Inside the Ruddslide


Where Howard and Abbott imposed their clumsy and unilateral form of federalism on the States, Rudd Labor will work co-operatively with the States on Big Picture reform better hospital practices, rolling out a high-speed broadband network, tenders for the $1 billion school computer program, the establishment of trade training centres in secondary schools, and more.

As for the losers when the Liberal Party starts sifting through the shipwreck of Election ’07 on Sunday, the hard heads at Coalition HQ will at least have had the advantage of knowing all year that the Ruddslide was coming. For 12 months the published polls have shown Labor averaging a 7.5-8 per cent Two-Party Preferred (TPP) advantage, more than enough to crash through the 16-seat wining barrier. Not once has the Coalition bridged the gap.

We must surmise that the Liberals’ private polling has been just as ugly given that they’ve flip-flopped on policy throughout the election campaign like a snapper trapped in a tin dinghy.

Stopping the electoral tsunami has proved beyond them, and dealing with the legacy of defeat will still be painful

The mainstream media’s coverage of the upcoming Rudd administration has been cautious and lacking vision at best, and gullible at worst.

It’s clear from an analysis of the published polling that the ‘Howard battlers’ (those who switched to Howard in 1996 and stuck with him through Beazley, Crean, Latham and Beazley again) have departed the Libs en masse since the arrival of Rudd at the ALP helm and they are showing no signs of going back to Howard.

The same polling shows that WorkChoices is poison. We must also conclude that the Liberals’ internal polling shows that Howard is poison and so is the Federal Party. Hence the Libs’ wholesale ditching of all three aspects of their brand from their advertising, as they focus on local candidates and local issues a marvellous strategy for running a municipal council election, and fitting, given that after Saturday the most senior elected Liberal politician in the nation will be the Lord Mayor of Brisbane.

We hear anecdotally that it is now very difficult to get focus groups of uncommitted voters together for polling in marginal seats because the voters in those key seats have made up their minds. The latest Newspoll shows that Labor is still following the long-term trend into landslide territory. A 54 per cent of the TPP vote would give Labor 87 seats, the Coalition 61, with two independents a loss of 29 seats for the Coalition.

Insiders from both sides who’ve had access to months of internal key marginal seats polling showing the likely extent of Saturday’s rout can be excused for not spilling the beans. Why should Labor blow the lid on their own looming victory? And why would Liberals deflate the sinking morale of candidates and loyalists even further?

But there are no excuses for experienced political journalists, scared of getting it wrong, who’ve been seduced by the same Party insiders into parroting the notion that Saturday’s election will be close. Instead of any in-depth examination of why the polls are probably right, the media has swallowed a steady stream of cautious flim-flam, designed to deny that the result will be a blowout.

This was Paul Kelly on ABC TV’s Insiders on Sunday, channelling Wayne Swan : ‘This last week of the campaign is always the most important I don’t think the contest is over. Labor can still get 51 per cent of the vote and lose.’

Ideology-free Kevin07 and his team have cast a seductive dragnet over journalists throughout the campaign. Yesterday, Rudd was at it again at the National Press Club, telling a receptive audience that Saturday’s election will be won ‘by a nose.’


In Rudd’s racing parlance, Labor is three lengths ahead inside the final furlong and sailing to the line untouched by the jockey, leaving the Coalition gasping in its wake under vigorous persuasion by its two jockeys, and carrying more weight in its saddlebags than Par Lap in the 1934 Melbourne Cup. If it’s Labor by a nose, then it will be a shnozz the size of Pinocchio’s.

Thanks to Bill Leak

We ran into a senior and respected Press Gallery journalist on Friday, and discussed the nature of the looming landslide, and the compelling factors behind it. This election is over, we noted, with only the extent of the Coalition defeat to be pencilled in. ‘I know,’ replied the reporter, a former foreign correspondent with decades of experience reporting Federal politics.

So why have the media been shy about reporting this?

Last week I asked an influential journalist why he wasn’t reporting on the looming big Labor win. He replied, in part: ‘I am also being told that ALP insiders are very confident, and big gains are on the cards. But they are saying that off-the-record. They do not want any public comment of that kind and are being more careful than Costello in their on-the-record conversations.’

That’s a fair call only if you believe a journalist’s job is simply to report on press releases and media conferences, and not probe more deeply into what’s actually happening.

The media have been busily covering the 2004 campaign and ignoring the signs that voters have been panting for the end of Howard for 12 months. As a result, the media have done very little of their job of putting the polls in perspective, let alone looking at what might happen under a Rudd administration. The Age‘s Shaun Carney took a tentative step with his piece on Tuesday.  Other journalists have concentrated on becoming part of the show the bizarre antics of The Australian’s Caroline Overington surely deserve their own chapter in the Election ’07 book.

Many journalists publicly canvassed the possibility of a Latham Government in 2004. The flood of voters back to the perceived safe haven of the Howard Government, and the subsequent revelations that Latham was madder than several wet roosters, made the journos look more foolish than Costello doing the Macarena. So this time, they fear to tread and won’t rush in. Sure, no one will be able to scoff, ‘You said Rudd was going to win!’ in the very unlikely event that the Coalition pulls a miracle out of their hats on Saturday. But by the same token, no one can say that the media are looking beyond the spin to inform the public.

Is it possible there’s an mysterious X-factor the polls have not captured that will lead to a miraculous Coalition win? Some commentators continue to believe so. One wrote on Tuesday:

The polls say we will elect a Labor Government, but they also say we believe the Liberals are superior economic managers, even after the recent interest rate rise. That contradicts political logic.

What’s logic got to do with politics? In any case, this ‘logic’ is actually deeper than most commentators have been able to see. Australians don’t much like the spirit of the Howard Government, and they’ve been shocked by the WorkChoices revolution. They now have a Labor leader who’s demonstrated he’s worth voting for.

The commentator continues:

‘I can’t explain why they are going to throw the Government out,’ one Labor MP told me last week. ‘I have a nagging worry they won’t.’ and ‘ Rudd’s popular, but he hasn’t made a case for change,  a Minister claimed.’

He is not the only denizen of the Press Gallery to swallow these self-serving lines. Of course you could parrot your Government sources and totally ignore the fact that Workchoices and the environment are the two biggest issues of the campaign. The two issues that, despite our historical tendency not to throw out governments when the economy is doing well, spell doom for the Howard Government.

Voters know, even if journalists don’t, that we need to take serious action on climate change now and that a Howard Government has absolutely no intention of doing so. Howard’s line that he’s a ‘climate change realist’ is fooling no one.

‘Will the undecided voters back the Government? Will the soft Labor voters stop their flirtation?’ asks a correspondent, hedging his bets and avoiding looking foolish if Howard wins. The latest Newspoll has just 4 per cent undecided. They’d have to all go with the Government. The soft Labor voters are clearly not flirting, they’re already in bed with Rudd in fact, they’re already smoking a post-coital cigarette with him.

The last poll, showing a 12 per cent gap at 56:44, might actually have been 53:47, but could also have been 59:41. The poll today showing 54:46 might actually be 51:49 or it could be 57:43 because of the roughly 3 per cent margin of error on polls of about 1000 people. But given the long term trend has been toward Labor it’s safe to infer that it’s more likely to be too generous to the Government and that the long-term trend has barely moved. The credible online analyst, the ANU’s Peter Brent, has been saying as much for the past week on his Mumble blog.

A big swing is on, and it will be at least at the 1996 scale: 6.17 per cent. If the swing were uniform, that would give Labor 83 seats, the Coalition 65, with 2 independents. And given that the poll trend has been so much more consistent this time than for the same period before the 1996 election, it’s reasonable that the national swing could end up being even higher than it was back then.

Interestingly, while the swings aren’t huge in the city seats, there seem to be some very large swings in marginals and in the regionals some up around the 13-14 per cent level that would bring them to Labor. There are some in Victoria who reckon there’s a good chance of four seats back to Labor.

But there are seats that swing and there are seats with much narrower margins, like Costello’s Higgins on 8.8 per cent, which like a man with dyspraxia at a dancing class just don’t swing.

A likely result, then, factoring in the number that keeps showing up in the polls of around 7.5-8 per cent swing, is 93 seats to Labor, 44 Liberal and 13 Nationals. A hard ask though, as Labor needs about 51.6 per cent to get a 17th seat. So let’s assume the celebration on Saturday night will be a big one, and look at what a Rudd Labor government will look like.

The first year of Rudd Labor will be the only free kick he gets to choose ‘his’ team. Rudd’s problem is that when people get to know him, they generally don’t like him, and he is not widely liked in Caucus. Of course, none of that matters, so long as he delivers what he’s promised. And after Saturday he will certainly be respected.

In the first year, that will be enough to get him to get his top 10 or so choices the rest will go to the factions, as always. These are the only prizes factions can offer (other than pre-selection). So factions will hang on to that power they will just have to be clever about wielding it.

There are some good people coming into the Parliament who will be front bench options. Bob Debus was a sound NSW Environment Minister and appeals as a replacement for Peter Garrett a big disappointment during this campaign after such a promising start to his political career.

Greg Combet and Bill Shorten are the most talented twosome to come from the union movement in generations, and giant-killer Maxine McKew would have to be looking at a front bench role asap Parliamentary Secretary, at least.

Rudd will make room for them by pruning some of the dead wood Laurie Ferguson and a few others.

The challenges for the Liberals in Opposition will be immense. After Saturday, the battle will be on between the moderates and the Right-wingers for control of the Party. Word is that Andrew Robb has been canvassing for support in NSW to take over the Party’s leadership should Peter Costello show any hesitancy in the Herculean task of rebuilding the soon-to-be shattered Party.

And shattered it will be. The people are about to speak and even the PM is not so tone deaf that he doesn’t hear. His desperate appearance on Tuesday with Peter Costello on Today Tonight, and his fevered scare campaign are testament to that.

As one journalist who has been attuned to the electorate’s mood, The Australian’s Sam Maiden put it: ‘John Howard’s decision to revisit the leadership question in the dying days of the election campaign must stand as the clearest symbol yet that the Liberal campaign is careering out of control.’

The Liberals’ campaign now has become pure damage control aimed at minimising the carnage, with ads pitched directly to its crumbling heartland, warning of ‘union control’ and ‘financial misadventure’ by Rudd Labor. Those ads don’t bite with focus groups of soft Labor voters, they’re a direct appeal to the rats who might otherwise be leaving the sinking ship which, on Sunday morning, with the benefit of hindsight, no doubt the press gallery will all be claiming they saw sailing towards the iceberg all along.

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