Another three years, another Federal Election. But this time, something different – a change of government. The first time since 1996 and only the third change since 1975 (the others with Hawke/Keating coming into power in 1983, and Howard/Costello in 1996). The best thing about democratic change in Australia is that we can have these changes of government and there is no bloodshed and no-one gets killed!
It’s been a week since the result and there is still much speculation about why the change happened. Many consider that Howard stayed a year too long and that he was yesterday’s man, others that Labor finally had an Opposition Leader that could outpoint Howard (something that Beazley and Latham could not do). What is really interesting is that the change happened at a time of economic strength. So we can count the economy out then as a reason for change. Labor under Rudd focused on a few key issues including climate change and Kyoto (ratified today as the first decision of Government), industrial relations and Workchoices, the war in Iraq, broadband, education, and public hospitals and health and a bit on broken interest rate promises, with the final clincher of appearing to manage the economy better with reduced spending commitments after the Liberal Party launch. There was a mix of positive and negative messages – from climate change with the symbolism of ratifying Kyoto, the painting of the Government as untrustworthy in relation to IR, and positive imagery of an education and broadband revolution. The messages were highly crafted and well targeted. But that still may not explain why the electorate moved.
A closer view of the electoral results showed a patchy distribution of changing seats. Certainly NSW and Qld were the keys. Having the possibility of a Queensland PM and Treasurer would certainly have helped the parochial nature of the locals up there, as well as the parlous state of the Queensland branch of the Liberal party. A minimum of 8 and most likely 10 seats fell to the Labor party in Queensland alone. Add NSW with 6 but more likely 7 (with interest rates a key issue) and that is just enough to get the 16 seats required. A few from Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia made it definite. That some Queensland seats had a 14% swing is just amazing. And where I live in the electorate of Deakin was one of the seats that changed hands.
Of all the commentary, I found Henry Ergas’ comments on Friday to be very insightful. He stated that it was precisely because the economy was going well that people had moved to looking for something else in their politicians. The focus on the economy by the Liberals then failed to hit the mark. This has echoes of Paul Ray’s Cultural Creatives but it might be too soon to talk about that here in Australia. But certainly the economy as an electoral issue did not attract the kind of media attention as previous elections.
Another interesting thing I felt about Rudd is that he talked a lot about the future. He didn’t talk about change, he didn’t say too much that Howard was a man of the past. Rudd’s narrative focused on his views of the future and what he wanted to do differently and he let the electorate make the connection that Howard was history. As a futurist, I found that talk of the future very heartening, although I was somewhat disappointed to hear that in his Ministerial appointments, there was no Minister for the Future appointed! In comparison, Howard’s pitch was more emotive and based on fear – of a union-dominated Labor party in government, fear of the economy going pear-shaped due to the inexperience of the Labor team. In this respect, this was a victory for humility over hubris as many have reported. Or maybe it had something to do with this tongue-in-cheek interview of John Howard by Richard Neville during the election period.
And so what of the future. Some people think that the ALP is really just Another Liberal Party and that Rudd is the best successor to Howard. Others that the Coalition, out of power now in all states and federally, needs to radically recast itself. The knives are coming out and there will be a lot of soul-searching and recasting of policies over the next year under Nelson. The move of many senior Liberals to the backbench is part of this recasting.
And also there is still the Senate. It’s a shame to see that Andrew Bartlett in Queensland has failed to keep his spot – I’ve really enjoyed reading his blog. The Democrats are now gone and the Greens are teetering on the edge of getting the balance of power but struggling with the vagaries of the proportional representation of the Senate.
And penultimately, it’s great to hear that broadband and the digital economy is getting some interest politically with those words in the new Ministerial portfolio. The knowledge word has not been raised – perhaps Knowledge Nation is still too raw a nerve and so KM might have to take a bit more of a back-seat ride for a while.
Finally, the man who said future so much has now been sworn in as Prime Minister. There will be the inevitable honeymoon period (particularly as witnessed with the jovial banter with Kochie on Sunrise today) but the time will come in 6-9 months time when policies need to be implemented and when the future timeframes will need to be shortened. But today, the future became the reality.