Julia gives Libs head start in baby smooching marathon
Is there anything more to be said about Julia Gillard’s September 14 election announcement? Of course there is. As the dust starts to settle quite a few things are starting to become clearer. And one or two things have even come into sharp focus since the cabinet reshuffle.
Where do we start? Perhaps at the apparent finish line on September 14. Who will be PM? Will it be Julia or Tony Abbott? Or someone else? It also depends on whether Julia will still be leading the party on Election Day or whether, after a few more terrible opinion polls, there will be a move against her.
Julia may have named an election date, but that doesn’t mean she’s beyond challenge. Of course, her defenders will say that it would be disloyal to talk about a leadership challenge during a so-called “election campaign”, but this is still a phony election campaign.
The real election campaign usually begins when the Government enters the caretaker period once the Governor-General dissolves Parliament. Of course, that’s the precedent, but we live in a time where some precedents don’t mean very much. We have been told ad nauseam that it’s unprecedented for the PM to give away the election date so far in advance, but that didn’t stop Julia.
And that’s where it gets interesting. Julia claims that announcing the election date of September 14 was about giving the Australian voters “certainty”. Did the Australian voters even want certainty regarding the election date? It’s hard to tell. Given that it’s so far away, it’s a bit like when the kids ask their parents “Am I getting a present today?”
Simply telling the kids “No, not today, but you will in 227 days time” won’t keep them quiet for very long.
For the average voter, the date is just too far away to really mean anything. For the rusted on Labor voter, the more distant the date the better, one would think.
For the voter who has had enough of the government, it’s more likely to be seen as stringing out the saga for another 227 days. Those voters will probably only harden in their dislike of the government and they will simply wait, as they did in the 2010 NSW state election, to deliver massive swings against the Gillard government.
By announcing September 14 as the election date, Julia has effectively made the date a target for the opposition in same way that fixed-term elections in New South Wales make the election date a fixed target every four years for the opposition.
That’s not a problem for a strong Government, but the lead-up to a fixed date can become a death of a thousand cuts for a government which is struggling with waste, scandals or is in terminal decline.
The longer the opposition knows the “fixed” election date in advance, the worse it gets for Labor, for the simple reason that the opposition can preselect all its candidates and can start lifting their profiles in the electorates.
For opposition candidates, it’s all about name recognition in their electorates, and outside an election campaign that’s hard to come by as voters don’t expect or want them to sully the electorate with their posters. But with Julia having announced the election date, these opposition candidates will be given much more latitude to lift their profile or “campaign”, and may even be welcomed by those voters desperate for any sign that a change of government is within sight.
So while opposition candidates are chipping away in key electorates, Labor ministers will be stuck in Canberra trying to run their portfolios. These ministers will undoubtedly get nervous, especially when they remember what happened to John Howard in 2007. Maxine McKew was out in Howard’s electorate, lifting her profile, while he was busy running the country. She eventually toppled him, of course. If it can happen to a PM, it can certainly happen to a minister.
Dangerously for Julia, her ministers may spend the year being distracted by the goings-on in their own seats. Will policy-making suffer or will policies simply be developed with the upcoming election in mind? Even worse, will unpopular but necessary decisions be avoided entirely?
Or will we get a better quality policy debate, as predicted by Julia’s supporters? Perhaps the “debate” will degenerate into a slanging match between Julia and Tony about who is being more transparent and accountable about policy initiatives?
Hang on a minute - isn’t that what’s been happening already? In any event, there can’t really be any meaningful policy debate until after the May Budget as there’s no point talking about policy initiatives until we know how much money there is to play with.
Needless to say, the conspiracy theories will continue. Did Julia announce the election date to appear as a leader, or was she simply preempting any possible by-elections? Were the departures of two senior ministers just coincidental? What if any more senior ministers resign in coming months?
A flurry of resignations would not be a good look for Julia. While we generally don’t know why ministers or MPs resign before an election, it would be interesting to see internal Labor party polling in the lead-up to any such resignations on the government’s side.
One thing is for sure. If Julia wins the next Federal Election, many will claim to have been part of the electoral success. But if she fails she will be very lonely. That’s assuming she will make it to her designated election day.
In the meantime, there’s been one very interesting development - Chris Bowen taking up the small business portfolio. Few ever get the chance to correct previous wrongs, and even fewer have the courage to do so. Bowen will now get that opportunity.
Will Bowen rise to the occasion and finally deliver on the policy work developed in opposition with the help of leading competition and consumer law experts? We won’t need to wait very long to find out, as Bowen will need to move very quickly to do the right thing. After all, there’s an election coming up and Bowen will undoubtedly want to retain his seat.
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