Gillard's pork pies hard to resist
Our Prime Minister is a liar. A serial liar. Brazen. We shall detail some of the more preposterous lies presently but I don't think this will deter the electorate from returning Julia Gillard's government to office next Saturday, for all the wrong reasons. Labor will harvest the votes of the Australian pie-eaters, whose numbers are great and growing.
It is rarely a good idea to quote oneself (as distinct from repeating oneself, an occupational hazard), but to buttress the point I need to quote two earlier columns. The first appeared on March 26, 2007. It began: ''The people have spoken. John Howard should go. Now.''
That was eight months before the 2007 federal election. The second column I'd like to revisit was published on February 9, 2009. It began: ''Kevin Rudd's credibility as an honest politician, as a man who does not engage in evasions, omissions and distortions on a grand scale, finally began to seriously erode last Tuesday, when he rose in the House of Representatives to elaborate on his latest proposal to save the nation.''
Illustration: Michael Mucci
That was 18 months ago, before pink batts, before the Building the Education Revolution feeding trough, before the asylum-seekers sieve, before the debt binge and before the Olympian reversal on a carbon emissions trading scheme, ''the greatest moral issue of our time''.
When the public finally woke up to Napoleon Rudd his own officers were quick to be rid of him. Thus came this improbable election campaign and with improbability comes uncertainty. The latest opinion polls published at the weekend found the Herald/Nielsen poll predicting a Labor victory, Newspoll giving Labor a slender lead, and a Galaxy poll giving the Coalition 17 Labor seats, enough for victory. The parties' own polling still calls it close, just six days from the only poll that matters.
While the media has done a sterling job of presenting the issues I don't think policy is going to determine the outcome. Instead, six gut issues are working in Gillard's favour:
1. Gender. Many women will not have the heart to vote out Australia's first woman prime minister after barely two months in office, a humiliation of historic proportions and enough to give pause.
2. The Greens. As if the Greens would ever do a preference deal with the Liberals. The Greens' preference agreement with Labor, plus compulsory preferential voting, means a vote for the Greens in an election for the House of Representatives can serve as a protest vote against Labor but still end up as a vote for Labor.
3. Marginal pork barrels. Every government leverages the advantages of office to deliver spending to targeted marginal electorates and the Gillard government is true to form.
4. Victorian provincialism. Tony Abbott is from Sydney. Gillard is from Melbourne. In Victoria, enough said. The Liberals will lose seats in Victoria, offsetting the anti-Labor mood in NSW.
5. Joe Hockey. There is a limit to how much damage a party can sustain before regenerating. Losing three leaders in two years, then the retirements of Peter Costello and Senator Nick Minchin, who were the de facto leaders of the Liberals, cut into the muscle and bone of the party. If Costello and Minchin were still in place the Liberals' economic credibility would be robust and Labor's leadership stunt would be in serious trouble. Hockey's amiable appearance belies a hardened factional warrior who lacks the gravitas one expects of a federal treasurer. Andrew Robb, yes. Malcolm Turnbull, yes. Peter Costello, in spades. Hockey is lead in Abbott's saddlebags.
6. The pie-eaters. Finally, we get to the most structural and disturbing aspect of the election, the growing primacy of the pie-eaters. As the recent British election showed, when sections of a country become addicted to government spending (Scotland and Wales), the electorate will vote out of self-interest and vote for the party of big government. That is, vote Labor, no matter how bad the record.
Voters are expecting more from government on healthcare, education and social security and expectancy creates dependency. One in four Australians now depends on the government for the bulk of their income. Another one in four Australians depends on government spending, directly or indirectly, for their jobs. That's half the electorate depending on tax transfers.
The pie-eaters greatly outnumber the pie-makers.
In Western Europe, the culture of expectations has become crippling. Australia has been saved from the same process by the Chinese economic revolution, flogging off natural resources, and high immigration, none of which are structural fixes. The danger point comes when the majority vote for big government as a matter of self-interest, not just principle.
We are already at that point in Australia. Hence the swathe of Labor governments across the country. Labor stands to benefit again on Saturday even though its federal leader is a liar. Here is a handful of her doozies:
Gillard (in campaign ad): ''If we'd followed Mr Abbott's judgment, and done nothing, Australia would have gone into a deep recession''. Preposterous. Abbott supported a stimulus package, but not the debt boom and cash splash.
Gillard (in campaign ad): ''I've resolved the mining tax issue''. Nonsense.
Gillard: ''Abbott stripped $1 billion from the public hospital system.'' More nonsense. A Labor ad claims Costello refused to endorse Abbott as an economic manager. Says Costello: ''To me this is as dishonest as you can get. She should have pulled that ad.''
All this may vindicate cynicism with politicians but I will be surprised on Saturday if the first woman prime minister does not win the chance to show what she can do away from the shadow of Kevin Bonaparte.
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