Campaigning for second preferences. In New South Wales you do not need a new opinion poll showing a bad result for newspapers to be full of stories about leadership challenges. Speculation predicting changes at the top features almost daily anyhow but events like the bi-monthly Newspoll at least provides a variation on the excuse for telling the readers once again that the Premier is on the way out.

So it is today with The Australian this morning recording the two party preferred vote during July and August at 46% for Labor and 54% for the Liberal-National Coalition. Those figures are round about where they have been for almost the last year. The highest figure recorded by the Coalition was 59% for the November-December Newspoll surveys with the year’s lowest Coalition reading of 54% coming in March-April.

Poll figures as low as Labor’s naturally cause great agitation among Party MPs who realise that their political career will soon be at an end unless something dramatic happens. This agitation is of a kind that encourages them to at least listen to every plot suggesting that there is a better leadership alternative. Some hope will always seem better than no hope but the problem within the NSW Government is to find someone who provides any hope. There is certainly no standout alternative to Premier Nathan Rees and the problems are not just problems of leadership in any case. A combination of a long time in office and a State affected worse than others by the economic downturn would make winning the next election a severe test for the most appealing of leaders if there was one.

Far more remarkable than the low standing of Nathan Rees is that even in these best of conditions for an Opposition Leader the Liberal Party alternative for Premier Barry O’Farrell only has a one point lead — 33 per cent to 32 per cent — when the pollsters ask which man would make the better leader of the State. That a third of voters either don’t know or don’t care is a remarkably high figure.

So too is the primary vote figure being recorded by Greens and other minor parties and independents. In this latest Newspoll the Greens are on 14 per cent and the others on 13 per cent and during the last year this combined non-major-party vote has reached as high as 31%! This really is an electoral climate where the people are disenchanted not just with Labor but the whole system of government.

Circumstances like these can lead to some quite maverick results. When the third party votes total around 30%, getting people to indicate a preference when that is not compulsory becomes extremely important. Working on a preference strategy is the most important job that officials of both major parties have between now and the election in March 2011. This race is not over yet.

Two different worlds. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Greens Senator Bob Brown clearly see the world through different lenses. In the House of Representatives yesterday Mr Smith made a ministerial statement on Afghanistan in which he spoke of Australia’s belief that the country deserved a future in which its people can live in peace and security, with better health services and better educational opportunities for Afghan girls and boys.

“Progress is being made,” he said.

“The Afghanistan of today is far removed from Afghanistan under Taliban rule. School enrolment has jumped sixfold. Thirty-five per cent of children at school are girls. Only eight years ago all girls were banned from school under Taliban rule. Under-five mortality has dropped 25 per cent.

“With international support, Afghanistan has held presidential, parliamentary and provincial council elections. Twenty-seven per cent of seats in Afghanistan’s parliament are held by women. Australian assistance is contributing to these results.”

In the Senate Greens Leader Brown must have been speaking of a different country. In his Afghanistan:

I want to take this opportunity to express the deep dismay that the Greens have with the recent promulgation of laws to do with women’s rights by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. We have our defence forces, good and true, in Afghanistan to bring a measure of democracy and human rights to the people of that country, who have been through decades — indeed, centuries — of turmoil. When one reads of President Karzai’s recent proclamation on the rights of women, one has to question the cause in which we put at risk the lives and wellbeing of our defence forces.

Having been internationally criticised for a move to invoke repressive laws on women in Afghanistan earlier this year, it turns out that just a couple of weeks ago President Karzai used a constitutional loophole, according to the Guardian newspaper from the United Kingdom, to enact a law that allows minority Shiite Muslim husbands to refuse food and money to their wives if they deny them s-x.

The law also prohibits a woman leaving a house without her husband’s permission and it also automatically gives guardianship, or control, of children to the husband and/or to the grandfather in any dispute between a husband and wife.

Very bad relations? In the morning I read Greg Sheridan in The Australian telling me that relations between Australia and China are at their lowest point for a decade.

I begin to despair about China providing Australia with its get-out from the problems of recession. And then in the afternoon I hear of the largest export contract ever signed between Australian and Chinese interests. What can this mean? Suggestions please.

Peter Fray

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