

And if the redoubtable Bill Shorten were anything approaching a real leader’s bootlace, he would cut short his leave and respond to the situation — and to Hawke and Keating — himself, rather than leaving lesser minions like Bowen to do the dirty work while he hides safely away from the prying eyes of public opinion.


Weddings, Expenses, Anything: Bury The Bipartisan Hatchet

ONE OF the most reviled (and publicly misunderstood) aspects of political life is the thorny issue of government travel entitlements; perhaps at a time when incendiary allegations, smears and “revelations” are being thrown about like confetti, perspective and reason might better serve all involved.

I’ve deliberately avoided this subject to date — not because it’s Liberal Party identities in the firing line this time around, but because controversies over legitimately allowable and claimed expenses for MPs generally spawn unwinnable arguments — and I intend to keep my remarks as circumspect as possible.

Indeed, the reason I’ve decided to comment at all is because late yesterday the counterpunches were being thrown too, with a raft of accusations hitting Labor MPs over expenses claimed to attend Bob Hawke’s 80th birthday celebrations in 2009.

I certainly don’t advocate (and nor would I defend) an open-ended, limitless entitlement for politicians on expenses for travel, accommodation, hospitality and the like.

But I am — within reason — going to come down on the side of the politicians on this: be they Liberal, Labor, or otherwise.

Anyone who has read a newspaper or seen a TV news report in recent days will know an ugly fracas has erupted over accusations Coalition figures — from the Prime Minister down — have in recent years made claims for a swathe of “borderline” expense reimbursements, notably in relation to their attendances at a couple of high-profile weddings.

It is obvious that senior minister George Brandis SC has been singled out as a target, perhaps as a consequence of his prosecution of the Coalition attack against a number of Gillard government identities, some of whom have cases to answer before the Courts.

It is equally clear that deputy National Party leader Barnaby Joyce has been targeted; Joyce is the most promising recruit the Nationals have found in decades — even allowing for the eccentricities of his early days as a Senator — and his capacity to put a modern and mainstream voice to traditional National Party values is not lost on his Labor opponents.

And it goes without saying that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the number one target: having almost singlehandedly destroyed the ALP in government and two Prime Ministers in the process, Abbott is (and will remain indefinitely) the target of as much trouble the Labor machine can cause him, and Labor’s capacity to cause “trouble” is limitless.

To be clear — and in the interests of balance — the ALP is subjected to similar treatment on its expenses claims when it finds itself in office, so let he who is without sin…

The first point I make is that there is absolutely no suggestion, whatsoever, that any of the claims that have found their way into public view in the past week are in any way unlawful, inappropriate, or have failed to comply with the guidelines that govern such claims.

It is true that all three of the gentlemen to whom I refer have reimbursed the taxpayer for some of the claims to remove any shadow of doubt in relation to their integrity and that of the system generally.

But this — far from undermining their standing — ought strengthen it.

A typical red herring has been thrown into the debate by disgraced former Speaker Peter Slipper, who is facing prosecution over the alleged misuse of Cabcharge vouchers to visit wineries within the wider Canberra region during the term of the last Parliament.

Whilst not wishing to comment on matters before the Court, it is generally understood that Slipper’s winery visits were not of a parliamentary nature and — in any case — he has a long history of incorrect expense claims that he has been able to remedy on numerous occasions by simply writing a cheque to repay them.

Slipper’s “outrage” over not being able to do so now should be considered in that context.

It does however bring me to the second point: MPs undertake so much official travel, sometimes combining official business with recreational activities, that inadvertent incorrect claims are inevitable, which is why instances of claimed monies being paid back make the headlines at all from time to time.

The likes of Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Abbott himself, got it dead right yesterday when they said that if there was ever any doubt about the legitimacy of the expenses claim, pay it yourself: these are not the words of people seeking to rip the taxpayer off, but seeking to ensure they don’t claim any more than they are entitled to.

And the third point — to adopt the absurd and completely opposite end of the argument — is that if MPs had to fund all travel and accommodation to attend official engagements out of their own pockets (thereby eliminating the problem) nobody would ever see them.

How many readers fork out from their own funds to go to an interstate or overseas business event that their boss has deemed mandatory? How many have deliberately chosen not to file their monthly expenses claim with the company accountant from a sense of corporate altruism?

I’d wager none have, and as it is in private enterprise, so it is in politics.

The truth is that politics is a dour, grinding, 18 hours a day, seven day a week proposition — something many who sit outside the sphere carping and whining don’t know and/or don’t care about.

Anyone who has ever seen a parliamentarian’s diary knows that even the weekends, most weeks, are filled with engagements, and in the case of federal MPs that often involves travel between multiple states.

And to my mind, even the nature of some of the events claimed for that have attracted criticism are not as cut and dried as they have been presented.

For one thing, who is to say that — for example — there was someone on the guest list at Sophie Mirabella’s wedding, with whom the Coalition MPs attending needed a quiet, off the record meeting with, that was critical to their parliamentary work but could in no way be made public for reasons of secrecy, commercial confidence, or similar considerations?

For another, a lot of the stone throwing is being undertaken by individuals whose appreciation of the finer nuances of how this country operates is selective, to say the least.

A well-known left-wing Twitter identity (who I am not going down the tangent of naming here) published what almost looked to be the full list of Tony Abbott’s claims for the last Parliament last night, replete with confected howls of indignant (and profane) fury.

It included things like the weddings we’ve all heard about, and events like last year’s AFL Grand Final, for which Abbott travelled to Melbourne with his wife and family.

Anyone with a brain knows that to do business in Melbourne, it often involves football — this city runs on it, and irrespective of the approval or otherwise of some, the Tony Abbotts of this world have little choice but to attend such things to have any real currency or impact south of the Murray.

And anyone who has ever had to sit through boring, excruciating, mindless corporate hospitality functions — often with spouse and/or children dutifully enduring the fun too — will know that again, sometimes to achieve real outcomes in business or any other enterprise, it’s the sort of impost that simply has to be tolerated.

I could go on, but as I said at the outset, a subject like this will always find someone, diametrically opposed in their opinion, who will insist it’s all arse-about. You can’t win.

So, to return to the original point, here are a few simple thoughts on how to move on from the grenade-throwing field trip the latest round of travel expense “revelations” have descended into:

  • A 30-day amnesty for the repayment of all marginal and/or incorrectly claimed travel entitlements, with matters currently on foot before the Courts of course excepted;
  • The clarification — and, where appropriate, tightening — of guidelines applying to such claims to be undertaken to mitigate against future erroneous claims;
  • An audit system of checks on claims (perhaps biannually) to identify inadvertent claims and enable repayment by the MP in question within a set timeframe; and
  • Consideration be given to the establishment of a small ongoing tribunal to continually review historic claims and realise outstanding monies as a further check on the system.

Nether side of the political spectrum should be playing petty politics over this: wilful breaches should of course be punished, but where the grenades are filled with the grist of legitimate expense transactions, the public has better things to seek information on from their elected representatives.

Certainly, Messrs Brandis, Joyce and Abbott have been warned: like it or not, they’re the first priority targets of the Labor opposition, and once the brouhaha over expenses dies off, there will be something else again thrown at them as the ALP seeks prized scalps. They will be on their guard, methinks.

But beyond that, this entire storm should go back into the teacup in which it belongs; cut MPs off from travelling altogether by all means, but don’t complain when you only ever see them on TV or handing out cards on election day if it ever comes to pass.

All sides of politics should take a deep breath and back off, agree once and for all on how to deal with these matters and stick to it, and then get on with something a little bit more constructive.

Hawke Elected, 5 March 1983: 30 Years Ago Today

SPARE a thought: it’s 30 years since Bob Hawke led the ALP into office, just seven and a half years after the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s government and the shattering electoral defeat of 1975; 1983 heralded change in Australia, and its impact on politics could never have been foreseen.

It was the election Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser should never have called; popular mythology had it that Fraser was simply too slow off the mark on the morning of 3 February, when Labor leader Bill Hayden resigned in favour of former ACTU president Bob Hawke a couple of hours before Fraser was granted his double dissolution election.

But the truth is that Fraser had wanted to go to the polls in December 1982 and was talked out of it by his cabinet colleagues. Had he done so, he would likely have been re-elected.

The Liberal Party retained a key marginal seat  (Flinders) in a difficult by-election that was held the day Fraser had wanted to go to an election.

This imbued Fraser and the Liberals with false confidence, as the result in Flinders also made certain a leadership change in the ALP; its unpopular leader Bill Hayden had already survived, narrowly, one leadership challenge from Hawke.

The Flinders by-election virtually guaranteed any subsequent challenge would succeed.

So Fraser — thinking he was locking Hayden in — called an election, and was soundly beaten by Hawke; it was the beginning of 13 years of Labor government, and Hawke’s would be just the second Labor government (after Whitlam’s) to see a Labor Prime Minister elected twice to office.

Labor bequeathed Australia a clutch of enduring reforms, such as the floating currency, financial deregulation and the dismantling of tariff barriers; it is questionable whether their primary architect — Treasurer Paul Keating — fully understood the far-reaching nature of these reforms, but this was lasting legacy of the Hawke government, and remains today.

These reforms, of course, were consolidated and built upon by the Howard government, in areas such as industrial relations, taxation, and prudential regulation.

It is reasonable to assert the Hawke/Keating years represent a zenith for the ALP which it will never revisit: the government’s reforms, so diametrically opposed to traditional Labor policy, have fundamentally changed the politics of the Left in this country.

We can see the results of this change today: the splintering of the ALP Left, which has sustained and grown first the Australian Democrats, and lately the Communist Party Greens; Labor has returned to its interventionist, tax-and-spend past, untroubled by economic rigour, and a preference for “social justice” at the cost of fiscal responsibility.

The Liberal Party, too, was changed by the 1983 result: descending first into a protracted period marked by leadership ructions and coalition infighting as it grappled with the reformulation of its economic policies, it emerged — finally — in 1996 to reclaim government a stronger, more resilient and arguably more durable entity than it had been since the retirement of Sir Robert Menzies 30 years earlier.

(If anyone doubts this, compare the 1974 and 1984 election results to that of 2010: nobody could seriously argue that the Liberals of 1974 or 1984 had commenced an inexorable march toward regaining government, whereas in 2010 I believe they did; indeed, had the Senate numbers in 1974 not been so favourable to Fraser, history may have played out very differently indeed).

As I said at the outset, I believe Fraser would have won an election in December 1982 against the hapless Hayden; but by the same token, just three months later I think Hayden would have beaten Fraser — he was probably right when he memorably proclaimed, after his resignation, that a “drover’s dog” could have won office against Fraser by that time.

The campaign is of historical note for a couple of things; the Ash Wednesday bushfires in the country’s south that wrought such destruction and misery — at the midpoint of the campaign — did nothing whatsoever to augment the fortunes of the Fraser government; indeed, the disaster probably hardened the resolve of voters in these areas against it.

But with unemployment, interest rates and inflation all rising as Australia was hit by the world recession of 1982-83, the final blow to Fraser’s credibility was self-inflicted; his remark that voters would be best served hiding their money under the bed if Labor won was devastatingly answered by Hawke, who simply quipped that people couldn’t hide their money under the bed — because that’s where the “Commies” (Reds, or Communists) were.

Subsequent events showed Fraser’s claim mightn’t have been as ridiculous as it seemed, given the assortment of state Labor governments that presided over the catastrophic collapses of financial institutions toward the end of the 1980s, John Cain’s in Victoria and John Bannon’s in South Australia especially. But at the time, the damage was done.

Victoria and South Australia were, ironically, the best-performed states for Labor in 1983, providing almost half of Labor’s 75 lower house seats between them.

And at the other end of the political spectrum, Tasmania not only stood by Fraser, but swung heavily to the Liberals as popular sentiment favouring Liberal Premier Robin Gray’s plan to dam the Franklin River saw Fraser government MPs widen their margins over Labor in all five Tasmanian electorates.

Malcolm Fraser today is a virtual pariah within the Liberal Party, roundly (and I believe correctly) dismissed as a left-wing bleeding heart whose views are totally out of touch with modern mainstream sentiment in Australia.

Hawke is a revered elder statesman in the Labor Party; his Treasurer and one-time friend, one-time foe Paul Keating succeeded him as Prime Minister and stayed there for five years before losing in a landslide in 1996.

Of course, Fraser’s Treasurer, John Howard — sarcastically dubbed “Honest John” by Keating — ultimately became PM too, but it took two attempts and more than ten years.

After a decade of rivalry with Andrew Peacock that culminated in him losing his leadership for six years in 1989 (and the Liberal Party going through three different leaders in those six years), Howard’s return in 1995 and his triumph in 1996 surely marked the closing of a circle in conservative politics that began to be drawn in March 1983.

Readers shouldn’t interpret my remarks tonight through the paradigm of serious analysis; I simply think that 30 years on from what was unmistakably a turning point in Australian polity and society, it is fitting to mark the occasion with some recollections and thoughts.

These are mine. If anyone would like to add to them, please feel free to comment.


Crawl Back Under Your Rock, Keating

It’s a new book providing the pretext for re-emergence this time…but for years, Paul Keating has behaved as if he was never booted from office. Reviled as Prime Minister, ultimately rejected by millions, it’s time for the “Lizard of Oz” to crawl back under his rock — and stay there.

Reading Paul Kelly’s interview with Keating in today’s Weekend Australian, it struck me that when it comes to the former PM, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mind you, unlike many conservatives — who regard Keating with visceral loathing and positive hatred — I have nothing against him personally, and whilst I’ve never met him, I’ve been assured by those who have that the published accounts of his personal warmth and charm are correct.

But his agenda is something I have a very large problem with — and so do those of our countryfolk who tossed his government from office in 1996 in one of the biggest landslides in Australian history.

And that agenda, it seems, is unchanged.

After the chaos of the Whitlam years, and after the patrician, right-wing authoritarianism that so coloured perceptions of Malcolm Fraser’s government (but infected few if any of its legislative achievements), the climate in Australia was ripe for the consensus politics ushered in following the election of the Hawke government in 1983.

Hawke was successful because he always sought to take the electorate into his confidence and to ensure that the majority in the political middle were carried with him.

I’ve always found it ironic that having been in politics throughout, and having witnessed these episodes in full — Keating was first elected in 1969 — that his government is looked back upon as one of the most divisive in our history, Whitlam’s own government (in which Keating was a minister) the only competitor for that dubious mantle.

Indeed, the agenda of Keating’s government was, in many ways, Whitlamesque.

Much of what Keating covers in his interview with Kelly I have no quarrel with, but eventually — and typically — the agenda resurfaces: the focus on the elites, the arts, the minorities, the republic, the insistence on Australia being an Asian country in preference to a focus on more traditional links…all the stuff that left the majority of Australians feeling alienated, overlooked, and forgotten.

The people who elected John Howard on slogans like “For All Of Us” and “Building A Better Australia Together.”

It might surprise readers to know that my objective is not to tear the Keating agenda apart — that’s no longer necessary, receding in the rear-view mirror of history as it is.

Rather, my point is to question the relevance and value of former leaders like Keating, who resurface at intervals to share the benefit of their “wisdom” long after they were despatched at the ballot box.

Bob Hawke and John Howard surface very infrequently; Howard’s messages are generally limited to the economic management credentials (or otherwise) of the ALP; Hawke’s typically limited to comment on issues facing his own party.

It’s a moot point these days when it comes to Gough Whitlam, now aged 95 and obviously in the twilight of his life.

And Kevin Rudd, still a serving cabinet minister — a vocation that will lead God alone knows where — is best overlooked in the context of this discussion.

But Fraser’s noblesse oblige-driven agenda since leaving office has seen him increasingly resemble an unreconstructed socialist more so than the small-l liberal he purports to be, and certainly more so than the right-wing authority figure he was characterised as in 1975.

And then there’s Keating, clinging determinedly to the minorities, the elites, the republican ideal, and to Asia.

It’s certainly true of Keating that he sees his place in Australian history and is prepared to fight for it; it’s also certainly true that he has — and had — a vision for Australia.

The problem is that his vision was not shared by the men and women of Australia, who terminated his tenure in 1996. The truth be told, they would in all probability have terminated it three years earlier, had Keating been faced by anyone other than the politically useless John Hewson at the 1993 election.

At what point does the relevance of an agenda such as Keating’s cease?

Malcolm Fraser these days is widely viewed as completely out of step with majority opinion in Australia; his party had moved on from him long before he moved on from it; and his views are hardly taken seriously in political circles today (except, perhaps, by the Greens).

It is well-known that Keating could never accept the legitimacy of Howard’s government or of his own defeat; whether through arrogance or denial, or sheer strength of conviction, he remains determined that he was right and that even now, more than 15 years later, that Australia should embrace his vision and his agenda.

The point is that I question how much value — if any — is added to political debate by beaten leaders endlessly trundling their wares in front of an electorate which has assessed their wares, and passed judgement on same at an election.

I will, in all likelihood, get a copy of the Keating book and read it, perhaps over Christmas.

But I do think that having made their contribution — the merits or otherwise not in question — the likes of Keating, Fraser et al should retreat from the field, and let the current generation of elected representatives get on with doing what they are charged with, and for the reasons they have been allocated those tasks by voters: running the country.

And so, to use the vernacular, I think Keating should crawl back under his rock; for the self-styled “Placido Domingo” of Australian politics, the show was over many, many years ago.

What do you think?

A Historical Perspective On Gillard Labor

Having for the first time been able to log in at home, I thought it worthy to talk about Julia Gillard’s government in the historical context of leadership coups and their consequences.

Previously, I described Gillard’s government as being in deep and deepening trouble. I won’t cover that in one post. However, the problem logging into my blog has had an unintended consequence: it has rendered the recent federal budget irrelevant.

And politically, irrelevant it is. The issues with Gillard’s government are identical after the budget to what they were before. Reinforced, but identical.

Looking through the history of federal government in Australia, what happened in the ALP in 2010 is an anomaly.

Since the two-party system stabilised 100 years ago, a coup attempt against a Prime Minister by a member of the same party has only ever succeeded outright once: in 1991, when Paul Keating beat Bob Hawke.

There were only three other attempts: in 1982, Andrew Peacock’s challenge was defeated by Malcolm Fraser, but the consequent blow to Fraser’s authority was one of many factors that led to his defeat the following year.

In 1969, after a swing of 7% against the government — which survived the election despite losing most of the (then) largest majority in Australian history — Bill McMahon unsuccessfully challenged John Gorton for the Liberal leadership.

Of course, McMahon succeeded on his next attempt (by virtue of Gorton’s dubious casting vote) eighteen months later, which probably put the last nail in the coffin of the ageing Coalition government and helped gift power to Gough Whitlam.

In recounting history, a pattern emerges: the voting public don’t go along with this sort of thing.

In Australia, whilst we don’t vote for a Prime Minister directly, we know what we’re signing on to when we wander into the polling booth and mark the paper. It’s the reason “preferred Prime Minister” polls exist.

People vote for a government and a leader. Whilst the relationship isn’t what, say, the Americans feel for their President, there is still a passive, unspoken consent that the elected Prime Minister is just that.

The concept of tearing down a Prime Minister mid-term, wilfully, with forethought and intent, appears not to sit well with the Australian electorate.

History will judge Billy McMahon on many criteria, but he did himself, and the Liberal Party, no favours in his naked pursuit of his ambition.

Andrew Peacock, by contrast, had reasons rooted, rightly or wrongly, in his view of the conduct of Fraser and saw it as his duty to challenge. He failed, Fraser lost the ensuing election, and Peacock later led the Liberal Party to two election defeats in 1984 and 1990. The latter was the first of two so-called “unloseable” elections.

Keating is a different. Consensus dictates Bob Hawke was finished by mid-1991. In the face of what the commentariat deemed a young and talented liberal leader in John Hewson, he was wrong-footed.

Faced with Hewson’s “Fightback!” package, Hawke was gazumped, and clueless as to how to deal with it.

Enter Keating as PM on the second attempt. He correctly assessed Hewson as a political lightweight and set about dismantling Hewson piece by piece.

It is a matter of history that Hewson imploded under the pressure. A week from the 1993 election, he spent two minutes gibbering, unable to answer an interview question from Mike Willesee about whether a cake would be cheaper under GST.

Keating won in 1993 solely because he was faced by the worst political salesman in at least 30 years to have masqueraded as a Leader of the Opposition (Mark Latham, a decade later, would claim that mantle, but I digress).

The point is, whether by Keating’s guile or Hewson’s incompetence, Keating got away with something nobody had. Of course, not six months later, his treasurer presented the most electorally dishonest budget in Australian history with tax rises, vast public sector borrowings, and contempt for the mainstream in favour of fringe interests, and at that point the 1996 landslide against him was irrevocably sealed.

And Gillard…say what you like about Kevin Rudd (I detest the guy) but he was a first-term Prime Minister who’d won a modestly comfortable victory over arguably the best Prime Minister Australia has had in nearly 50 years.

Then the polls turned sour, the magic disappeared from the numbers, and the hatchet men emerged from the shadows…

Tony Abbott was ridiculed when he coined the term “Sussex Street Death Squads.” Yet to look at the recently-dispatched ALP government in New South Wales (four Labor Premiers in five years), he was right. The same ultimately unsuccessful tactics were transferred to the federal party.

The 2010 election result has much to do with contempt for the type of leadership change, within a governing party, that was ruthlessly executed by Julia Gillard and her minders.

Everyone gets a second term, don’t they? Look at 1931 if you think that. Tony Abbott is unelectable, isn’t he? Look at the polling numbers his predecessor posted for months if you believe that.

Add 1500 votes across three electorates, and Abbott would be Prime Minister today. He achieved a 7% swing on the six-month average poll results of his predecessor. Polls on their own are meaningless, but in a bloc, over time, they are a powerful tool.

Since last year’s election, Gillard’s government has shown itself as incompetent, incapable of communicating anything meaningful, out of touch with mainstream opinion, and guilty of extreme political ineptitude.

The point — long-winded, perhaps — is that mid-term assassins don’t win in Australia.

That possibly the most reviled cabinet-level politician to ever hold office in Australia — Keating — could pull the feat off and win a subsequent election speaks more to his opponent than it does to him or the merits of his coup.

Gillard is a dead person walking; an election would finish her. She knows it, and the independents who prop her up in office know that it wouldn’t just finish her, but it would finish them also.

If the truth be told, she’s already finished.

But there is more to this…and so next time, when I can access my blog at home, we’ll look at some of the other reasons Julia Gillard is in virtually irretrievable trouble.