Why Julia Gillard will win the 2013 election

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Thursday, 5 April 2012 12:48 by Ad astra
The prophets of doom will dismiss this piece as ridiculous. The likes of Dennis Shanahan, Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, and of course the shock jocks, Alan Jones and Co., have long since written off Julia Gillard and her Government and have confidently predicted an annihilation of the proportions seen in the NSW and Queensland State elections. They have been joined by mainstream journalists such as Paul Kelly, Michelle Grattan, Shaun Carney and Peter Hartcher, and even old Labor people, most notably Richo, who sells his negative prognostications to the highest bidder, but also the more balanced Peter Beattie and Bill Hayden who warn Labor that to avoid obliteration it must change, must reconnect with the people, must restore trust. And only the other day, respected academic Robert Manne, who seems to oscillate from right to left to right again, joined the chorus of those who see Julia Gillard and her Government as doomed in his essay in The Long Goodbye: Explaining Gillard’s Collapse in The Monthly. His essay was forensically dissected by our own NormanK in a comment offered on the piece Abbott’s atrophy at 11.37 am on 30 March. His comments are right on the money. Read them.

Manne bases his ‘collapse’ theme mainly on the opinion polls, which he dissects in detail, and concludes that these are sufficient proof of the desperate situation in which the PM finds herself. He assigns predictive value to polls of voting intention and makes no attempt to question their validity. He then dissects the causes. Having dismissed ‘structural factors’, such as falling party membership and a paucity of idealistic younger people as the ‘explanation’ of ‘Gillard’s collapse’, he goes on to attribute it to a series of what he calls ‘blunders’: failure of administrative attention to the successful stimulus package, asylum seeker policy, ‘cold shouldering’ the Greens over the ETS, the absence of political nous in announcing the RSPT (now the MMRT), the removal of Kevin Rudd as PM, Julia Gillard’s decision to make an agreement with the Greens for a carbon tax/ETS, and Kevin Rudd’s attempt to regain leadership, all of which led Manne to predict that Tony Abbott would be PM before the end of 2013.

You can judge for yourself the plausibility of his assertions and reasoning, and ask why he has become so negative, why he seems to have abandoned hope for a Gillard Government after 2013.

In contrast, this piece takes an optimistic view.

No one, but no one knows what the outcome of the 2013 election will be. So what we read and hear from the pundits, established and self-appointed, is surmise. Much of it originates from polling and some from recent elections. As an intellectual exercise let’s analyze seriatim the factors that might determine who will win in 2013. This piece makes the case that Julia Gillard will win.

The polls
Note how Manne, and virtually every other commentator, use polls as the basis for their predictions. It is always the polls that start the ball rolling - the opinion polls and the actual polls - elections. Elections at least are concrete, not at all hypothetical. They represent a historic reality. In NSW, the Labor Government was heavily defeated. In Queensland, it was nearly eliminated. In Victoria, it lost by one seat. Commentators don’t mention the latter, but refer to NSW and particularly Queensland, making the patently obvious observation that if those results were replicated at a Federal level the result would be the same. The assumption by some is that they certainly will be replicated, by others that they probably will be, by still others that they could be. The latter are on safe ground, the former simply reflect forecasts, or more correctly guesses.

The assumption that Federal election polling will follow State polling is not well supported by history. Have we so soon forgotten John Howard’s long period in power when there were wall-to-wall State Labor governments, a period when it was postulated that because the Australian electorate did not favour wall-to-wall governments of the same persuasion, it re-elected the Howard Government many times. We have seen recently how Labor everywhere has morphed into only three at a Federal and State level. An assumption that the people will now deliberately opt for wall-to-wall Coalition governments is not well founded. Indeed it could be argued that a predominance of Coalition governments at a State level may be an advantage to Labor in Federal elections.

Of course the prophets of doom point to telltale parallels between defeated State governments and the Federal Government: loss of trust, breaking of promises, telling lies, failure to listen to the people, poor communication leading to the people having stopped listening, inadequate service delivery, and policy failures. Some of these parallels may be valid, most though are extrapolations of preexisting opinions about the Gillard Labor Government. It is easy to use these hypothetical parallels to reinforce established beliefs. For many journalists that is the objective.

Opinion polls of voting intentions
Let’s return to opinion polls on voting intentions. They have been the basis of most of the dire prognostications. Yet, everyone knows that such opinion polls are not predictive this far out from the scheduled time of the next election. Why do commentators persist with this deception? Is it because it fits their preferred narrative about the Gillard Government? Is it because they wish for the disappearance of this Government, one that is anathema to so many of the rich and powerful who see it enacting legislation contrary to their interests? Is it because polls make money for the pollsters and their newspaper proprietors, great, if not illuminating copy for journalists, and juicy news items for radio and TV?

John Watson, senior writer for The Age begins his April 3 opinion piece: Let me remind you: it's 2001, John Howard is facing disaster: with "Forecasting voters' intentions 18 months in advance is idiotic", and to reinforce his message, concludes with "No amount of certainty and seeming authority can alter the essential idiocy of announcing voters' verdict a year and a half in advance".

In between these assertions he fleshes out his reasoning. Talking of “the divining of portents for Julia Gillard's government after the Queensland election and the recent Age/Nielsen poll, in which Labor trails 57-43 per cent on the two-party vote”, he notes: “In fact, we saw something very similar in 2001".

Watson points out that in 2001 the Howard government was being written off by many self-styled pundits. Andrew Bolt told us Howard was ''…the walking dead prime minister, even before the GST puts him out of his misery'', and ''God's gift to his foes'', devoid of vision, inspiration and understanding, and ''...a one-trick pony.'' Michelle Grattan reported deep pessimism in Coalition ranks; pollster Gary Morgan said the government had ''zero chance''; Paul Kelly wrote that ''within five short years'' of Howard's 1996 landslide, Labor could win a comfortable majority, supported by six state Labor governments…If the blue-ribbon seat of Ryan fell in a by-election, it would be ''proof that the malaise has corroded the foundations of the Liberal Party''. In fact Ryan did fall and the loss led to ''feverish leadership speculation, internal suspicion and instability'', as Michael Gordon of The Age had predicted. The pundits asserted that the electorate had ‘stopped listening’ to Howard.

Yet within four months of these dire prognostications, Howard led the Coalition to a resounding victory, his third.

Towards the end of his article, Watson adds: “Gillard certainly does not inspire confidence in her ability to turn things around, but neither did Howard 11 years ago. His government repeatedly showed the truth of the adage that only one poll counts.” Exactly.

The details to support Watson’s contentions are there for all to see. You will find it rewarding to read his informative article here.

So right now, at this time, polls of voting intentions as predictors of what will happen at the 2013 election should be discounted. To give them credence is, to use Watson’s word, 'idiotic’.

But what would commentators use for predicting the outcome of the next election if there were no opinion polls? Think of that, no TPP calculated from a sample of around a thousand, presumed to be representative of the whole electorate. Without such polls, they would be forced to fashion their predictions on actual events: elections, and the performance of the Government, the Opposition, other parties, and the Independents. That would change the prediction game profoundly. But we do have opinion polls, almost every week. Having predicted the demise of the Government based on the false premise that these polls of voting intention do have predictive value, the doomsayers then proceed to construct explanations for the outcome they are predicting. It is astonishing illogic, but that is what they do. Why do they so seldom look at performance?

The performance
We ought to be judging our politicians and their parties on their actual performance, not on what the most recent opinion poll says, or even on the polling trends, although the latter are likely more reliable. So what of the Gillard Government’s performance since elected?

Despite the brickbats that are hurled every day at the PM and her Government, over three hundred pieces of legislation have been passed in the face of trenchant opposition from a vitriolic Opposition leader, with not one failure. There are two pieces of legislation that will be presented when there is certainty of passage – the asylum seeker amendments that would allow any government to choose its preferred style of offshore processing, and the original pokies legislation. The Government can see no logic to presenting bills that are certain to be defeated.

Reforms
Much of the legislation represents important moves and significant reform – the highly regarded stimulus program and related measures that successfully shielded this nation from the worst effects of the GFC, the critically important BER and HIP programs, the carbon tax/ETS, the MMRT, plain packaging of cigarettes, health reforms, cancer centres, GP Super Clinics, pharmaceutical benefits reforms, disability insurance, indigenous reforms, IR reforms, the National Broadband Network, an investigation into problem gambling on pokies yet to be legislated, the list goes on and on. Although the Opposition has opposed most of them, the ones that they have built most of their campaign of denigration upon are the GFC measures, the BER and HIP programs, the carbon tax and the MMRT. These have been the reforms that have been targeted by Tony Abbott, the Opposition, and much of the MSM, to such an extent that most voters would be unaware of the hundreds of others. And there is still more important legislation to come.

The economy
What about the state of the economy? Unemployment low - just above 5%; inflation low – within the RBA’s ‘comfort zone’; interest rates low – a 4.25% cash rate and likely to fall; public debt low – a small fraction of comparable countries; a healthy trade surplus; a strong Australian dollar; Triple A credit rating from all three rating agencies; massive investment in mining and related infrastructure; a growing economy despite natural disasters and the high AUD; and our Treasurer named ‘Finance Minister of the Year’ by Euromoney Magazine. What more do people want? They would like faster growth, better retail sales, better conditions for export manufacturers, and higher levels of confidence in the business community and the electorate, but nonetheless the Government’s record is a splendid if not perfect one, the envy of the developed world.

What a pity the critics don’t start with the many accomplishments of the Gillard Government and suggest how the electorate can be made aware of them.

PM Gillard – the politician, the person
And these accomplishments have been achieved with a minority Government where every piece of legislation is opposed, where negotiation with the Independents is needed every time. Julia Gillard is a brilliant negotiator, tireless in her efforts to bring needed reform that will set our nation on course for a bright and prosperous future, all the time against the dead weight of the Coalition and Tony Abbott with his foot on the brakes.

And not only has she had resistance to everything she attempts, she has had personal invective heaped upon her, often by a hostile media, not just about her policies or her political ‘misdemeanors’, but also her appearance, her shape, her hair, her dress, her voice, her facial expressions, her demeanour. As she said to Barack Obama: “You think it's tough being African-American? Try being me. Try being an atheist, childless, single woman as prime minister.''

Yet she doesn’t complain. She has mental toughness, steely courage, tenacity, and a quiet determination to get things done. She now confronts rude and aggressive journalists, tells them ‘don’t write crap’, and recently left them open mouthed with her move to install Bob Carr as Foreign Minister.

How then can she hurdle this barrier of media hostility, how can she overcome the perceptions that have been built up in the electorate by the relentless, ruthless and vitriolic negativity of Tony Abbott, the Coalition and the mainstream media? How can she throw off the spurious ‘liar’ label that impairs her image, and is reinforced at every opportunity by the malevolent forces pitted against her every day, every week? That will take time and may not be possible, especially when Abbott, Coalition ministers and the media take every opportunity to reinforce it. So another approach is needed, one alluded to by Bob Carr, who put his finger on the nub of labor’s electoral challenge when talking with Jon Faine on ABC 774 Melbourne radio this week.

He said that when the election comes around, the crucial brief for the Government is to make the electorate starkly aware that it has a CHOICE. A choice between the Government we have, and the alternative, an Abbott Government. That’s what the people must be confronted with. Which will they choose?

The choice
Which would they sooner have? A government that has achieved so much, or the spectre of a Coalition government with all its negativity, all its threats to repeal what Labor has put in place, all its bizarre promises – a Rolls Royce PPL with a ‘great big new tax’ on business, sorry a levy, to fund it and taxpayer funded nannies for working mothers, yet tax reductions and other Labor goodies that it won’t repeal – and it’s pledge to do all this, and more, with much less revenue, having foregone the carbon and minerals taxes. It says it will find a massive $70 billion of savings; from where is a mystery. Will it find some by actually reducing pensions and removing benefits flowing from the carbon and mineral taxes? Or will it lose its nerve? It says it will cull the public service and eliminate the climate change department – why would we want that if the climate were not changing! Its last attempt to find savings revealed around a $11 billion so-called ‘black hole’, and the certifying accountants found guilty and fined for improper conduct in endorsing the costings. The Coalition insists it will reveal all before the election, but who will believe what they say? They too have a problem with public perception.

What about competence? The public will have to choose between the PM we have, who has accomplished so much in very difficult circumstances, and an alternative PM who has shown no inclination to address policy matters, no ability in formulating a plan for Australia’s future, no interest in economics, only an intention to return to the past, the Howard past, with no vision of what the nation needs for a prosperous future, no idea of how that nation can adapt to the Asian Century, to changing international commerce, changing international relations and changing climate, and no plan for our future.

The electorate will have to choose between a competent economics team of Wayne Swan, Penny Wong, Bill Shorten and David Bradbury, and the motley alternative: Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb, Mathias Cormann and the occasional commentator, Barnaby Joyce, a group that have never come up with plausible economic policies, budgets or costings.

Voters will have to choose between the highly competent Minister for Health and Ageing, Tanya Plibersek, and the indolent shadow minister, who scarcely ever asks a question about health, Peter Dutton.

They will have to choose between the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrat and his team, and the shadow minister, Christopher Pyne who spends so much time on points of order that he scarcely ever gets round to addressing education.

The choice will have to be made between the new Foreign Minister, Bob Carr and his counterpart Julie Bishop, who spends so much time spitting venom at the PM that she hardly ever addresses foreign affairs.

They will choose between the impressive and highly competent Attorney General Nicola Roxon, previously a very successful health minister, and her opposite number, the sarcastic George Brandis.

And they will contrast the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet with his ETS, and his counterpart, the disingenuous Greg Hunt, caught between a belief in climate change and an ineffective Coalition Direct Action Plan to combat it.

Will they prefer the highly regarded Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, or his counterpart, Eric Abetz?

One could go on, but person against person, the comparison between Government ministers and their shadow counterparts shows up the stark difference between competence and industry on the Government side, and indolence and incompetence among most of the shadows.

A well-informed electorate will have no difficulty choosing between the Government and its alternative. The task for the PM and her Government is to make this contrast starkly apparent in the face of a largely hostile media, to restore a strong connection with the people, and reestablish trust.

In my view, when it comes to the crunch, when it comes to the choice between the Government’s achievements on the one hand, and the vague, unbelievable promises and shonky costings of an incompetent alternative government, the choice will be easy. The ‘liar’ image that has afflicted Julia Gillard will pale into insignificance as the public becomes aware of the monstrous lies perpetrated almost daily by the alternative, Tony Abbott. Even the most sycophantic sector of the media will be unable to disguise his disingenuousness and the hollowness of what he has to offer. The exposure of Abbott is already happening.

The people will see they have a choice: competence and achievement from a Government, which although far from perfect, has countless accomplishments, OR a shallow, policy-light alternative whose shadow front bench, to use Bob Carr’s words, is the worst in Australian political history. The choice will be clear. Julia Gillard will win.

It is not often that we read anything complimentary about our PM. But in an article The real Julia fan club in The Australian on 31 March journalist Nikki Gemmell, chatting at the school gate to other mothers about Julia Gillard, quoted one of them: “She’s such a strong role model for our daughters”, and hinted that there may be more admiration for our PM among women than is recognized, some of whom, intimidated by the narrative they are being fed about her by the media, are yet to ‘come out’ in her support. Don’t be surprised if their support jumps come election time.

But she showed her admiration most when she wrote in her opening paragraph: “It felt something like blasphemy. A declaration as risky, difficult and defining as an admission to church-going, or loving a book you wouldn't be caught dead reading on a train but have secretly downloaded on your e-reader. Just three simple words, setting off a little explosion of shock within the collected school gate psyche. "I adore Julia.”

Well, so do I.

What about you?