Less than a month ago the Canberra commentators had John Howard invincible and Kim Beazley facing the sack. Today I detect that the herd is changing course. Criticisms of the Prime Minister are emerging. Soon they will start writing that Labor might even have a winning chance.

Nothing really has changed. The Budget, which did not produce the increase in the opinion polls the pundits expected, was not designed to produce anything of the kind. It was always going to be a holding operation keeping goodies in the bag for the pre-election budget next year.

John Howard can hardly be blamed for the mess-up in bringing home a soldier’s body from Iraq and any loss of electoral support because of that will not last long.

The one real negative is – and will remain for some time – changes to the industrial relations system. What impact this finally has on voting behaviour 18 months away will depend on whether the Spotlight example turns out to be typical.

We can all have an opinion (and I am in the camp of those who think that wages will drop for a significant number of Australians) but in a year’s time employers might find that they cannot get staff to work on Sundays for the same amount they pay on a weekday. Today’s fears might prove groundless.

And if wages for the low-paid do fall to levels which threaten to change how people vote, then the tax changes the Government makes to the tax system next May will have nothing to do with reducing rates for the highest paid. The redistribution will be to the lowest paid.

I am not changing from my view that the Coalition remains only a slight favourite to be re-elected but I admit to being disconcerted that the Canberra press gallery might soon agree with me.

Peter Fray

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