All this August 7 talk is guesswork – but it’s educated guesswork.
Middle age hacks and political tragics! Do you have that sense of déjà
vu? Do you feel as if it’s 1992 all over again? Can you remember how
some genius discovered that Keating and the GG were going to both cross
tracks at some country airfield 33 days away from one of the favoured
poll dates for November or December of that year? The election was as
good as called – until the day came and nothing happened.

Parliament
House is in the grip of a similar mania – but up in the attic (OK, the
Press Gallery on the top floor of the Senate) mad old Unca Alan has had
a rare cogent moment:

“You have to wonder about newspaper opinion polls. Certainly you need a sense of humour,” he writes in the Herald today.
“Three weeks ago, The Australian’s Newspoll organisation told us the
bottom had dropped out of Labor’s federal support and John Howard’s
Government had grabbed an ‘election-winning lead’ of absurd proportions.

Yesterday
it had to pretend this had never happened and that now, three weeks
later, its latest poll had Labor holding a ‘razor-thin election-winning
edge’.

“A day earlier, in the Fairfax papers, the Herald and The
Age in Melbourne, the AC Nielsen poll had Labor ‘losing ground’ to the
Government (The Age) and the Coalition’s primary vote ‘now ahead of
Labor’s, by one point, for the first time’ (Herald) since Mark Latham
replaced Simon Crean as federal leader last December. Trumpeted the
Herald’s front-page banner: ‘Get set: nation goes to election mode.’
The nation has done no such thing.

“Well, no more than the
‘election mode’ we’ve been in since Latham’s ascension turned national
politics into a genuine contest seven months ago. What the nation has
done is go on watching with wry bemusement as the media hypes up an
election whose timing remains unknown. All we know is you’ll have to
vote some time between Saturday, July 31 (the earliest), and Saturday,
April 16, next year (the latest). Everything in between is just
guessing.

“And in guessing, each newspaper uses its own polling
research to titillate readers as to what might be happening in Howard’s
head.”

The truth is is that all this August 7 talk is guesswork
– but it’s educated guesswork. That’s what most political punditry is.
It just sounds better when it comes from a distinguished looking
gentleman of a certain age like Paul Kelly than some pseudonymous pseud
online.

Still, this virtual nutter has come up with a few more
arguments for why John Howard will – or should, anyway – call an
election in 10 days or so.

The Prime Minister is building momentum – thanks to taxpayer funded ads – but should do well in the 33 days of the campaign.

He
must be tempted to hang on. He must realise that he is a known quantity
to the electorate, but Latham is still being assessed. Howard knows
that if he holds off, there is a good chance that events will lead
voters to see Latham as a fruit cake unworthy of running the country
rather than a free thinker – and be forced to admit that while he is
boring, he’s safe.

But the PM must also know that converse is
equally possible – that more time will let more people become more
bored by a stodgy John Howard and embrace an exciting Iron Bark.

He
also knows that the longer things go, the more chance there is that
extraneous matters will have an effect – the Presidential poll, terror
attacks, the Olympics and God only knows what in Iraq and the Middle
East. How any of these will play in the electorate is open to
conjecture and either party could benefit. At the last election
extraneous events helped Howard, but only a fool would gamble on those
playing his way again.

Howard and his staff have taken advice
from yours truly in the past – even back in the 96 campaign. Here’s
some more. Prime Minister, deal in things you can influence and leave
the chancing to Latham.

The polls may be 52/48 his way – but
Labor needs all that 52 per cent to win. Effectively, PM, you’ve clawed
things back to 50/50. Go for it. Those are great odds for a third term
leader looking for a fourth election win.

Go for it as soon as
you can. The campaign proper will favour you because the vast majority
of uncommitted voters simply do not turn their mind to politics until
they have to – and these are just the people who ignore the subtleties
of policy debates but fall for your wedge campaigns.

Does Latham
want an election now? Naaah. He clearly needs time to tweak policies –
as yesterdays pharmaceuticals backflip shows – and knows that the
longer we have to wait for a poll, the more embarrassments a la Robert
Hill will beset the Government.

The polls are telling Howard to go as soon as he can. Waiting and trying to improve things is not an option.

In fact, if he waits past August I think he’s done for.


Hillary heresy horror – Bray biffo with Antony Green

You all saw Antony Green’s interpretation of the AC Neilson poll state-by-state results in the Sealed Section yesterday:

“Assuming a uniform swing, this roughly translates into the following.

“NSW no swing, no seats changing
VIC, 1% swing to Labor, no seats change
QLD, 8.5% swing to Labor, corresponds to 11 seats falling
SA, 4.5% swing to Labor, 3 seats falling to Labor
WA, 1% swing to Coalition, no seats changing.

“So,
that would deliver Labor a very narrow victory based entirely on
Queensland and South Australia. Despite receiving 52% of the two-party
vote, Labor scrapes into office with only a tiny majority. If Labor’s
vote slips 1% between now and election day, we see a repeat of 1998
when Beazley achieved 51% of the two-party vote but failed to win.”

But Bray is bolshy – and wants to challenge the great man. Here’s Hillarys take:

NSW no swing, no seats changing. Oh yeah? Eden-Monaro, Cunningham and Dobell will go to Labor as a minimum.
VIC, 1% swing to Labor, no seats change. What about McEwan and Deakin? Labor gains.
QLD, 8.5% swing to Labor, corresponds to 11 seats falling. Hinkler, Herbert, Longman seem dead certs.
SA, 4.5% swing to Labor, 3 seats falling to Labor. Agree. Makin, Hindmarsh and Adelaide.
WA, 1% swing to Coalition, no seats changing. What about Canning, Antony?

On
this reading that’s 13 seats – a decent enough win to Iron Mark – and
there are other Coalition seats we could talk about, Peter McGauran’s
Gippsland, Mark Vaile’s Lyne, Andrew Southcott’s Boothby…

Hillary Bray blunts Ari Sharp

Is
it too much coffee and not enough sleep? Our National Affairs Editor is
lashing out left, right and centre today. Hillary’s also had a go at
blogger Ari Sharp and his reasons why we won’t have an early election
that we ran yesterday.

The pair go head to head here.

ARI:
Howard’s best chance is to give himself as much time as possible to
expose and reinforce the flaws in Latham’s character. The longer he
waits, the more likely there will be Latham gaffes and the more chance
there is for dirt to be flung and stick. Howard loves a good mudwrestle.

HILLARY:
Howard et al can throw as much dirt as they like – but Latham wants the
PM’s job and he ain’t gunna blink. Latham has managed to get the polls
back to trend by being almost invisible in traditional debate and
without the biggest policy stick he has to wield – Labor’s tax &
family policy. And when Howard runs wedges up the flagpole (geditt?!?),
Iron Bark just shrugs and says “OK”.

ARI: The US election is not
until the first week of November, and any tricks that Bush has up his
sleeve will came out late (“We’re all going on Osama holiday…”). If
Howard goes early, he will miss out on the massive boost that this will
provide.

HILLARY: That Republican bagman in the Embassy in
Canberra and Dubya seem to be doing wonders for Labor. Aussies don’t
like being told what to do by those damn Yanks – and running off to big
friends for help doesn’t make Howard look like much of a leader. And
yours truly supported the war, too.

ARI: Howard has said in the
past he thinks three years between elections is short enough as it is,
and that governments should sit for a full term. And Howard would hate
to be a hypocrite.

HILLARY: Hello, Ari! Election 1996 then 1998?
Get your shoes and socks off, son! Only one thing will govern Howard’s
decision on the date – he will go when thinks he has the best chance of
winning – and that’s August. See above.

ARI: The Senate cycle
will become unhealthily out of sync. Regardless of the date, the
Senators elected at the next election will not take office until 1
July, 2005. With an early election, there would be an 11 month gap
between election and taking office. This means that there will almost
certainly be a Senate-only election in the next couple of years.

HILLARY
Synch, smynch! Any election this year has the Senate out of synch by at
minimum of six months – and has there ever been a PM who took any
notice of the Senate at all when deciding to go to the polls?
Government is formed by numbers in the Reps, mate – and whoever wins
has to deal with the Senate. That’s the way it is. Howard gets almost
everything through the current mix. It will be worse for a Coalition
government when the new Senate sits because Greens are likely to
displace John Cherry, Aden Ridgeway and Meg Lees. And Ari is wrong on
the technical point, too. The Senate timetable for terms continues
regardless of the Reps elections unless there is a double dissolution.
There is nothing that triggers a half Senate election. This could mean
that there gets to be a massive gap between the terms of some Senators
and the Reps, but so what? As will happen after this election the
existing Senators finish their terms in 2005 and the next ones finish
in 2008 – unless there’s a double dissolution.

ARI: August 7 is Bledisloe Cup night. Nuff said.

HILLARY:
If you followed the third-ranked football code, that is. The game they
play in heaven is politics, son. And what’s the problem. Bledisloe
night? Not day. You can vote – then either watch the game or watch the
coverage from the National Tally Room.

Ari up and bring it on, Howard, you panty-waist!

Election timing – on the other hand…

The obligatory letter arrives in Hillary’s inbox:

“A colleague’s wife is a Libera staffer in Canberra and has been told ‘no holidays for staff in October’…”

Ari hits back at Hillary


Ari writes:

Despite Hillary’s agonising, I stand by the five reasons against an Aug
7 poll. Briefly a response to Hillary’s comments, and then a couple of
extra reasons against that poll date, thrown in for good measure.

On the issue of Howard challenging Latham’s character, Hillary misses
the point by saying that Latham won’t blink. Latham can stand firm as
much as he likes, people will have their doubts about him when some of
his past quotes and deeds are used against him. This stuff will take
time, though, to become etched in voters’ minds.

Hillary argues that there is nothing stopping a massive gap being
created over time between Senate elections and the taking up of office.
Hillary should check out Section 13 of the Federal Constitution, a fine
bit of bedtime reading, recommended to insomniacs.

Section 13, in reference to Senate elections, reads:

The election to fill vacant places shall be made within one year before the places are to become vacant.

Therefore, if Howard goes for August this year, and Latham/Costello
want to go early in 2007, it would be House of Reps only and a
stand-alone half-Senate election would be needed between 1/7/07 and
30/6/08. Everyone got their diary out?

And now a few more reasons for Howard to sta-a-a-a-y, just a little bit longer….

6. The latest Newspoll shows the ALP in the lead on 2 party preferred,
52-48, and the crucial part is that the Liberal/National vote is
trending upward. (Take out the complete abberation that was the
previous Newspoll, 28-30 May). It is not a scenario where Howard needs
to get in quickly before his vote collapses – the vote is heading in
the right direction, it just needs a couple of months to get there.

7. Iraq will take a while after sovereignty before things start looking
up. Five weeks after it, things are still likely to be rather shakey.
Three months, however, and the house will be slowly getting itself in
order.

8. Tobacco and alcohol excise increases are the first of February and
first of August each year. An extra couple of cents on beer and smokes
– it’s enough to make a man quit… or vote for Latham at least.

So there you have it – it aint gonna be August. Try again in October.

Peter Fray

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