Kevin Rudd’s main obstacle to re-election in 2010 might be a succession of interest rate rises plus a deteriorating world economy. But the ridiculous Iemma government – and argument against four year terms if ever there was one – will not be helping.

Last week’s NSW Newspoll estimates the two party preferreds at 50/50. But with, as the table on p59 of this Antony Green research paper showed, about half the non-major party votes going to be exhaust, this probably overstates Labor’s position.

The most likely scenario for the 2011 state election is a 16-year-old Labor government begging voters to put it out of its misery – and voters happily obliging.

Historical comparisons can be trying: so try this one. In 1987 the three year old Hawke Labor administration went for re-election in difficult economic circumstances. The Coalition was led by a non-entity named John Howard, and the best thing it had going for it was a very unpopular Labor administration, destined for demolition at its own election the following year in the state containing a third of the country’s federal seats. On July 11 that year, NSW swung to Howard by 2.5% while the rest of Australia barely (in aggregate) moved.

This translated to a national swing to the Coalition of 1%, but Hawke emerged with a seat majority almost doubled, largely because, as Malcolm Mackerras noted at the time, the NSW swing was largely confined to safe Labor seats from Newcastle through western Sydney down to Wollongong, and gains were made elsewhere, particularly in Queensland. (Also for the aficionados: 1987 is the only federal election on record at which the side winning the primary vote lost the two party preferred one.)

At the next federal contest, in 1990, NSW, having in the meantime unloaded the Unsworth government, now swung back by 2% to Labor. The rest of the country – led by Victoria, who now itself had a horribly unpopular state Labor administration – went 2% the other way.

And so on. You get the picture. Unpopular state governments, particularly in the large states, matter. Kevin Rudd probably wishes NSW had three year terms.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey