Former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss Dead At 63

BY NOW most of Australia has heard the news that former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss has died today, aged just 63, three weeks after the passing of his idol Gough Whitlam; the former Premier deserves acknowledgement for some worthy reforms in Queensland, but sober consideration of the shortcomings of his government — and its legacy — should temper the torrent of praise and adulation his passing continues to elicit.

First things first: I was genuinely moved this morning to learn that former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss had died after a decades-long battle with cancer, aged just 63; younger than both of my parents (and elected Premier when younger than I am today), the ebb and flow of time sometimes manifests itself in unpleasant ways, and in unfortunate and untimely events such as this one.

Despite being a proponent of “the other side” and representing an early first-hand experience of “real Laborites,” readers know I am emphatic that members of Parliament of all political persuasions are to my eyes human first, and adherents of whichever political creed they follow after that; and in the case of Wayne Goss, I am eager to extend my condolences and very best wishes to his family at what I am sure is a very difficult time indeed.

Yet this ALP trailblazer — Labor’s first Premier in Queensland in 32 years, and whose election (by his own declaration) ended forever the Bjelke-Petersen era — leaves behind a mixed legacy: some good, some not so good, and some ghost stories best left untold.

I met Goss in 1989 six months before he won the state election that December: as a senior student, I organised (on separate occasions) visits by Goss and by Liberal leader Angus Innes to our high school; Innes was a personal friend, but it was the first (and only) time I had met Goss, and whatever reservations I had about him politically, I can honestly say that I found him engaging, perfectly charming, and a highly intelligent speaker and conversationalist.

Even so, I’m not going to indulge either Goss’ memory or the staunch band of slavering sycophants out in force tonight with any drivel about lights at the end of tunnels, silly catchcries about the “Goss Gloss,” or a lot of the other rubbish that has already consumed far too much space in news portals not just in Queensland, but across the country.

But by the same token, I am neither going to catalogue the successes of his government, nor — out of respect — itemise its failures, aside from noting that in spite of the best PR efforts now being orchestrated to the contrary, the latter list would be considerable, and perhaps longer in the end than the former.

The Goss government was a modestly effective outfit that quickly became engorged on the same trappings of office it pilloried its predecessors for indulging in, and what might have been a shiny new beacon of public administration in 1989 was a discredited entity that had well and truly lost touch by the time it slid from office six and a half years later.

Its defeat came despite “fair” electoral boundaries introduced on its watch in 1992 which, to this day, retain a bias toward the ALP of somewhere between 2% and 4%: an indictment on a regime elected on a promise to make elections in Queensland fair and transparent.

And in addition to launching such objectionable and loathsome specimens as Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd on an unsuspecting Australian public, I contend Queensland Labor from that time onwards carries a heavy responsibility for shaping much that is wrong with Labor politics — and Australian politics more generally — now.

Its vicious brutality and its culture of petty, narcissistic populism — coupled with a penchant for photo opportunities and an unreasoning mentality of never being wrong — are all traits that find their modern genesis in the operation conducted by then ALP state secretary Wayne Swan to elect Labor in Queensland in 1989 for the first time in 32 years, and which have subsequently infected the ALP nationally and poisoned to a great degree the politics of this country and the esteem in which it is held by a battle-weary electorate.

To give credit where it is due, it must be acknowledged that much of the entrenched infrastructure of institutionalised corruption, which had been allowed to fester in Queensland under the Bjelke-Petersen government, was demolished on Goss’ watch; in its place was an attempt — sincerely contrived, I believe — to restore honesty and transparency to public administration in the Sunshine State.

Sometimes it succeeded, and sometimes it didn’t.

But his government was nowhere near as good as its proponents might argue; and in many cases where great success has often been credited, reality has been found short of the mark.

It is to be hoped that Goss — first diagnosed with a brain tumour 17 years ago — is able to rest in peace.

But unlike Whitlam, his legacy does not warrant the great magnanimity and goodwill the passing of the former Labor Prime Minister elicited; and whilst not unsympathetic to those around him — including his former colleagues, and even those whose politics I viscerally detest — I cannot bring myself to pen any kind of eulogy to his record in office.

Rightly or wrongly, the Goss government did what it was elected to do, and in the chief interests of those who voted for it. Beyond that, it did few people any favours. On the former count it did no more than was expected of it, and on the latter nothing to warrant any accolade of greatness or inclusivity.

And it certainly made no attempt to heal the raw wounds and divisions in Queensland from the tumultuous final years of the 1980s which immediately predated its ascension to office.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: Wayne Goss was elected as Premier at a state election in Queensland on Saturday 2 December 1989; he was not — as has been widely  written in the publications of both Fairfax and Murdoch today — elected on 7 December: that was the day he was sworn into office, along with his ministers. To the journalists responsible for this basic error of fact (and/or for copying each other’s work) I simply have to say this. GET IT RIGHT!

 

Victoria: Surprise Lead Over Napthine For Andrews And Labor

DAYS AFTER federal Labor suffered one of its heaviest electoral defeats — including a savage swing away from it in Victoria — the state ALP has found itself with a small lead over the Napthine government in the latest Newspoll. The result suggests federal Labor will no longer constrain its state divisions.

It is difficult to know what to make of the first Newspoll, after a federal election, in a state where the Coalition has seemed increasingly ascendant, and where a first-term Labor opposition has snatched an election-winning lead in that Newspoll.

But it has happened; and despite boasting one of the most lacklustre public figures ever presented as a party leader in Daniel Andrews, Victorian Labor has managed just that.

The latest bi-monthly Newspoll of state voting intentions — to be published in today’s issue of The Australian — finds the ALP’s primary vote climbing three points since June to sit at 38%; the Greens are up a point, to 13%, while the Coalition has slipped three points to 37% and support for “Others” falls two points, to 8%.

On two-party preferred figures, this equates to a 51-49 lead to Labor after preferences; it also represents a 2.6% swing back to the ALP based on the numbers it recorded at the state election in late 2010.

Nothing in these movements is beyond the margin of sampling error, and it could well be a case of statistical flutter.

However, given the Coalition required 51.6% of the vote after preferences in 2010 to secure the narrowest of wins under former Premier Ted Baillieu, these numbers are ominous for the state government.

Its Premier (and Baillieu’s replacement) Denis Napthine continues to rate extremely well, now seven months into the role; his approval number is steady at 53% and his disapproval rises five points in this poll, to 31%, which is probably just a sign that Victorians are moving out of the undecided column as they form their opinions of the new-ish leader.

By contrast, Labor leader Daniel Andrews remains one of the best assets the Liberals have to work with.

His approval rating does rise in this poll, to 38%, with those respondents disapproving falling by two points, to 32%; even so, after almost three years in the role, Andrews remains confronted by the fact that two-thirds of Victorian voters either have no firm opinion of him or disapprove of him outright.

And that’s hardly a surprise, given he’s a show pony whose three tricks are a) to talk about a circus analogy, b) to tell reporters he’s asking questions that Napthine has to answer, as if this is the God-given word on any subject he deigns to discourse upon; and c) to play the man — Napthine — instead of the ball.

The one exception of late has been the frenzied attacks he makes on Melbourne’s East-West Link, an $8 billion piece of road infrastructure Napthine is determined to build, and which will begin a slow process of alleviating road infrastructure bottlenecks in inner Melbourne that were allowed to accrue and stagnate under the last Labor government.

And his motives for the attacks on East-West Link aren’t difficult to ascertain: its path directly or indirectly affects four usually safe ALP electorates in inner Melbourne that are now at perennial electoral risk from the Greens, whilst construction of the Link would win the Coalition votes in seats further east, including at least two currently held by the ALP.

In any case, all of these factors probably feed into Newspoll’s “preferred Premier” measure, which sees Andrews (on 25%, down 1%) continue to trail Napthine (47%, down 2%) by a wide margin.

Labor will take little solace in its lead in this poll, when it is remembered that as poor a leader as Andrews is, there are few (if any) MPs in the party’s ranks who might be considered more electable.

Which is just as well for Andrews, because he may be about to get his big chance.

Former Liberal MP for Frankston turned Independent, the controversial Geoff Shaw, was yesterday charged with 23 counts of alleged misuse of his taxpayer-funded vehicle in the latest instalment of a scandal that has been running for more than two years.

Shaw’s fate is important because if he is forced to leave Parliament (or chooses to do so ahead of next year’s election) the resultant by-election would be difficult for the Liberal Party to win, given Frankston sits on a slender 2.1% margin.

And in turn, any Liberal loss at such a by-election would render the Parliament unworkable, with Labor presently holding 43 seats to the Coalition’s 44, and Independent (but generally Liberal-aligned) Shaw the difference.

Such an outcome would likely set in train an early state election, despite Victoria’s fixed four-year parliamentary terms — and if the numbers Newspoll has published are any guide to the true inclinations of the electorate, Napthine would be in trouble.

(Readers can access the Victorian Newspoll tables here).

It is safe to say that beyond East-West Link and the Shaw matter, the only other major issue that may influence the findings of this Newspoll is the obvious one — this month’s federal election, at which Labor suffered a heavy swing of some 4% in Victoria after preferences that has delivered at least three, and possibly four, seats to the Liberals.

And given the surveys were mostly conducted prior to Shaw being charged (or, at least, prior to the news of it becoming public), these numbers raise an interesting prospect.

With the Coalition now back in office federally, are we set to see a resumption of what has (more or less) been a trend since the early years of the Howard government of state governments swinging toward the party in opposition in Canberra?

Elections early next year in South Australia and Tasmania will be telling.

But as I said at the outset, it’s a little difficult to know what to read into a poll like this, timed as it is alongside the peculiar conjunction of circumstances in which it sits.

Yet the conventional wisdom, increasingly, has been that since taking over as Premier, Napthine has led the Liberals back to a position of dominance over Labor, with re-election next year increasingly looking an odds-on bet.

If something has thrown a spoke in Napthine’s wheels, I suspect it won’t take long for the responsible issue to be revealed — assuming, that is, that Shaw doesn’t get in first.

 

Our Call: Tony Abbott And The Liberals Deserve To Win Tomorrow

THE CHOICE confronting voters in tomorrow’s federal election may not be perfect, but it is clear: after six years of inept, chaotic and at times deeply dysfunctional government, it is time for Labor to go; it has lost the moral imprimatur for office, and the Coalition has earned its likely election win.

Should Tony Abbott become Prime Minister tomorrow — as seems likely — he will be Australia’s fourth Prime Minister in just six years: the fifth, of course, if you count the separate tenures of Kevin Rudd in the position.

This damning statistic is itself a poignant indicator of the reasons Labor is no longer fit to hold office; racked by bitter internal divisions and riven by personal hatreds, the ALP’s focus for too long has been on its own house, rather than on governing the country.

For six years Australians have watched as a government, elected with a deep reservoir of public goodwill, gradually and spectacularly squandered the mandate it secured in 2007, bringing to an end almost 12 years of conservative rule.

And in the course of those six years, it has torn itself apart, and sold Australia out.

Tomorrow’s election must bring to an end, once and for all, the Rudd-Gillard era of ALP politics; Julia Gillard is retiring from politics at this election, and it would be in the best interests of both the Labor Party and the country if Rudd were to be defeated in his seat.

At the height of conservative disunity in 1987 — and of the infamous Peacock-Howard rivalry within the Liberal Party — Bob Hawke secured re-election, in part, by campaigning on the slogan that “if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country.”

The same sentiment applies to the Labor Party now.

The midnight ambushes and subterranean struggles in which Labor has indulged have crippled its government; the snap coup mounted by Gillard in 2010 was rewarded with three years of behind-the-scenes treachery from Rudd, and culminated in the dumping of Gillard ten weeks ago in sheer desperation as the ALP’s polling numbers heralded doom.

It must be remembered, too, that a sizeable component of the ALP caucus — perhaps, even now, a majority of its MPs — remains implacably and bitterly opposed to Rudd personally, and it is unclear how Labor could navigate a further three years in office without further leadership ructions and publicly spilt blood — even in Gillard’s absence.

Gillard’s deal with the Greens after the inconclusive 2010 election shattered the legitimacy of her government, and — through a litany of broken promises, made both to the public and to Independents who backed her in Parliament — the breach of trust with the electorate meant tomorrow’s election result was always going to be bad for Labor.

Nonetheless, the ALP comes to this election with some positives.

The Global Financial Crisis in 2008 will forever be trumpeted by Labor types as evidence of their credentials in economic management, and it is true that Australia avoided — very narrowly — the recession that swept the rest of the developed world.

We contend this had as much to do with the lingering effects of the mining boom as it did with any intervention in the economy by the Rudd government; even so, five years later, it is too late now for Labor to use these events to underpin its re-election bid.

And Labor under both Rudd and Gillard has sought to live up to its rhetoric on health and education, and it is indisputable that on health at least the National Disability Insurance Scheme is a good policy that deserves the bipartisan support it has elicited.

But too often, Labor’s policies have been poorly contrived, unfunded, botched, or simply motivated by class envy and old-fashioned nastiness.

It’s “Better Schools” policy — better known, colloquially, as “Gonski” — is a classic example of a reasonable idea that is poorly executed and consumptive of far more cash than there is in the till, with no credible explanation as to where the rest of the money might come from.

Its mining tax was so poorly designed that it raises, in round terms, no revenue; yet its effect has been to kill off confidence and investment in the minerals and energy sector — to Australia’s lasting detriment.

Its carbon tax — levied to appease the Greens for their support, in breach of an explicit election pledge not to do so in 2010 — has placed a disproportionate impost on businesses and families beyond any compensatory measures given, with the flow-on effect of stifling business investment, employment growth, and consumer confidence.

Labor has made a pastime out of hitting the self-made, the affluent, the business owner, the smoker, the self-funded retiree, and the family: by virtue of a jaundiced decree on who is “rich” and who is not, it has treated sections of the public like cash cows, and ripped them off accordingly.

And all the while, the ALP’s utter inability to manage money has left the country swimming in debt, with recurrent expenditures that in many cases deliver no tangible public benefit, and a budget deficit that threatens even the cherished AAA credit ratings Labor so callously trumpets.

It is true Australia’s public finances are in better shape than the rest of the world, as the government claims, and it is true government debt is lower based on the same comparison.

But just because the UK and the US and others are running debt levels close to 100% of GDP, it does not make it OK for Labor in Australia to run debt to 30% of GDP — not least when government debt six years ago was -5% of GDP, with $40 billion in the bank to boot.

The list of Labor’s misdeeds in office is, almost literally, endless.

The fracas on Australia Day in 2012, the defence of disgraced MP Craig Thomson, the sorry episode of the recruitment of Peter Slipper as Speaker, and the disgusting and baseless “misogyny” campaign waged against Tony Abbott all add to the general atmosphere of instability and incompetence in which the ALP has operated.

We could say more, but we know readers know the storyline all too well.

We see the Liberal Party — traditionally a party of strong economic stewardship — as ideally placed to steer the country through what loom as difficult economic times.

It is imperative that the federal budget, first and foremost, be repaired; and that efficiency, productivity, and value for money once again become the criteria on which taxpayer dollars are spent.

The Liberal Party presents with moderately conservative policies that are sensible and balanced, and will emphasise the repair of much of what Labor has mismanaged and damaged during its six-year spree through the gravy trough of government.

Some Coalition policies and programs are designed to be implemented over two terms, with a second term to be sought on the back of necessary reforms identified in the first; we see this as an accountable and democratic approach, and a welcome break from the impromptu and shambolic approach to government of the ALP.

And above all, Tony Abbott is standing on a pledge to restore trust and integrity in government: he deserves the opportunity to try, and we note that so low is the esteem in which politics and politicians are held — not least as a result of the present government — that any move to restore transparency and fidelity in government merits a chance.

With a record it can stand on only to hide, Labor arrives at tomorrow’s election politically and ethically bankrupt, having fought a brutal and despicably dishonest campaign, and with nothing of any meaningful substance to offer Australia.

It has run a scare campaign based on no more than lies about its opponents — lies it has adhered to, even when called on them, as it was a week ago by senior public servants angry at being politicised over the ALP’s “costings” of the Coalition “policies” it had fabricated.

Its resurrected leader, Rudd, is not a new leader, but a tarnished one, and has discharged both his duties as Prime Minister and his role as Labor leader in the same shambolic, egomaniacal and micro-managing manner that saw him dumped in the first place.

It is true that on policy, the Coalition’s aspirations are modest, to say the least: yet they have to be, for so poor is the state of the government’s finances it cannot promise more with any confidence such pledges can be delivered.

The Coalition and its senior economic team are to be commended — not condemned — for reserving the right to review the state of the books; the last time Labor left office in 1996 it left behind $100 billion in hidden debt, and there is good reason to believe the situation today will be much worse than that.

It goes to the core of the Labor Party’s credibility — or lack thereof — that having comprehensively trashed its economic bequest from Howard and Peter Costello, its central argument against a Liberal win tomorrow, in effect, is that the Liberals might fix the mess.

And it is true, of course, that there are question marks over some members of the Coalition team: just as there were over Labor six years ago, and just as there were over the Howard Coalition in 1996.

In any case, such considerations in no way warrant Labor’s retention of office.

In the final analysis, this election comes down to which of the two parties is most likely to deliver stable, competent and effective government, and on this count recent history provides the best answer to that question.

For 12 of the past 20 years, the Liberals ran Australia; they weren’t perfect, but the Howard government was arguably one of the best — if not the best — government the country has ever had.

By contrast, Labor was booted from office in ignominy in 1996, its hard-earned economic reputation in tatters; it spent 12 years waiting to fall back into government, and has since proceeded to wreak chaos on politics, government and governance in this country.

The Abbott government will have much to fix, and to restore, and to rebalance.

Tomorrow’s election will represent a triumph for the Coalition and for Abbott personally, who — despite the most vicious and unfounded campaign of vituperative abuse and personal attacks ever directed at a political leader in this country — has conducted himself with dignity, competence, and aplomb.

His opponents, in truth, have shamed themselves by their conduct, and lowered the standard of public discourse not just in relation to politics, but have sent the signal to the community that such low standards are acceptable. They are not.

We believe the Liberal and National parties deserve the opportunity to form government; this view is informed, equally, by the woeful Labor record on every conceivable marker, the realistic and sensible policies the Coalition is offering, its honest admission that harsh measures may be required once the true state of the books is revealed, and by — of course — our inherent political conservatism, which in this case seems well founded.

We recommend that all Australians support the Coalition tomorrow, by voting Liberal or National in the House of Representatives, and by voting above the line for the Coalition ticket in the Senate.

The Red And The Blue endorses the Liberal Party unreservedly to form government after tomorrow’s election, and looks forward to the commissioning of Tony Abbott as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia — as he rightfully deserves to be.

Victoria: Napthine Takes Poll Position In Latest Newspoll

NEWSPOLL has published findings from its latest bimonthly survey of state voting intentions in Victoria; conducted for The Australian, it finds the Liberal-National Coalition back in a winning position under new Premier Denis Napthine in a disastrous result for the state ALP.

For the first time in 12 months — since a 50-50 result last August, immediately prior to the poll ratings of ex-Premier Ted Baillieu heading into a tailspin — Newspoll is showing the Coalition under new leader Denis Napthine in an election-winning position, leading Labor 51-49 after preferences.

The result puts the conservative parties almost back to the support they recorded at the 2010 state election, at which they won 45 of Victoria’s 88 lower house seats (and an upper house majority) with 51.6% of the two-party preferred vote.

And with an electoral redistribution nearing finalisation — and new boundaries that would appear to favour the Coalition slightly, the creation of two new safe Labor seats notwithstanding — 51% may well be enough for Napthine to win if repeated at an election.

Newspoll shows the Coalition primary vote unchanged at 43% from its survey two months ago (Liberals 40%, +2%, Nationals 3%, -2%), Labor on 35% (-2%), Greens on 12% (unch), and “Others” on 10% (+2%).

Napthine’s approval rating moves up to 53% (+3%) and his disapproval to 26% (+7%); the trend continues Napthine’s solid start in the role under Newspoll, and reflects the fact more Victorians are forming an opinion of his performance: and his approval rating remains, solidly, better than double his disapproval number.

Opposition leader Daniel Andrews, by contrast, sees his approval rating drop seven points, to 35%; his disapproval number rises six points to 34%, whilst 31% of respondents remain undecided.

It suggests the spike in his numbers two months ago was a rogue result.

And on the “preferred Premier” count, Napthine (49%, +3%) heads Andrews (26%, +2%).

Readers can access the Newspoll tables here.

Taken overall, this poll offers tremendous encouragement to the Liberals; it vindicates the decision to replace Baillieu, and it validates the argument that Victorians — having tossed their long-term Labor government out three years ago — remain disinclined to restore the ALP to power if the governing party presents well enough for them to avoid doing so.

The issue of Liberal-cum-Independent member for Frankston,  Geoff Shaw, and the allegations of misconduct he faces remain an irritant to the government that does not appear to be hindering Napthine’s ascension to the Premiership.

Napthine has embarked on his role as Premier with great energy, and — whilst not exactly mirroring the whirlwind pace of the Kennett years — has recreated an atmosphere of excitement around Victoria, and a sense something constructive is happening.

The imminent commencement, for example, of the first stage of the East-West Link — connecting Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway to CityLink and the Western Ring Road — is the first major project commenced in Victoria for some years, and promises to be a boon to motorists in relieving the congestion that has steadily brought the city’s traffic to a standstill since Kennett’s removal from office.

And if the pace of Napthine’s Premiership — and the increasingly positive way in which it is received — continues at speed, then the Labor Party in Victoria faces a big problem.

I have written in this column previously –and repeatedly — that some of the utterances of Labor leader Andrews are juvenile, to the point of childishness.

He is a poor and vapid performer in front of the media, and after three years in the job could have been expected to polish his skills — and the suitability of some of his rhetoric — in this area.

He gives every indication of being completely out of his depth in a leadership capacity.

There is a time bomb lying in wait come next year’s state election campaign: Andrews’ own words as Health minister in the Brumby government, and a fracas at the time over doctored hospital waiting lists that is almost certain to come back to bite him.

Andrews exhibits no real evidence of a capacity to deal with these things.

But more worrying for Labor is the fact there is no clear alternative leader in its ranks.

When Baillieu was moved on, the Liberals had Napthine, deputy leader Louise Asher, Transport minister Terry Mulder, and Planning minister Matthew Guy (if a lower house seat could be found for him) who could all have seamlessly filled the role of Premier.

Labor has no such luxury, and no apparent leadership prospect — especially since former minister Tim Holding left state Parliament earlier this year.

And it must be said that any “bounce” for state Labor from Kevin Rudd’s return has, at the very least, been masked by the local ALP’s performance if these figures are anything to go by.

Given a state election is now a little over a year away in Victoria, these results will cause great consternation in ALP ranks, and especially because they simply resume a trend of bad numbers for Andrews and Labor that was interrupted by Baillieu’s demise.

If Andrews can’t lift his game there is nowhere else for him to go but downwards — barring an unlikely implosion on the Liberals’ part — and nowhere else for Labor to turn.

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.

Workplace Relations: Abbott IR Policy A Reasoned, Reasonable Start

TONY ABBOTT today released the Coalition’s Workplace Relations policy for the looming election; it retains the bulk of the Fair Work Australia regime with incremental changes only. Even so, Labor and the unions are up in arms, and they risk fighting a “WorkChoices” election campaign at their peril.

One indisputable measure of how far removed the Liberals’ new Workplace Relations policy is from WorkChoices can be seen in the reaction of Australia’s business lobby; it is not happy, and for the most part has been forthright in saying so.

The noises from the business community have been mildly positive, but muted; “a step in the right direction” best sums up the benign but non-committal response.

To listen to the Labor Party and the unions, however, you’d think the world was about to end; and given they are about to be hurled from office in a landslide, the end of the world as they prefer it to exist may well, indeed, be nigh.

I am talking of course about a crackdown on the trade union movement as a whole; a law unto itself and largely unaccountable in any meaningful sense compared to equivalent corporate entities, the days of doing what it likes and on its own terms, untroubled by standards of governance applied to the capital sector it so despises, will soon end.

This column heartily endorses the proposed re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, in addition to a previously announced Royal Commission into the trade union movement, as part of a co-ordinated assault on union corruption and to haul unions into line with the stringent regulations (rightly) applied to corporate governance in the business community.

Tony Abbott should be taken at his word in saying that the only people with anything to worry about from this policy is dodgy union officials and their supporters.

To some extent, the Coalition’s hand has been forced on Workplace Relations by the relentless (and to some extent, misleading) campaign the union movement waged against WorkChoices in 2007, whose impact was renewed by the reprise to the campaign in 2010.

Even so, the positions announced today by Abbott and his shadow minister, Eric Abetz, represent a moderate and sensible course between the Howard government’s WorkChoices regime and the present government’s Fair Work Act, which went so far in the opposite direction to WorkChoices as to roll back labour market flexibility to a point predating the then-controversial reforms of the Keating government in 1993.

Initiating a Productivity Commission review into the Fair Work Act to recommend labour market changes — which would be presented to the electorate in 2016 to obtain a mandate — should take the sting out of IR for the Coalition in the medium term, and provide a point around which to build a more consensus-based approach to reform beyond that.

The allowance of Individual Flexibility Arrangements, or IFAs, is welcome, and The Red And The Blue notes they will be permitted provided any worker entering into such an agreement is not worse off as a result — effectively restoring the “no disadvantage” test to individual contracts that WorkChoices abolished under the Howard government.

I believe there should be no impediment to employers and employees striking direct agreements to the betterment of both, by consent, rather than a legislated requirement for collective agreements based on a lowest common denominator.

That said, if Abbott’s political opponents insist on calling such agreements “AWAs” then so be it: such contracts were common many years before the advent of WorkChoices, and deserve to be so again as a mechanism to provide additional flexibility and cater for the specific circumstances of particular employment situations.

Abbott’s indication that penalty rates and unfair dismissal provisions will remain unchanged — at least for his first term — should be interpreted by the unions in particular as an opportunity to pull back from their confrontational rhetoric, and to explore potential avenues through which to work in partnership with the new government.

I am aware that such a statement may lead some to accuse me of hypocrisy; after all, I really do endorse the crackdown on unions that comes as part and parcel of this package.

However, the fiasco of the Health Services Union — and the cavalcade of criminal charges flowing from it — neatly highlights one area in which the union movement have enjoyed differential standards, and that variance needs to be eliminated.

And again, any unionist not seeking to engage in dodgy practices will have nothing to fear.

The response from the Left, however, has been predictable if not a little tired.

The Murdoch press reports that the Greens “immediately jumped on the announcement,” saying they would try to block the proposals, but their specific objection is difficult to ascertain beyond a vague reference to WorkChoices and — unsurprisingly — an attempt to co-ordinate their attack with the ALP.

“Labor needs to make clear where it stands before the election so voters know that the Greens would be able to block these laws if they come before the Parliament,” Greens MP Adam Bandt was quoted as saying.

“Tony Abbott is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The history of WorkChoices shows that the Coalition promises one thing and does something else in government.”

Julia Gillard’s response, in sum, was to talk about WorkChoices: a policy proclaimed “dead, buried and cremated” by Abbott prior to the 2010 election, and there is nothing in today’s announcement to encourage the view that that particular status will in any way change.

And ACTU President Ged Kearney zeroed in on IFAs — as she would, representing as they do the anathema to everything unions and their collective bargaining agenda stand for — before rattling on, at length, about WorkChoices.

Kearney indulged herself with a vitriolic and ideology-driven rant about the loss of pay and conditions, to the extent that it was difficult to believe she was talking about the same policy announcement: after all, the response from the business community should have been enough to knock that on the head, and even if it wasn’t, the changes announced by Abbott and Abetz are hardly what anybody could construe as radical.

Then again, this is the same Ged Kearney who recently told a meeting of teachers that the ACTU would launch a “pre-emptive strike” on Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party ahead of the September election — whatever that means.

And this in turn evokes the memory of the meeting between the ACTU executive and new Prime Minister John Howard at Parliament House in mid-1996, when Howard terminated the meeting exactly seven minutes after it started, as reports of ACTU protesters outside the building throwing projectiles and causing criminal damage as part of a “demonstration” filtered through to him in the conference room.

It’s clear that anything short of a re-elected Gillard government — which simply isn’t going to transpire — will see the unions itching to cause trouble; it is to be hoped that smarter figures within their ranks, such as ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver, are able to ensure cooler heads prevail and that talking is attempted first, at the very least.

There is a difference between commitment to a cause and a fight for beliefs and values, and embarking on counter-productive and organisationally suicidal crusades: I think Oliver knows the difference, even though I fundamentally disagree with his politics. It remains to be seen how many of his contemporaries are able to draw the same distinction.

My final comment is on the ALP, and touches on a colossal political mistake it seems hellbent on making.

Even Mark Latham wasn’t stupid or pig-headed enough to attempt to run a third consecutive election campaign on the GST; the issue had brought Labor close to an upset in 1998, but was politically useless to the party by 2001, and not worth revisiting in 2004.

This year’s election will be the third consecutive campaign the ALP has tried to turn into a referendum on WorkChoices: it worked in 2007, after Howard legislated WorkChoices without the policy rating a mention during the 2004 election, and after the union movement bankrolled and undertook a massive mid-term media blitz against the laws.

But I contend the issue was as good as neutralised by 2010, and nothing in today’s announcement will render any WorkChoices scare campaign in 2013 remotely credible.

The danger for Labor here is that all it talks about is WorkChoices; given its record on the economy — which nobody would stand on except to hide — it can hardly campaign on that.

Come 2016, if Labor is still talking about WorkChoices, it will confirm just how irrelevant — and beholden to the unions — the party has become.

And if it gets to that point, and Labor is still trying to win elections on WorkChoices, it’ll be a potent symbol of the malaise that now afflicts the Labor Party, and threatens to destroy it as a viable, broad-based party of the Centre-Left in Australian politics.

Latest Newspoll, 22/4/13: Unchanged LNP Lead, 55-45

NEWSPOLL, for tomorrow’s issue of The Australian, is showing an unchanged Coalition lead of ten points after preferences; the results mirror an Essential poll also released today, and both suggest that Labor’s signature Gonski education initiatives have been met with indifference by voters.

Newspoll finds primary support for the ALP unchanged, on 32%, with the Coalition down two points to 46%; the Greens vote has also shed a point, to 10%, whilst “Others” pick up two points to sit at 12%.

After preferences, this equates to a 55-45 lead to the Coalition, and as ABC election analyst Antony Green tweeted earlier, this in turn would translate into a Coalition majority of 40 seats if replicated on election day.

There are minor changes only to the approval numbers of the leaders picked up by Newspoll this fortnight, but — to the extent there is any change at all — its reflection is solely a negative on Julia Gillard and her performance as Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister’s personal approval rating rose by two points, to 30%, matching a 2% drop in her disapproval number, to 60%. Abbott’s approval figure lifted a point to 36%, with his disapproval rating dropping by the same margin to 53%.

And on the question of who would make the better Prime Minister, 40% of Newspoll respondents nominated Abbott for the third survey in a row; Gillard, by contrast, polled 35% (-2%) on this measure.

This latest Newspoll, with its 55-45 Coalition lead, places its findings on par with today’s Essential Research poll, which found the Coalition’s 55-45 lead unchanged from last week, and also its breakdown of primary vote support (L-NP 48%, ALP 34%, Greens 9%, “Others” 9%).

Taken overall, it can be seen the two surveys largely corroborate each other’s findings, and insofar as any real trend is concerned, it’s limited to the consolidation by the Coalition of its election-winning lead and to the slow drift away from Gillard personally that has been under way for several months now.

As I said in my introduction, it would seem that voters are unmoved by the proposed Gonski reforms outlined by the Prime Minister last week; certainly, there isn’t any tangible movement in these polls that can be ascribed to them one way or another.

And whilst Gonski was presented as Gillard’s showpiece (and crowning) glory on education, the fortnight has also been marred for Labor by more negative headlines over the state of the budget and over boat arrivals, and probably not helped by the ongoing fracas about “misogyny” — both from the accusatory perspective and, it seems, now as a feature of intra-party contests within the ALP as well.

At the time of writing, there is no information from Newspoll about voter attitudes toward the Gonski reforms (if it did, in fact, survey its respondents about them).

Interestingly, however, Essential asked two questions on the issue.

On the first, Essential outlined a summary of the Gonski recommendations, and asked its participants whether they supported or opposed them; 68% said they supported them with 13% opposed, with the remaining 19% in the “don’t know” category.

Significantly, the recommendations enjoyed the support of a clear majority across all parties’ intending voters.

Essential then posed a brief summary of Gillard’s proposed Gonski reforms to gauge support or opposition; this time just 40% were supportive and 43% opposed.

Unsurprisingly, Coalition supporters were against the reforms, 59-28. But ALP voters were less supportive of the reforms than the recommendations, and — a little strangely — respondents intending to vote for the Greens were split at 42% either way.

The findings suggest Labor still faces an uphill battle to be competitive in time for the election — with time rapidly beginning to run away from it now — and that the budget really is its last, final chance to even claw back a couple of points’ support given everything else it has tried in the past year has failed.

Sooner or later.

And a reliance on the budget to turn Labor’s fortunes is a desperate leap of faith indeed, with a Treasurer not renowned for his competence charged with framing an election budget against the backdrop of a likely $25 billion deficit this year, and portents of worse to come from his very own mouth.

It promises to be unedifying as best, and downright ugly at worst.

In the final analysis, it’s likely the case that, very simply, the present government has run its race in the estimation of the electorate, and nothing more or less than that.

Even so, with the budget just a few weeks away now, it will make Canberra-watching a very interesting sport indeed.

The same can be said, of course, for poll watching.