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Aussie politics - game on

By Henry Thornton - posted Monday, 5 February 2007

Governments inevitably get tired and oppositions eventually get their act together. After brave tries by Kim Beazley and a mad gamble with Mark Latham, Kevin Rudd brings solid professionalism to his task of beating John Howard.

He has made an impressive start. Rudd's Labor is well ahead in the opinion polls, and even the punters have finally shortened the odds on a Labor win.

John Howard keeps repeating that the Federal Election later this year will be hard to win, and this time he is sincere.


You can be sure he will pull out every stop, be very active and make many new announcements. The power of incumbency is considerable, and he is a master in its use.

Howard announced a new "war cabinet", using his newly promoted water supremo, Malcolm Turnbull, to "grab" control of the Murray-Darling Basin - concrete evidence of urgent and sensible action.

Howard starts the election year with two bits of good news. It has rained, and many experts are saying the signs are good for further, drought breaking, rain. Recall that Bob Hawke broke the drought after he was elected, Howard may do it ahead of the election.

Then there is inflation, slightly negative in the December quarter, with "underlying" inflation also below expectations and below September's worrying numbers. If this welcome trend continues there will be no further rate hike, and this would remove a threat that might well have given Labor a real chance to win.

This result, incidentally, owes something - in my view quite a bit - to the Government's controversial IR policy reform. Joe Hockey will sell this policy better than his predecessor, and a free kick may come when a respected economic guru gives credit where it is due.

Conversely, if Labor is too zealous about "rollback" in this area, it will lose votes. The "swing group" in this area are Australia's independent contractors, whose numbers include many former union members and firm Labor supporters who have adjusted to life as small businessmen and women.


According to a recent Morgan Poll, 81 per cent of Australian workers say their job is safe and 63 per cent say they could find a new job quickly if they were to become unemployed - both virtually unchanged from a year ago. So much for increased levels of WorkChoices-born job insecurity.

In the US, John Howard's mate, George Bush, is in real trouble with his strategy in the War on Terror under serious scrutiny. So far, Howard has seemed immune to the massive backlash against Bush (and Tony Blair in the UK). If the "coalition of the willing" is on the way out of Iraq by the time of the Federal election here, this will be a plus for the Government.

Howard must cut a quick deal with Washington that will see David Hicks home before long, and the signs are promising. This would be popular.

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About the Author

Henry Thornton (1760-1815) was a banker, M.P., Philanthropist, and a leading figure in the influential group of Evangelicals that was known as the Clapham set. His column is provided by the writers at

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