The last week of the campaign has run in Howard’s favour, and the Prime Minister has looked more confident and assured than at anytime during the last two months.
In fact, Latham’s campaign fell in a heap in the last week.
After declaring that the election was a referendum on Medicare, and about taking pressure off families, the Coalition launched its forests policy on Monday and its higher education policy. Medicare only got a run because the ALP had a ‘last-minute’ spat with the AMA.
So the ALP campaign went seriously off message just when it was critical to be tightly focused to influence those ‘undecideds’ as they head to the booths. Labor got ‘outplayed’, again, by Howard. Everyone knows Howard loves to ‘wedge’ – why wasn’t the ALP campaign ready for it?
Instead, Latham ditched ALP support for the Regional Forests Agreement, confirmed at the party’s conference earlier this year, and allowed Howard to break his flank. Howard got top of the bulletins on Wednesday night with a glowing endorsement from the CFMEU (forestry division) and an angry Dick Adams (ALP, Lyons) calling for his leader’s resignation just 72 hours before the booths open.
The headlines said it all: ‘Howard trumps Latham’ and ‘Howard wedges ALP’. This sort of coverage is part of the problem with modern Australian elections. The Canberra press gallery virtually never does any research or policy analysis; it just does sports commentating masquerading as serious journalism.
In keeping with the rest of the ALP campaign, Latham’s performance at the National Press Club on Tuesday was competent without reaching any great heights.
He didn’t look like a man who thought he would be leading the country in just a few days’ time. He looked like a greenhorn who’d had some fun but never seriously expected to win the race.
The ‘beaten side’ impression continued on Mike Carlton (Sydney radio) on Thursday morning when Latham several times refused to even say the contest was ‘tight’ or ‘close’. Not a great omen. The PM, however, said elsewhere that it is close (to minimise the protest vote) but he was ‘confident’ (to dampen any ALP enthusiasm).
The polls (except Morgan) favour the Coalition, some by a large margin; and, in the betting ring the late money is heavily favouring Howard. By Thursday, Howard had tightened to almost unbackable odds.
Nevertheless, if the late polls show the ALP with a first preference count of 42 or 43 percent then election night will be very interesting indeed! But so far there’s no sign of that happening. The best that seems on offer for Latham is that with a bit of luck Labor might force a hung parliament, by picking up eight seats, but even that looks unlikely from here.
One problem for Latham is that some of his gains might be offset by losses in Tasmania (particularly Bass), Hasluck (WA) and Greenway (NSW).
Worse still, a greater than expected performance by the Greens “ perhaps aided by the final week focus on trees “ might see the ALP struggling in the seats of Sydney, Grayndler, Melbourne and Cunningham (currently held by Michael Organ for the Greens).
On the other side of the ledger, the big danger is Wentworth. Though I still struggle with the concept of Double Bay and Vaucluse being represented by the ALP. Still, Turnbull is unpopular. King has a loyal troop of monarchist followers, and the general demographics are changing a bit and the Greens could do well.
If anything, the Senate is more difficult to pick.
The Coalition starts off in a strong position with 18 of the 36 non-retiring Senators. By getting one (of two) in each Territory and 3 of 6 in each State, something that requires only 42 percent of the primary vote, Howard could end up with effective control of both houses.
The Democrats have four non-retiring senators and they will be extremely fortunate if they can add to that number. The Greens have two non-retiring and are certain to pick three or more new ones up this time, but mainly at the expense of the ALP and Democrats.
If Howard gets up he will equal Hawke’s four successive election victories. If the Coalition gets more than 50.95% of the two party preferred (TPP) vote, Howard will be the first Prime Minister, for at least 60 years (and maybe ever), to get an increased vote at two successive elections. And if the Coalition ends up with 38 Senators, Howard will be in an enormously strong position inside and out of his party.
My tip (as of Thursday morning) is that the Coalition will get 82 lower house seats and the rest (ALP, Greens, Independents) will get 68. In the Senate, I think the Coalition might just fall short and end up with 36 or 37 senators.
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