Last week’s interest rate rise has
inflicted little immediate damage on the Government, according to the latest
Newspoll.
It gives Labor a narrow lead on two party preferred votes – 51 to 49% –
but 58% of voters still say they expect the Government to be returned
at the next election.

That won’t exactly be welcome news for the
Government. Interest rates mightn’t have had an
immediate bite, but there’s powerful pressure on punters’ pockets – being most
immediately noticed with petrol prices.

The new industrial relations laws could
prove to be an even bigger stress – the focus of late has been on what comes
out of people’s pockets, not what goes into them. Indeed, the whole IR campaign seems to have
lagged since the leadership flare-ups at the beginning of last month. Yet the issue is running out there in the
electorate. Government MPs aren’t prepared to raise it – yet – but acknowledge
the problem.

Voters may still believe that John Howard
is the better economic manager, but if they’re feeling bitten by interest rates
or fuel prices or inflation or IR or whatever, they may well choose to cast a
protest vote. And that’s where the Newspoll is dangerous.
The more people think the Coalition will win, the less of a risk an individual protest vote
seems. And we all know how just a few thousand votes in the wrong places can
sink a government.

Peter Fray

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