Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's time to clean out the sewer pipes and wash the Australian federal government into the gutter.. Parliamentary cage fight leaves punters unimpressed.

AFTER a parliamentary year of toxicity, smear, sleaze, personal abuse, character assassination, brinkmanship, moments of dire peril for the minority government, a leadership challenge, the passage of some momentous legislation, the government and opposition, and leaders Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, have finished the year where they began.
In a political and parliamentary cage fight, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have engaged in an unprecedented personal combat to the political death, with both of them inflicting serious wounds, yet the popular judgment is that it has only served to reinforce existing prejudices.
Against a background of public disquiet with the style and tone of politics and parliamentary behaviour, which is made worse in perception and practice by minority government, the underlying political reality has changed little.
This unhappiness with the political tactics of personal assault is not only being voiced by voters but by the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anna Burke, who was moved to an almost voiceless frustration on the last parliamentary sitting day on Thursday, when she said: "This is not amusing. It really isn't. It's absolutely, you know, disgraceful you will treat your parliament with such contempt." She was addressing her remarks to both sides of the house.
In politics outside the house, Labor's support, after slumping through the year with the advent of the carbon tax, has recovered; the Coalition's support has always been ahead of or - on two occasions in the past three months - equal to the ALP's on a two-party preferred basis; and voter satisfaction with the way the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader are doing their jobs continues to be deeply negative after both experienced the same depths of dissatisfaction during the year.
The only statistical change in the polling has been Gillard's recapture of the lead on the question of preferred prime minister: Abbott had a slight edge in February and Gillard now has a clear advantage.
But, overall, the year in which the underlying tensions and uncertainty of minority government were overlaid with the clear personal animosity between Gillard and Abbott has ended without a real change in voting intention.
Going into the election year of 2013, there are lessons for the political parties and their leaders from the successes and setbacks of 2012, a year of constant election campaigning without an election; they are already being adopted and adapted for what is likely to be a eight-month election campaign, with minority government being swept away - either way - at the the end of it.
Gillard has kept up and will keep up her attacks on Abbott's character, continuing to repeat her mantra about the Opposition Leader's negativity and sexism, about him being being old-fashioned, anti-abortion, aggressive, economically illiterate, dangerous, rash and out of control.
Combined with the Liberal leader's negative and aggressive campaign against the carbon tax, Labor's framing of Abbott has had an effect on voter satisfaction and resonates among the Labor faithful, women and younger voters.
Gillard will continue to point to policy achievements - notably the passage and implementation of the carbon tax, the Murray-Darling Basin agreement, commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and promised education reforms - while accusing Abbott of being a policy-free zone.
There is no doubt Labor's tactics have hurt Abbott's ratings. They have helped Gillard extend a lead over him as preferred prime minister in Newspoll to 46 per cent against 33 per cent this week, compared with Abbott's lead of 38 per cent to Gillard's 36 per cent in February. Labor's recovery from the pre-carbon tax implementation slump in the primary vote down to 27 per cent in the middle of the year - only a point above its lowest ever primary vote in Newspoll last year - to 36 per cent this week is a positive result and indicates a recovery in Labor's base among low-income earners, women and younger voters.
This rise in primary-vote support and a lead over Abbott as preferred PM, an important indicator, have also allowed Gillard to fend off leadership speculation about Kevin Rudd's return and go to the Christmas break more confidently than seemed likely just a few months ago.
As Gillard declared in her "Christmas valedictory" message in parliament on Thursday: "We (Labor) have emerged from 2012 strong and as a political party of purpose. No one can leave 2012 doubting the courage of the Labor Party to come to this parliament and get the big things done.
"I am tremendously proud of you and the way that you have worked under some extraordinary pressures," she said. "In a few weeks, when the working year ends, I wish everybody a time of rest and recovery. I will be doing that. I know those around the parliament will be doing that.
"And then we will be back, ready to go, full of energy in 2013, and I am really looking forward to the contest to come."
There is no doubting Gillard's determination to fight and her conviction she can win. But there are many within the ALP who fear the lift in the polls is not yet sufficient, does not reflect the real dangers in marginal seats and cannot be sustained by the continued feeding off attacks on Abbott while facing persistent questions about the Prime Minister's trustworthiness and judgment.
There is clear alarm among the ALP's senior ranks that Queensland, despite improvement, is still a potential killing ground for Labor, that the party is poised for the loss of up to 10 points in the western suburbs of Sydney and the NSW central coast, and that Western Australia and Tasmania could be Labor-less states unless there is a significant improvement in the polls.
Labor's primary vote of 36 per cent in Newspoll is better, but it isn't where Labor wanted to be now; it's still a losing level of support, it's below the vote in 2010, and it is concentrated in Labor strongholds in Victoria.
Labor knows it has to improve its position next year just to avoid an electoral rout, and has to improve markedly for a chance of victory.
Some improvement will come, but it must come with momentum - something that has been lost in recent weeks. That's why Gillard has moved to clear the decks of the negatives: declare the anti-carbon tax campaign out of puff and try to shut down the nagging saga of the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association slush fund.
For his part, Abbott knows he has to improve just to stay in front and keep momentum and confidence on his side. Abbott's leadership cause has been assisted by Malcolm Turnbull's decision to publicly support him, and he knows he has damaged Gillard's standing, although at great cost to himself. The challenge for Abbott is that he must change and, more important, transform the public perception of him as a disputatious Opposition Leader to one of a viable and positive alternative prime minister.
Abbott's change of direction is under way - even with an unheeded pledge to clean up parliamentary behaviour and restore political civility - but his success or otherwise remains the key to whether he or Gillard will emerge from the political cage fight that they constructed.

Parliamentary cage fight leaves punters unimpressed | The Australian:

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