It is with great pleasure that I present my analysis of where the 2007 federal election was won. Lesser commentators will reserve their post-mortems for November 25, or perhaps election night itself if they type quickly. But let the record show that on October 18, more than five weeks away from polling day, I was the first with the comprehensive analysis that explained not only why the result happened, but what it was in the first place.
Against all the odds, the Coalition has won the 2007 federal election with a net loss of only one seat – Bennelong, where the Prime Minister succumbed to Labor challenger Maxine McKew. Though many expected him to retire in this scenario, the Prime Minister has instead argued that the rest of the Australian electorate wants him to stay even if the voters of Bennelong do not. He will therefore seek to move to a safer seat as soon as a by-election has been organised.
Howard intends to take over the Victorian seat of Higgins, currently held by the man who has in fact already been dubbed Prime Minister-elect by most commentators, Peter Costello, who will be asked by his colleagues to retire. Howard congratulated Costello on a magnificent career. “I want to thank Peter, if not for his loyalty, for never having had the guts to act on his disloyalty,” he said. “I realise it’s tough for him to be made to retire just before finally becoming prime minister, but I promised voters I’d make the tough decisions in 2001, and I’m not going to stay in this job until I’m eighty by being a nice guy.”
Costello is understood to be gutted by the decision, but accepts that, as ever, when it comes to both voters and his party room, he simply doesn’t have the numbers. He will now retire from politics and assist his brother Tim with his charitable projects, in an effort to understand why his sibling is so much more widely respected. Costello is eager to put something back into a country that gave him so much – and yet still not enough.
In the aftermath of a famous victory like this one, everyone will want to take credit. And while Pauline Hanson’s role in policy development must be acknowledged, it is yet again the Coalition’s advertising guru, Ted Horton, who has delivered. This media Svengali, who voices many of the scariest attack ads himself, may simply have replicated the strategy that won the 2001 and 2004 elections, right down to the same use of L-plates, but as the Prime Minister has always maintained, experience is more important than creativity.
Of the many scare campaigns, it is perhaps that about unions which hit Labor hardest. Having come from the Party’s other great recruiting ground, the bureaucracy, Kevin Rudd was loath that 70 per cent of his front bench were unionists. But he ultimately accepted that to reform Labor’s recruiting processes to reflect merit rather than branch-stacking ability would take decades, and gave up. And where voters had initially been frightened that WorkChoices would make them lose their jobs, the Coalition’s advertising convinced them that groups of workers voluntarily coming together to demand a certain level of minimum conditions was a far more terrifying prospect.
Howard’s catchy slogan, “Go For Growth” also galvanised his prized mortgage-belt battlers who had previously been too busy worrying about their monthly repayments to pay heed to macroeconomic notions like growth rates. Now, thanks to the campaign, it suddenly seems that economic chatter is everywhere, leaving climate change forgotten as trendy inner-city dinner parties shifted to discuss the burning issues of the day, like the current account deficit and the consumer price index.
The scare campaign about wall-to-wall Labor governments also hit home, as voters realised that a party they were happy to repeatedly re-elect at state level couldn’t possibly be trusted Federally.
Ultimately Howard and Costello’s firm hands on the economy have once again won the day, and although it can be argued that they are the merely the beneficiaries of underlying structural reforms initiated by Hawke and Keating, an unprecedented resources boom and the fluctuations of the global economy, it is not an argument voters have been interested in hearing. The strength of Howard’s economic credentials was bolstered midway through the campaign, when he had the AFP arrest Governor Glenn Stevens and the entire Reserve Bank Board on its way to a meeting at which is was widely predicted interest rates would be jacked up because of the inflationary impact of the Coalition’s promised tax cuts. Such a decision, Howard argued, would have irrevocably damaged the Australian way of life – most particularly, his own – and was more than sufficient under the recent anti-terrorist legislation for them all to be imprisoned indefinitely without charge.
Against this ferocious Coalition attack, which none of his strategists could possibly have predicted unless they’d looked back at any of the previous three election campaigns, Rudd simply wilted. He had thought he’d win over the electorate with what he termed “fresh ‘n’ funky ideas” about climate change and education revolutions, but his decision to give all his policy speeches in Mandarin to showcase his “fine Beijing accent” ultimately backfired.
Rudd has been left licking his wounds, but is expected to remain unchallenged as leader thanks to his decision to appoint someone virtually unelectable as his deputy, yet another idea he copied from John Howard.
Once again in Australian politics, very little has changed – the inevitable result of economic good times that left the electorate feeling benevolent towards its government. And while previous elections have been marked by genuine concerns that the Coalition might decimate the education system, or skew industrial relations in favour of bosses, or introduce draconian security laws, this campaign was conducted in the knowledge that it’s all been done already.
So congratulations to John Howard, Prime Minister for another three years despite his pro more. Labor is left once more in the wilderness, knowing that if they are to ever beat the Coalition in a federal election, all they have to fear is fear itself.