Ahead of Election ‘04, no mainstream newspaper endorsed the ALP. Or more precisely, no editorial recommended Mark Latham for Prime Minister.

In some cases, the decision was made with unveiled reluctance. Two papers, Fairfax’s SMH and The Sunday Age, chose not to choose. The News Limited papers meanwhile were all on song, playing the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” refrain, but not always with the gusto of a Scottish accordionist. Many agreed that Latham needed time to settle into opposition before taking over the mantle of leader. It wasn’t to be.

With the stumbling block of Latham removed, and the less volatile Rudd in his place, last Sunday’s papers revealed a different mood. Andrew Fraser reported in The Australian on Monday:

Of the seven major Sunday newspapers, three – The Sunday Telegraph and The Sun-Herald in Sydney and the Sunday Mail in Brisbane – recommended a vote in favour of the ALP. Melbourne’s Sunday Herald Sun, the Sunday Mail in Adelaide and the Sunday Times in Perth – recommended the Coalition be returned.

The Sunday Age in Melbourne, published by Fairfax, sat on the fence and refused to recommend a vote for either party, a position it has adopted for the past few elections.

The three papers, all owned by News Limited, that recommended a vote for the Coalition did so on the basis that there was no need for a change.

As we head into the final stretch and await the last endorsements, here’s an editorial wrap of 2004 to keep in mind as you sit down to the Saturday morning papers, coffee in hand:

  • The Sunday Age, 3 October 2004
    “We feel it inappropriate to lecture individuals on how they should vote in the best interests of the nation”
  • The Sun-Herald, 3 October 2004, Our hearts say Latham but our heads say Howard
    “Latham will be a better leader for three years in opposition. And when he next steps up to the ballot box, Howard will almost certainly be gone.”
  • Sunday Mail (SA), 3 October 2004, Now is not the time for change
    “…this election comes down to this: the economic experience and tough decision-making of Mr Howard, or the untested virtues of Mr Latham whose running of the Liverpool Council has raised many questions… as unpalatable as it may seem today, Mr Latham, and Australia, will be better off with three more years of Labor in Opposition.”
  • Sunday Mail (QLD), 3 October 2004, Howard deserves our vote
    “In uncertain times at home and abroad, our country needs the stability of a tried and tested leader. Unlike Mark Latham, John Howard has a proven track record which makes him the man for the job.”
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 3 October 2004, Election presents a clear choice
    “Overall, Mr Latham has presented a fresh approach, campaigned well and taken the fight up to the Government. The election is a choice between an experienced and tough leader in Mr Howard and an untested one in Mr Latham, who is making a powerful bid to claim The Lodge. But in the end it comes down to a question of economic management. Despite his extravagant promises, Mr Howard’s record of low interest rates and economic growth speaks for itself.”
  • Sunday Telegraph, 3 October 2004, Mr Howard’s Team deserves a fourth term
    “Mr Howard has served this country well as Prime Minister, delivering eight years of unparalleled prosperity, protecting its borders and taking a firm stand against the extremists who threaten our very way of life. A vote for the Coalition on October 9 is a vote for prudence, responsibility and security. Mr Howard’s team deserves a fourth term.”
  • The Weekly Times, 6 October 2004, It’s a case of better the devil you know
    “Casting a vote in Saturday’s federal election is not a clear-cut affair for rural Australians…The obvious influence of the Greens on the Bracks Government should make country Victorians very wary of flirting with the same risk federally. We therefore urge against a vote for the Greens at this election. And, on balance, we see no compelling reason for rural Australia to throw out the Coalition this time around.

  • Herald Sun, 8 October 2004, Not the right time to change
    For their part, Mr Howard and his Treasurer Peter Costello have overseen a growing economy, kept interest rates low, contained inflation, been firm on security issues and strengthened our world position through the free trade agreement with the US. The Herald Sun sees no reason to vote for change tomorrow. The country is in healthy shape and in safe hands. A full term in Opposition would allow Mark Latham to prove if he has the qualities needed to lead the nation.”
  • The Advertiser, 8 October, An election which offers a clear choice
    “Mr Latham might be ready to be Australia’s next prime minister. But he will be better prepared with an election under his belt and a significant track record in Labor’s top job. Given these considerations, it is too difficult to advocate anything other than returning the Coalition at tomorrow’s election.”
  • The Age, 8 October 2004, On balance, Coalition deserves re-election
    “Despite its shortcomings, the Government has delivered eight years of economic growth. There are two main reasons we believe the return of the Howard Government may be the best outcome for Australia in tomorrow’s poll. The first is that the Coalition has presided over almost a decade of sustained economic growth and increasing prosperity…The second reason we believe the Government should be returned is that, despite the fact Mark Latham has performed well during the campaign, he remains in many ways a work in progress, perhaps the most inexperienced alternative prime minister in the postwar period. “

  • The Australian, 8 October 2004, No convincing reason to kick out Coalition
    “Anyone looking for a real contest of ideas during the past six weeks, rather than an auction, would have been sorely disappointed. We have heard little of substance on the great economic challenges of improving workforce participation and productivity … Given the let-down of the campaign, we can only fall back on the records of both parties and both leaders. Mr Howard has presided over a boom economy in which unemployment has fallen and — the big issue for most voters — interest payments on mortgages have remained low … There is a case for change alright, but it would need to be based on a reform program that extends, rather than unwinds, the gains of the past two decades. Labor has not made such a case, and so The Australian believes the Howard Government deserves to be returned tomorrow.”
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 October 2004, Voters and their policy choices”
    “The contenders have had their say. Today is a day for Australia’s voters. As we explained yesterday, the Herald no longer will endorse a political party for election. The independence underpinning our integrity demands this historic shift. Our determination to scrutinise and to pursue truth will not diminish, however.”