Monday, 11 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary - Look for Fundamental Change

11th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
With the wonders of hindsight I can see what an excellent job the Coalition did on the Greens. I should have factored the attacks on radical Green policies into my calculations. Because of them the vote for minor parties went down and down with it went Labor’s chances.
The Greens did not even manage to pick up the votes of those who this time deserted the Australian Democrats. Greens and Democrats combined in 2001 totalled 10.4% of the House of Representatives vote. That figure this time was down to 8.1%. The only significant newcomer to the minor party ranks was Family First and their preferences helped replace the losses that the Government side lost from the collapse of One Nation.
John Howard now has the opportunity to really put his stamp on the future of Australia. For his first three terms his agenda was hampered by a hostile Senate. From 1 July next year when the Senators elected on Saturday take office the Liberal-National Parties could even have a majority in their own right. Even without such an absolute majority, the support of a Family First Senator will enable them to get far more of their agenda adopted than has been possible over the last eight years. Not since the days of Malcolm Fraser has a Government actually been able to govern unhindered by blackmailing minorities.
John Howard will enjoy that power. Peter Costello will have a while to wait yet before settling in to the top job.

2004 Federal Election Diary - Farewell to the Diary – Where to From Here?

11th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
As we consign the election diary to Glug’s archives some brief comments by Simon Longstaff of the St James Ethics Centre - (comments chosen because they incorporate my own views) - on what we can expect over the next few months might be appropriate. Mr Longstaff was writing after an election several years ago about the idea of "truth in politics".
Does the concept involve an oxymoron? Or, should we give politicians the benefit of the doubt and take them at their word? And if politicians are not to be believed, then what (if anything) does this say about the health of our democracy?
I suspect that very few people enjoy telling a deliberate lie. Yet, if history is anything to go by, a reasonable part of what is promised during the campaign will turn out to be impractical (or unpolitic) to deliver. Whoever wins, we might reasonably expect to count the usual list of broken election promises in a few years’ time. This is one reason why politicians may strenuously seek to avoid making too many specific commitments. Another is that, like most of us, they would prefer not to be locked into positions that limit their freedom once safely ensconced on the ‘treasury benches’.
I also suspect that very few people enjoy being called a liar. So we might look for evasion and equivocation. Indeed, anything to avoid giving an uncompromisingly straight answer that could be used to identify a contradiction at a later date. So, we can expect plenty of ambiguity and a volume of ‘weasel words’. In these conditions, it will be just as important to take note of what is not said as it will be to attend to the exact language being used to express proposed policy.
I suppose that comments such as these capture certain popular views about the political process. However, is this nothing more than pandering to ill-informed prejudice? Perhaps we could consider the views of one of the master craftsmen of contemporary ‘political-speak’.
Richard Farmer has helped to fashion some of the most effective political speeches delivered during the last couple of decades. This is what he had to say about truth in politics when asked to consider the question a few years ago: "Politics is rarely about telling the truth. Normally it is about telling people things that they want to hear. The skilful politician monitors public opinion, determines what people believe, packages their best lines and sells them back to them. It will always be thus as the primary concern of a politician is winning".
An initial response to Farmer’s account of what happens in practice could be an increase in cynicism about the political process in Australia. This is not a result that I would welcome. While much in favour of healthy scepticism, I believe that the acid of public cynicism, corroding the foundations of our society, is already too potent. Besides, if we take Farmer seriously, who should be the object of our cynicism; the politicians or ourselves?
The core of Farmer’s observation is that politicians tell people "the things they want to hear". This raises the intriguing possibility that the electorate does not really want to hear the truth. Instead, we may long to be told that there are easy answers to life’s difficult questions; to be reassured that the world is less complex than we fear and that our overweening expectations can be met. If this is so, then it is a recipe for perpetual disillusionment.

Saturday, 9 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary What to Watch For

9th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
The best guide early guide as we sit at home tonight watching the television coverage of the election count will be the proportion of the vote gained by the minor parties and independent candidates. If their total vote is only 15% as the major polls predict this morning then John Howard will be staying on as Prime Minister. If the pollsters have underestimated the third party support by five percentage points or more as they have in past elections then the result will be a cliff hanger.
On the face of it the two major pollsters tell vastly different stories. In the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald AC Neilsen predicts a two party preferred vote for the Coalition Government of 54% to Labor’s 46%. Such a vote would see Howard returned with a huge majority. Newspoll in The Australian has it 50:50. Actual voting anything like that would make a hung Parliament a real prospect. On first preferences AC Neilsen has the vote for other than the Coalition and Labor at 14%. The Newspoll figure is 16%.
Our Glug election Indicator, based on odds at the betting exchange Betfair, has the Government a 77.8% chance of being returned with Labor at 22.2%. That looks a fair assessment to me. Probably a Liberal-National victory but no real surprise if the underdog effect, of which I have written a lot in recent weeks, enabled Labor to snatch victory.

Friday, 8 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary Memories of Jeff Kennett

8th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
If you are really hoping for a Labor victory tomorrow then give yourself heart by reading the very first entry in this election diary on 1st July, 2004.
It tells the story of this year’s Canadian election. Or think back to the Victorian State election when Jeff Kennett ended up being beaten by the then relatively unknown Steve Bracks. On both of those occasions the pollsters were very, very wrong.

2004 Federal Election Diary John Howard Courts Family First

6th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
John Howard has his own secret weapon in the second preferences game. The Family First Party, which has come from nowhere to having candidates in more than 100 electorates, will be directing preferences to the Liberal and National Parties.
The Prime Minister me with Family First officials this morning and told the press that there was "a broad commonality" of interests between his Coalition and the newcomers. "They are an organisation concerned about the role of the family as I am", he said. Mr Howard’s interest in Family First makes me think that they will be the surprise package in Saturday’s poll. Look for them to poll well.

Thursday, 7 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary A Call from the PM

7th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
You know you live in a marginal electorate when you get a call from the Prime Minister soliciting your vote. Well I live in Eden Monaro which has been won by the Party which forms the government at every election since a major boundary reshuffle in 1972. And when the phone rang this morning it was John Howard on the line.
After a short pause to allow the recorded message to click in to action, John told me why I should be voting for the Liberal candidate Gary Nairn. And all I could think about was how much this kind of campaigning must be costing. The betting odds and the polls might be saying that the Government is a shoo-in to win on Saturday but no expense is being spared to ensure that is the case. This week I have had a letter from the PM’s mate Senator Bill Heffernan, one from Mr Nairn, an interest rate calculator courtesy of the Liberal Party and an important message about how to vote from the same man who made the phone call. Add it all up and the cost of reaching me this week would leave no change out of $5 or $6. Multiply that by the 80,000 enrolled voters and that’s $500,000 for the week without counting the full page ad in the Eden Magnet and the barrage of television spots. Not a thing in the mail box from the Labor Party. Perhaps they have decided that there’s no point spending money in a timber town after Mark Latham came out so strongly against logging in old growth forests.
From glug

Tuesday, 5 October 2004

2004 Election diary Pauline Dances On

5th October, 2004 - Richard Farmer
The major television appearance of the campaign will be on the 7 network at 7.30 this evening. Pauline Hanson stars in Dancing With the Stars. Her legs are certainly better than Howard’s and Latham’s.

2004 Federal Election Diary The Polling Trap of the Third Party Vote

5th October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
It was Rod Cameron, the distinguished grey haired fellow who keeps bobbing up with words of wisdom on ABC television programs analysing the election, who alerted me to the problem that opinion pollsters have with minor parties. Right back to the days when Roy Morgan was running what was then called the Morgan Gallup Poll in the 1950s and 60s the actual result for the minor parties was higher than the polls predicted.
The DLP was the problem party in those days and the first of Australia’s professional pollsters eventually learned to make an adjustment before he his published figures. Rod learned the lesson when he was interpreting his ANOP results for the Labor Party when he was their pollster but the major pollsters these days do not appear to do so. In the last couple of elections the vote for minor parties has been four or five percentage points higher than Newspoll, for example, has predicted.
The point of this comment is that there is plenty of scope for the pollsters, who are predicting a Coalition victory, to be wrong come Saturday. If an extra five percentage points came equally off the predicted Liberal and Labor votes then Labor would pick up between one percentage point and 1.5 percentage points on a two party preferred basis depending on whether it gained 60% or 70% of the minor party preferences. It is this kind of arithmetic that was behind Mark Latham’s decision to pitch for Green second preferences by committing a future Labor Government to ending logging in old growth forests.

Saturday, 2 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary Labor’s Fatal Mistake?

2nd October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
The researcher Hugh Mackay has a fine record as an interpreter of the mood of the Australian people so it is reassuring when his view coincides with your own. I wrote a few days ago (see Delaying the Announcements) that it was a mistake for Labor to have released its policies such a short time before polling day. In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Mr Mackay has advanced the same argument.
"That Latham has left it all so late would not be such a problem if he himself were a better-known and better-understood leader" he writes. "But voters need one or the other if they are going to hand the reins to an Opposition: either the leader must be a known quantity or all the key policies - not just one - must be so compelling as to compensate for the unfamiliarity of the leader. This time around, Labor is offering neither."
You can read the views of Hugh Mackay in full at the smh
Not that I am yet prepared to take the question mark off the above headline and declare that the Coalition will win the election. A week, as they say, is a long time in politics and Prime Minister John Howard is not acting like a man who believes he is a shoo-in. His spending spree is evidence that his own advisers are telling him that he is no certainty.
And then there is that question of the underdog factor where, if the people think you are going to win easily, some of them change their mind at the last minute and give the other bloke a vote.

Election diary 2004 No Longer the Underdog

2nd October, 2004 - Richard Farmer
So John Howard is prepared to shake off the under dog tag he has worn since the start of this election campaign. On Channel Nine’s Sunday program this morning when asked about his chances he said: "I think we will make it but it will be pretty close." Not only was there some confidence in those words but in his manner as well. The Prime Minister looked relaxed and every bit like a winner. Not a trace of tension or irritability during what was a very polished performance. He obviously believes, as he said, that the people will put their trust in him "because I have delivered."

Election diary 2004 - Tough and Wily Meets Inexperience

2nd October, 2004 - Richard Farmer
Latham on Howard – a tough and wily opponent.
Howard on Latham – inexperienced.
Four Corners showed the campaign in a nutshell tonight when the two leaders were asked to make a comment about the other. There we had it in less than a minute. The politician we know versus the politician we don’t know. The old dog who didn’t miss the opportunity to attack his opponent’s weakness. The new boy who chose to show a little grudging admiration. All-in-all an interesting look at the campaign by Four Corners although I preferred the more light hearted approach of yesterday’s Sunday program.

Friday, 1 October 2004

2004 Federal Election Diary Russian Aid for Latham

1 October, 2004  - Richard Farmer 
The Coalition has had the United States Government as its cheer leader during this campaign with President Bush going out of his way to sing John Howard’s praises. Now the Russians have come to Mark Latham’s aid.
By agreeing overnight to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the Russian Government presented the Labor Leader with the opportunity to centre another day’s campaigning on an issue that is favourable to him. I bet Mr Latham cannot believe his luck as he goes about comparing his Green credentials with those of a Prime Minister who has refused to join most of the world community in committing to policies designed to prevent global warming.
Interpret This If You Can
AC Neilsen’s last poll had the Liberal-National Coalition eight points in front. Newspoll has Labor four points in front. According to Morgan it is a dead heat. I’ll stick with the Glug election Indicator which is based on the odds at Betfair. It shows that over the last few days Labor’s chances of victory have increased from 30.7% to 33.3%.