Excuses, excuses

I’m surprised no-one else seems to have mentioned the impact of state-level problems on Labor’s vote in the election. Right across the country, state-level issues ran against Labor. This partly reflects the fact that Labor is in office in every state, and in some cases, has been in office too long. But mostly, it was idiosyncratic stuff, that could have gone either way, but happened to go against Labor – even popular Labor governments ran into strife. Here’s my list

* In Queensland, the CEO of Energex committed suicide during the campaign. Although it was a complex story, it was tied to the failure to prepare properly for the blackouts that followed storms in January, which hurt the government

* In NSW, there were a string of hospital crises

* In Victoria, there was the broken promise over tolls on the Scoresby Freeway

* The Tasmanian forests were a state issue that split the general alliance between Labor and Greens

* The Gallop government in WA seems to be unpopular, though I don’t know the details of this

I don’t think these factors were enough to swing the election, but they could easily have added up to a 1 or 2 per cent swing, making the difference between an easy win for Howard and a narrow one.

9 thoughts on “Excuses, excuses

  1. John,
    All true I suppose but did it really matter? In Victoria Bracks has pointed out that seats in the northern and western suburbs, far distant from the ‘Scoresby corridor’ recorded significantly greater swings against the ALP. In Chisholm, immediately next to Deakin, there was a small swing to the ALP.

    As Max Weber observed ‘Politics is the slow boring of hard boards.’ and in this respect the ALP had not really done the hard boring over a long period of time to demolish the coalitions credibility on the economy and security. I think Hugh Mackay points to the real reasons here http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/10/10/1097346695661.html

    I share the outrage over the lies and dishonesty and inhumanity etc of Howard, but unless the opposition can create a deep seated and fundamental belief that they are better able to run the economy in a majority of voters, he will be hard to dislodge. This does not happen in 6 weeks.

    The ALP now has 3 years to expose the inherent weaknesses of the economy under Howard and assemble a coherent and convincing argument as to how it can do better. I would suggest that one important point might be to devise policies to deal with the consequences for the mortgage belt when interest rates inevitably rise. Perhaps financial institutions could share some of the pain as they have irresponsibly fuelled the present levels of gearing?

    On security, Latham was on the right track in the debate but populist cliches such as ‘troops home by Christmas’ on the spur of the moment are damaging. Perhaps Labor should, without resiling from it’s original correct and principled opposition to the war, be committing to an international effort to rebuild Iraq and restore security there.

  2. Pr Q, again, succumbs uses fact-free arguments in support of tendentious interpretations. Although I would grant that the TAS swing towards the LN/P was swung on a state-dependent issue, but not against the ALP State government. In fact, TAS was a kick in the teeth to the Federal ALPs defacto coalition with the GREENS.
    If the “Voters-respond-to-Bad-State-ALP-by-kicking-Fed-ALP-in-the-pants” theory were true then we would expect the worst State ALP governemnt to register the strongest anti-ALP swing. The NSW State ALP government is definintely more off-colour and stale than the others. It is also heavily vulnerable to interest-rate scares.
    The evidence does not support Pr Q’s theory. NSW was the second best ALP state, after SA. There was a small (0.7%) primary vote swing towards the ALP in NSW. This was a much better result than the average (~2%) national primary vote swing against the ALP.
    Bracks is one of the more popular State ALP leaders. No real scandals. Its hard to see a single freeway as being responsible for the state-wide swing against the ALP.
    There may be another kind of Fed-State counter-valency voting tendency at work. It is possible that voters wanted a Federal LN/P as check against State ALP hegemony.
    The best predictor of the Right-swing in VIC HoR was the LN/P’s interest-rate scare campaign needling being mortgage-belt voter hip-pocket nerves:

    In Victoria, a state that has remained strong for federal Labor through its years in the political wilderness, the strongest backlash against the party was from blue-collar areas.
    Victorian Labor state secretary Erik Locke said there were swings against the party in places where people were worried about interest rates.
    “The more interest-rate sensitive the area, the bigger the swings against Labor,” Mr Locke said. “Many traditional Labor seats are becoming increasingly home for new home-owners in Victoria.”


    The LN/Ps anti-Green scare was its most effective in terms of electoral-bang-for-campaigning-buck. This gave the ideological intitiative to the Right and also achieved a neat turn-around in preferences. Everyone expected the imploding DEMS to jump Left and land in the laps of the ALP-preferring GREENS. Instead most of the DEMS lurched Right, tumbling into the arms of the the LN/P.
    The reversal of fortune for the Left in the Senate is the most stunning result of the election. The Senate is the chamber where the mainstream voters have traditionally indulged heart-on-the-sleeve issues and tended to counter-valent voting as an accountability Check & Balance to the more hip-pocket nervy HoR.
    I predicted, against my instincts, an ALP-Left surge in the Senate. Boy was I wrong for ignoring my inner Howard-non-hater. For the first time in a generation, the mainstream majority has voted for a Conservative “Rubber Stamp” rather than a Progressive “Keep the Bastards Honest” in the House of Review.
    This is a direct slap in the face to the Cultural Left-progressive’s three year campaign portraying Howard as a conservative racist, militarist and a lying despoiler of democratic process.
    I sincerely hope that this election has pricked the Cultural Lefts Progressive Bubble.

  3. For NSW, under Bob Carr, add:

    1. Closure of Murwillumbah branch railway line, and refusal to accept money from Canberra govt to re-opn the line, during the course of the election.

    2. Axing of weekend rail services by 30% on the pretext of the wholly avoidable shortage of train drivers.

    3. Overall neglect of NSW public transport systems whilst public and private money is poured into tollway projects.

    4. His clumsy attempt at the start of this year to gain control of the Sydney City Council by forcibly amalgamating it with South Sydney City Council. This backfired on him when Clover Morre was elected Mayor of Sydney.

    5. Carr caught out misleading public over his decision to axe Orange Grove retail outlet, a competitor to Westfield, a contributor to the ALP.

    6. Failure to use state powers to save the ADI site from developers (see http://www.savetheadisite.bmt.com.au) (although the Feds are primarily responsible for this.)

    7. Overdevelopment of Sydney (see http://www.sos.org.au)

    8. Addiction of NSW treasury to income from problem gamblers.

    9. Last year, Carr overruling environment minister Debus’s efforts to introduce South Austrlian style legislation to introduce deposits for bottles and cans.

    10. Weekend Jailing of the Green peace activists who painted “No War” on the Opera House, together with a 100,000 fine. Of coourse this was done by the courts, but Carr’s inaction in regard to this stands in contrast to the outrage he expressed when the Land and Environment court prevented the shooting of a film in a World Heritage area.

  4. Can I change the focus a bit? These local political effects have large community costs.

    For example, opposition to Mr Brack’s approach to pricing the Scoresby Freeway makes sense from the viewpoint of economic theory since the prices are intended to cover costs not to internalise congestion. It is exactly the same with CityLink where pricing covers cost plus a margin to the operator, Transurban. Tolls are not lowered during off-peak periods so that traffic smoothing effects over the peaks are minimal. Generally tolls are too high.

    Melbourne’s congestion costs amount to billions of dollars per year. This is a potential tax base that could eliminate dependence on gambling activities as a source of public revenues. My suggestion would be to cordon price access to Melbourne’s CBD (a fairly broad cordon so that byproduct congestion effects won’t be concentrated around the perimeter) and then price the most important sources of congestion in Melbourne along the major arterials leading into the city.

    I am very sad at the way the politics of this thing have panned out. Bracks wants to replicate the stupidities of CityLink and the Liberals just want to score cheap points by arguing that, rather than user pays, the whole community should pay the cost of the particular roads. The Liberal argument is wrong too — all these arterials should be efficiently price to smoothe out the twice daily peaks that cause such avoidable costs to Melbourne’s commuters.

    The politics mean that rational arguments for pricing away traffic congestion probably will not win.

  5. The sad thing is that we have become a society where the four wheel drive is king – no consideration for others on the same road, dangerous to other users and protecting their own to the detriment of the pedestrians struggling along on foot and where size is might. The election shows why it has become so popular.

    The state issues may have bitten in Queensland but in Tasmania it appears to have been a reaction to the hamfisted last minute announcement of old growth forest protection which turned that state. The bait was set early by Howard and Latham lunged at last.

    Why were we treated to the scratchy of Peter Costello – when the real fear is that it won’t be Peter Costello but Tony Abbott who takes over the reins. It didn’t work last time why was it given a second run?

    Why weren’t the real fears of Australians over future wars in Iran and Taiwan and North Korea given any kind of run?

    The list of tables on how the family tax benefit would help a family was probably ignored by most and made no comment as to how a local candidate would help in a local area.

    Why did the Labour Party yet again let the PM dictate how and when and where a debate would be held – and make it so dreary that noone was interested in watching?

    That fear and self interest wins over optimism or anger has been clearly demonstrated. Go the Toorak tractor.

  6. The labor government in WA was stuffed a year ago,even before the electrical problem.
    Now they have an electoral problem,we love to hate them.
    They are cactus.

  7. I think Jill Rush’s penultimate sentence to be the best pithy explanation of the worst possible election result.

    In contrast, I found the discussion of the putative “stupidity” of the electorate in another thread to be unedifying, and itself stupid. This is just arrogant elitism, and contains the seeds of paternalism, or even totalitarianism.

  8. Of course you’re right about stupidity, Gaby. Better to talk about bounded rationality. But stupid is what we were all thinking on Monday. Oddly, the only person who came out and said it at my lunch table was our lovely, sweet, wise, tolerant protestant chaplain. After that we all felt better.

  9. James, to be candid, that was my initial reaction too. But this is not an explanation, and just leads to a silly ad hominem argument of a Pythonish sort. And then I couldn’t think of any truly stupid people I have met, even among those who voted for the Coalition.

    I mean how can so many who gave their preferences to the Coalition think that they would be better off over the next 3 years, given that the majority must be workers. Q.v. Tassie loggers and the CFMEU. My hunch, not at all revelatory, is that this is the core problem for the ALP going forward. How to regain its “base”, those voters with a natural social democratic inclination?

    Certainly not by “small targets” or appeasement. A start could be by using the 3 years in Opposition to vigourously and honestly prosecute what most readers would see as the real interests of the majority of the electorate, whether economic, social, industrial, political etc. Sort of how Latham started before becoming, in my interpretation, more timid. And hope for Coalition overreach.

    “Bounded rationality”? Is that the eco theory that agents are not always perfectly “rational”? I know our host has referred to it in his RBC post. How would it be applied here?

    By the way, I noticed the post that Australians are more wealthy. To the extent that this is due to house price increases on owner occupied dwellings, does it really mean all that much to one’s wealth in terms of quality of life?

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