The School of Athens

The School of Athens
The School of Athens by Raphael (click on picture to view short documentary from Columbia University)

Thursday 7 April 2011

Strange days indeed, most peculiar mama.

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics 2011.

It's been an interesting time in Australian politics to say the least.

A huge rejection of the NSW Labor Government saw the election of the O'Farrell Coalition Government with the largest swing in Australian history (approximately 15 per cent), resulting in the highest percentage of seats held by one side of politics in the NSW Legislative Assembly in history (approximately 74 per cent).

As a result there have been many pronouncements made.

The most ridiculous has been that this is the end of the ALP, not only in NSW, but across the nation.

Yet, it was only in 2007, when the ALP won the federal election and held power in every state and territory and Campbell Newman, as Lord Mayor of Brisbane, was the highest Coalition office holder in the nation (we will return to him later in this piece), that we were told it was the end of the Liberal-National Coalition.

Such pronouncements are as common as they are foolish.

In 1972, following the election of the Whitlam Labor Government, we were told that the 1970s was to be the decade of Labor; yet within three years the ALP was again out of office, defeated by Malcolm Fraser's Coalition.

In 1975, following the landslide victory by the Coalition, we were told that federally the ALP would again be out of power for a generation (referring to the 23 year period from 1949 - 1972 that the Coalition was in power); yet within five years Bill Hayden came very close to winning in 1980 and Bob Hawke did win a landslide victory in 1983.

In 1990 we were told that no federal government could win an election with interest rates at 17 per cent; yet the ALP won.

In 1993 we were told that no federal government could win an election with unemployment over 10 per cent; yet again the ALP won.

Following the 1993 federal election we were told that the ALP would now be in power for two terms as the economy was recovering well; yet John Howard won a landslide victory in 1996.

Following the 1996 federal election we were told that the ALP had no hope of winning for many years and that the Howard Government would be unassailable; yet in 1998 the ALP achieved 51 per cent of the two party preferred vote and came very close to winning.

Perversely, we were simultaneously told that no government could win an election proposing a new tax; yet in 1998 the Howard Government did just that.

In 2004, when the ALP lost its fourth federal election in a row, we were told that it was the end of the ALP; yet in 2007 they went on to win in a landslide.

Then in 2007 we were told that it was the end of the Liberal-National Coalition: yes, this is where we started.

Is there a pattern emerging?

At a state level such pronouncements are equally as common and just as foolish.

In 1976 the ALP "brand" (the term was not used then, but the inference was there) was so terminally damaged, following the federal events of 1975, that it would be very hard for the ALP to win an election anywhere.

Yet in May 1976, six months following the dismissal, Neville Wran's ALP recorded a 6.8 per cent primary vote swing to defeat the NSW Coalition Government.

In December 1976, almost twelve months to the date of the 1975 federal election, the Tasmanian ALP Government was returned, in a state where all five federal seats had been lost by the ALP to the Coalition only one year before.

In 1981 the ALP Wran Government in NSW won the second of its "Wranslides" recording 58.7 per cent of the two party preferred vote and 70 per cent of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, this, we were told, would make the NSW Coalition similar to the Queensland ALP, electoral non-perfomers (without the gerrymander).

Yet, in 1984 Nick Griener's Coalition recorded a 6.3 per cent two party preferred swing and in 1988 a further 8.4 per cent two party preferred swing to win an historic victory with 56 per cent of the two party preferred vote.

As for those electoral non-performers, the Queensland ALP, they won an historic victory in 1989 under Wayne Goss, recording 54.3 per cent of the two party preferred vote and claiming 60 per cent of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, which lead to a period where the ALP was in power for 20 of the next 22 years.

What does this tell us?

That the two party version of democracy that is practised in Australia works very well and that the major political parties are a great deal more resilient than they are given credit.

Nearly forty years of misguided pronouncements is the proof.

The NSW Disease?

Another ridiculous pronouncement that has emerged following the NSW election is that the NSW ALP is riddled with a peculiar disease that for some strange reason only infects it, and actually a subset of it - the NSW Right.

What a load of old codswallop!

I agree there is a disease, and I also agree that the NSW ALP is heavily infected, but they are not alone.  This is a disease of modern politics, not only the NSW ALP Right.

I have written extensively about this problem in "Take me to your follower" see here  in "The marketing malady that plagues politics" see here and in "Truth: The final frontier" see here

Where this belief emerged it is not clear, but it is without foundation.

What do they think is going on in Queensland right now?

We have a leader of the LNP, Campbell Newman, who is not even a member of the Queensland Parliament.  Is that not the most contemptuous and arrogant act, not only towards the elected members of the Queensland LNP, but especially towards the voters of Queensland?

What does anyone think drove that decision?  An inspiration from the cosmos or was it polling results?

As for the Coalition federally, does anyone seriously believe that the decision to completely disown any further industrial relations reform prior to the last election in a fatal confluence of death, burial and cremation, came from many hours of deep contemplation or was it driven by polling results?

Or the slogans "Stop the Boats" and "End the Waste" came from highly intensive intellectual investigation and was Australia's equivalent to Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, or from focus group research?

As for Julia Gillard's criticism of the Greens that they "..will never embrace Labor's delight at sharing values of everyday Australian's in our cities, suburbs, towns and bush, who day after day do the right thing, leading purposeful and dignified lives, driven by love of family and nation."

What can one say?  Except, shame.

Surely it's clear that this disease exists right across the political spectrum at both the state and federal level and eats away at the confidence the public has in its elected leaders.

Two leaders that are unloved, unliked and uninspiring.

The direct consequence of this disease is the poor satisfaction ratings of both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, as measured by Newspoll.

First a quick word on the polls.

Voting intentions, as recorded by polling, this far out from an election are not particularly meaningful.

The most we can say is that the quarterly state breakdowns from Newspoll and Nielsen aggregated and weighted (Oct-Dec 2010) and (Jan-March 2011) show that the last quarter of 2010 indicated the most likely election result would again have been a hung parliament (assuming the Independents and the Greens held their lower house seats).

The first quarter of 2011 showed that the most likely outcome was that the Coalition would have been able to form a small majority government (again assuming the cross-benchers all held their seats).

You could assume, however, that both the Coalition and ALP might have picked up at least one of those cross-bench seats, though this would only have improved the Coalition's position, it would not have enabled the ALP to win the election.

Therefore, the best we can deduce from the current polling, notwithstanding the "movements" in the regular published polling, is that the electorate is still divided but that the Coalition has improved its standing since the August 2010 election.

More telling, is the poor standing of both the leaders.

The average of the last three Newspolls recorded Gillard's satisfaction rating at 39 per cent and her dissatisfaction rating at 49 per cent, a net figure of (-10).

For Abbott it is even worse, his satisfaction rating is at 36 per cent and his dissatisfaction at 53 per cent, a net figure of (-17).

This translates to about 1.4 million more people dissatisfied with Gillard's performance than satisfied, and 2.4 million more people dissatisfied with Abbott's performance than satisfied.

These are terrible numbers.

1.4 million is the equivalent to the populations of Adelaide and Hobart combined, and 2.4 million is equivalent to the populations of Brisbane and Canberra combined.

Something to think about for the party strategists as they wade through yet more "intelligence" trying to determine their parties' next "clever" move.

The two biggest sooks of Australian politics.

Not too much to say here except: Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott.

Have you seen two more bitter men at not having won their respective contests - leadership for Rudd and the election for Abbott.

Sulking is not an endearing quality even from a two year old child, let alone one man who was the Prime Minister and one who aspires to be. 

News-flash gentlemen - grow up, you lost, move on.

Whatever criticisms can be made of Julia Gillard, sulking is not one of them.  Take note boys.

For the benefit of those who would like to see examples of what true leadership and inspiration from an elected official looks like, please see these links:

On long term vision and goals: see here

On matters of social injustice: see here

On taking care of the planet: see here

On protecting peoples' liberty: see here 

So to conclude, these have been strange days indeed, most peculiar mama see here


  1. IS the problem the importation of "marketing" into politics? Are they now so caught up in focus groups, negative messaging and so on they can't see the wood for the trees? Gillard and Abbott are both unpopular for a reason - they both "rolled" the previous imcumbent who like it or not in both cases had respect (if only grudgingly) from a fair proportion of the public.

    So the LNP "faceless men" in Queensland try the same thing again - only this time the person chosen (who never really identified himself with the LNP in Council elections) isn't even in the State Parliament yet! The thing is that Newman is not universally popular in Brisbane (and he is seen as Brisbane-centric across much of Queensland).

    How do they make Newman acceptable outside Brisbane, will he win the seat of Ashgrove (it is a 7.something % margin) and will the rest of the LNP including Seeney playout the rest of the plan; e.g. Newman wins, accepts credit, becomes Premier and we all live happily ever after. I reckon that there will be fissures that effectively scuttle the "cunning plan" within 12 months - regardless of Bligh calling an election or not.

  2. Yes, that's a large part of it. But those who have imported the 'marketing' don't understand its principles and so are floundering. I wrote about this in "Take me to your follower."

    The QLD LNP move dwarfs anything the NSW ALP did. At least their new leader was in the Parliament.


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