It’s Time?

One of the odder claims about the Liberals’ electoral debacle in WA is that the “It’s Time” factor played a major role. Readers of a certain age will recall that Gough Whitlam used this slogan to suggest that, after 23 years and (by my memory) nine election victories, the LNP Coalition had been in office too long.

The Barnett government in WA had served only two terms. There have been a fair few one-term and two-term governments in recent history, as you would expect on the general assumption that both parties in an election have some chance of winning.

On the other hand, there have been plenty of governments running four or more terms (Howard and Hawke-Keating at the national level, Labor everywhere but Victoria and NT (three terms in each case). The only time I’ve heard the It’s Time story invoked was that of Howard. In all the other cases, the incumbent government’s defeat has been attributed (correctly, I think) to specific causes, such as asset sales. Does the “It’s Time” explanation only work for conservative governments?

Update: Unusually, there is some polling evidence on this. Around 27 per cent of respondents cited “It’s Time” as a factor, slightly outnumbered by those who cited privatisation.

26 thoughts on “It’s Time?

  1. Nah, in Barnett’s case, “it’s time” was a cop-out. I’m sure there were quite a few factors, but I’d be looking at falling house prices as the number one thing that got folks aggrieved. Which is sad, because the number one shibboleth in Australian politics is don’t get caught in government when house prices head south. And hence the mania for pushing them ever upwards from all tiers of government, and the ensuing social tragedy and waste. The mining boom collapse was so hard and fast nothing could be done. “It’s time” is always a proxy for “we stink”, whether fair or not.

  2. I agree the time factor was just a glib post-election rationalisation from a politician with no self-awareness. The reasons for the WA result are pretty clear I think – the completely gratuitous destruction of the Beeliar wetlands in the name of Roe8, the proposed sell-off of the WA state owned energy business, and the completely cynical preference deal with One Nation.

  3. @Droo
    Those factors were all important, as well as the massive blowout in state debt, and the high-handed approach of Colin Barnett as premier, who was dubbed ‘the Emperor’ by journalists and was generally depicted by cartoonists as either a Roman emperor or a military dictator.
    There were also infrastructure debacles with a new children’s hospital’s failure to open due to lead and asbestos contamination issues, water hygiene problems with the new Elizabeth quay development on the Swan river. Then there was the disunity in the Liberal party, with one leadership coup attempt in the past 12 months and frequent calls from within the Liberal party for the premier to step down.

  4. Below from Wiki a definition of rationalization – . Seems to capture WA and the coalition quite nicely.

    Amusingly neoliberal economists and politician have adopted this very term as one of their great mantras – not I suspect from psychology so much, as from sociology where it appears to have a slightly more defensible definition. (I assume they were trying to claim here a scientific aura – ironic these days when they rejecting science left right and centre and economics has proven yet again it is a flaky social science with empirical and mathematical trappings).

    But perhaps the early economic/political rationalists knew their nostrums were built on sand and so used this ironic double entrendre to prove they had a sense of humor albeit one that is wearing very thin.

    “In psychology and logic, rationalization or rationalisation (also known as making excuses[1]) is a defense mechanism in which controversial behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable—or even admirable and superior—by plausible means.[2] It is also an informal fallacy of reasoning.[3]

    Rationalisation happens in two steps:

    -A decision, action, judgement is made for a given reason, or no (known) reason at all.
    -A rationalisation is performed, constructing a seemingly good or logical reason, as an attempt to justify the act after the fact (for oneself or others).

    Rationalization encourages irrational or unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly unconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt or shame). People rationalize for various reasons—sometimes when we think we know ourselves better than we do. Rationalization may differentiate[clarification needed] the original deterministic explanation of the behavior or feeling in question”

    And further

    “According to the DSM-IV, rationalization occurs “when the individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by concealing the true motivations for his or her own thoughts, actions, or feelings through the elaboration of reassuring or self serving but incorrect explanations”

  5. With due respect to all, there’s a lot of self-serving rationalising here – and not just by Barnett.
    “Liberals lost because of [insert my pet issue(s)]…”

    I’m absolutely no expert on WA, but IMO the result is broadly what one might expect for a middle-aged Government given what has happened to the WA economy. (Perhaps slightly on the ‘large swing’ side, but also off a high/low base.)

    This is overwhelmingly tied to commodity prices as hc notes (but Harry throws in own pet perspective of ‘spending too much’.)

  6. In relation to the demise of the Howard government in 2007, the explanation is simple:

    1. The most important reason was that the Coalition succumbed to the temptation created by its Senate majority to politically overreach and introduce WorkChoices, thereby provoking a very effective mobilisation by the trade union movement.

    2. The next most important reason was the political salience of climate change and the clear advantage that Labor under Rudd had established over the Liberals under Howard on that issue.

    No “It’s Time” necessary to explain the result.

  7. You can’t put a specific time on “It’s time”. It was certainly time for many reasons when Labor won federally in 1972, and it was certainly time when Labor lost in NSW in 2011, when Labor won in Queensland in 1989 and maybe a couple of other cases. In all genuine “it’s time” cases, the government that loses is decrepit and/or corrupt.

    You can’t say that about Barnett and his government. They just weren’t very competent, and Labor offered a non-threatening alternative. WA is a naturally conservative state, and you’d expect the Liberals to be in government most of the time. But when WA swings, it swings viciously, rather like Queensland.

    Barnett could have won had he run a better government. In particular, how a state government that enjoyed a once-in-a-century resources boom managed not to put some of this windfall revenue away to be used when the inevitable bust came, and ended up with a big debt, is a wonder of our times.

  8. ‘It’s time’ is never a predictor of election results, but it’s an absolutely reliable retrodictor; after an election, people who want to seem as if they know what’s going on but don’t have any better explanation can always say that the government was defeated because of a supposed ‘It’s Time’ factor. After all, if the electors voted the government out, doesn’t that prove they thought ‘it was time’ to do so? So it’s a virtus dormitiva kind of explanation.

    Some years ago I tabulated Australian Commonwealth, State, and Territory election results looking for an incumbency effect; I found that incumbent governments were re-elected significantly more often than not, but I didn’t detect a steady decline in the effect over time. I don’t have the tabulation any more, but as I recall there was a limited drop-off in the effect; governments that had been in office less than five years were re-elected (I think) about 70% of the time, while governments that had been in office more than five years were re-elected (I think) about 60% of the time. So incumbency lost some of its value (for re-election purposes) after the first term in office, but not all of it.

    That incumbency effect is, of course, also retrodictive; the fact that incumbency has been an advantage in past Australian elections doesn’t mean it will be an advantage in future Australian elections.

  9. The reason the public keeps flip-flopping between Tweedlelib and Tweedlelab is that they are both essentially neoliberal capitalist parties. It is hard to get anything substantively different on economics out of them. It is very hard to get actual left of centre policies out of the modern Tweedlelab. Only when they finally have their faces rubbed in the ground of reality – the need for public ownership of utilities for example and the need to actually listen to what the bulk of the people want – do Tweedlelab do anything other than pander to their payola masters in the capitalist corporations especially, in Australia, Big Mining.

  10. @Ikonoclast Spot on. It’s instructive to look to the UK for a good comparison. Having lost votes in 4 national elections in a row, the British Labour Party turned to an avowedly more leftist and democratic leadership group, and have been pilloried up dale and down hill for it, by the political and media establishment. The idea that only the centre and can win, only the centre can deliver good government, is pure neoliberal fantasy, because the centre has sold out to further enrich the already rich as a matter of course. It’s hard to see something like that happening in Australia – we are way less damaged post-2008 and face nothing like the long term decline that Britain does. So good luck separating Tweedlelib from Tweedlelab! The former is smarmy, corrupt, but incompetent, and the latter is, at best, only on about knocking the roughest edges off the capitalist carnivore.

  11. @Ikonoclast

    The people are free to vote for non-neoliberal parties. But in election after election after election they overwhelmingly vote either L/NP of Labor. Unless one plays the false consciousness card, the explanation must be these parties appeal to the people, not all of them of course, but 75% to 80% of them.

  12. beggars on the streets,you beaut foot bridge over the river to the casino,sorry, the state of exciting big money “peoples” stadium, maintainance of trains and buses seemingly non existent, humungous state debt by the “we’re the better money managers'(yair right),piss poor rural phone reception,bloody great dog leg on riverside drive to take public land for private profit with the sop of aspirational achiever sprinklers of contaminated water for the littlies of the parents that can find a parking place to admire the internationalism of it all,stealth introduction of clean-and-green brand destroying gmo secret farms,(oh yers ,a map of all gmo growers will be released—-not),coppers really ropeable about staffing cuts,public really ropeable about how long it gets a cop to come to yet another burglary, private prisons having sprung for corruption moments,one of the last wetlands destruction going ahead for a unneccessary road in spite of ———-

    —–oh well, shall i go on and on and on?

    trying to put a slogan for or against the reason more than enough people said enough is just silly and the commentariat* does itself no favors in doing so.

    how “soviet”

  13. How about a doubling of the unemployment rate (now at 6.6%) and that realisation that thanks to the LNP they have nothing to show after a decade long boom. Got to blame someone. The sand gropers are not looking so smug now. Secession anyone?

  14. WRT the WA election: There has to be resentment at WA’s incredibly generous subsidisation of the rest of the country with our GST. The fact that Malcolm said he’s look at it, and then absolutely nothing happened – that would have hurt Colin.

    But also the Libs hurt themselves because in the last few elections they kept promising various flash public transport projects, which they would then renege on after the election. It got to be a bit of a joke. However when it came to Roe 8, a major road project, they were steadfast in pursuing this, bulldozing the wetlands even when they knew that the project would not go on under a Labor government. Colin was being a pig headed dog in a manger, and that is not a good look.

    Chuck in the privatisation of Western Power, pushed by a shady looking Mike Nahan, and leadership rumblings from Dean Nalder, big budget deficits, and they were well and truly cactus.

    And of course you had Nationals leader Brendon Grylls wanting to tax the miners and extra $5 per tonne of iron ore. The mining companies attacked good and proper, and Brendon lost his seat, but that sort of nastiness by the friends of the Libs would not go unnoticed.

    All that, and we haven’t even got to the malign effect of Pauline and her troop of dopey conspiracy theorists.

    I’m really not sure how so much can go wrong so quickly

    Mind you, the West Australian electorate are very conservative, and a quick reorganisation by the Libs should see them back in power soon.

  15. John Brookes :
    WRT the WA election: There has to be resentment at WA’s incredibly generous subsidisation of the rest of the country with our GST. The fact that Malcolm said he’s look at it, and then absolutely nothing happened – that would have hurt Colin.

    This is always a very shortsighted line of argument – WA has received far more support from the rest of the nation over the years than it’s sent back, and the imbalance of recent years has been a direct result of the largest economic disfigurement in the nation’s history, which lead to massive impacts across the country that will continue to affect the economy for many years to come (the death of manufacturing, for example, was driven in large part by the extended period with a high Australian dollar). The attitude of a lot of the people of WA (and Queensland, though apparently to a somewhat lesser extent) on this is really quite disturbing.

  16. @Simon Fowler

    Sure, but when we have the highest unemployment rate in the country, you have wonder if its fair. And lets face it, we in the west have always had a chip on our shoulder about the eastern states. Especially Victoria running the AFL as an essentially Melbourne based competition.

    By all means use the WA GST to subsidise the rest of the country for the high exchange rate caused by the mining boom, but that is over now.

  17. @John Brookes

    It’s fair because the same system applies to everybody. The problem, if there is a problem, is in the timing of Grants Commission process, whereby a state like WA gets more money when it least needs it and less money when it most needs it. But this should be fixable with prudent budgeting. The wheel is about to turn again and WA’s share of GST is going to go up in coming years.

  18. @Smith

    I would indeed play the false consciousness card. The majority are fooled and/or bought off and/or corrupted by the system. The majority do not understand political economy. They are deliberately kept ignorant of the real machinations of capitalism by the masters of the system. They (the people) bear a responsibility themselves for their own ignorance too. They refuse to think critically, read critically and question the deeper happenings in our system (and in its interactions with the environment).

    Eventually, when the system fails the majority comprehensively, as indeed it will, the people will finally wake up and come out of their indolent false consciousness dreams to finally face a very harsh reality and a lot of very tough decisions: realities and decisions which will be a lot worse for not being dealt with earlier.

  19. @Ikonoclast

    If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard someone say “Come the Revolution …”, I could finance the revolution myself.

    Alas, it’s always coming, but never arrives.

  20. ralph :
    How about a doubling of the unemployment rate (now at 6.6%) and that realisation that thanks to the LNP they have nothing to show after a decade long boom. Got to blame someone. The sand gropers are not looking so smug now. Secession anyone?

    yep and the first thing on the ajendah is—-

    patrolling the eastern border.

    wanna be a vollie?

  21. Smith :
    @John Brookes
    It’s fair because the same system applies to everybody.

    That is only partly true. We in WA are penalised because we don’t rely on poker machine revenue as much as some other states. Now partly this is just a sop to Crown casino, and partly it is just good policy.

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