Both big parties on the nose in Newspoll

The latest Newspoll may turn out to be an outlier, but the marked drop in support and approval ratings for both Labor and the Liberal-Nationals, and their respective leaders, does seem to have a logical connection to the diminishing credibility and increasing cynicism and shallowness which both party’s leaders have been displaying of late.

The 16% support level recorded for the Greens is not just a record for that party, but would be amongst the highest recorded for any third party at federal level.  Of course it will be extremely difficult for the Greens to retain that level of support once the election is announced and the larger parties start kicking in their millions of dollars in campaign spending – not to mention their leaders’ domination of the mainstream media coverage which inevitably occurs during the campaign proper.

But it makes Kevin Rudd seem almost prescient when he made his now notorious description of government misuse of public funds for self-promotion as a “cancer on our democracy”.  No doubt the public are well conditioned to parties saying one thing in opposition and another when they get into government (and vice versa for that matter), but perhaps the speed with which Mr Rudd seems to have done this not only means his denunciations of the previous government are fresher in the memory, but also means memories of the previous government’s own outrages in the same area are also fresher, making it much harder for the Opposition’s cries of outrage to have much credibility.

Still, knowing that both the big parties practice the same abuses when they’re in government that they criticise when they’re in opposition doesn’t do anything to stop it from continuing to happen.  The very fact that the vast majority of people keep voting them back in despite this provides a pretty good incentive for them to continue the pattern.  It isn’t going to change unless enough people decide to switch their vote to different parties or candidates.

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  1. Andrew,

    Rudd’s backflip on this is clear and easy to see. However, as a commentator, I am disappointed that the line you take seems to be the simple “pox on both your houses” analysis, without even a passing acknowledgement that this backflip is in part a result of Rudd choicing to take a radical approach to significantly increase the tax on some of the most wealthy and profitable companies in Australia. The Resource Super Profit Tax is good policy, as I believe you’d acknowledge. It’s also very courageous, to take on established wealth and power, and a radical change from the political cowardace that defined the ALP in opposition during most of the years that you were a Senator.

    A a political professional now working get out the both side are evil line, I can see why you’d not want to acknowledge this factor, but as someone who on this blog has been an honest commentator first, I think it’s a shame.


  2. I know Andrew you are in the Greens now, but do you think there is now an opportunity for another ‘Don Chipp’ type party at the moment?

    Labor voters who feel that the ALP is too much on the right can find a home with the Greens, but what about those who feel like Malcolm Fraser?

    Is there space for a party that while may have a ‘pro-business’ ‘low tax’ outlook has progressive views on the republic, reconciliation, asylum seekers and multiculturalism?

  3. Well said, Andrew. I agree with Dave that the RSPT is a courageous policy. I only wish that the associated $700 million annual infrastructure spend was destined for re-tooling the Australian economy for the renewable age and not for building new coal freight lines.

    The mining industry stands to gain a great deal from this tax in terms of long-term infrastructure planning by the federal government. I’d hate to see their reaction to a tax that truly confronted the entrenched interests in our economy.

  4. Thanks for commenting Dave.

    Whilst I don’t think people should carried away by one poll, it does seem to indicate a pox on both your houses attitude (including the notable increases in the disapproval ratings for both leaders), and given the various actions by both leaders in recent weeks which have undermined their overall credibility, the poll could be seen to reflect what would seem to be a reasonable reaction from voters.

    As for the mining tax, whilst I’d reserve judgement on the specific details until a final version is put forward, I certainly do agree with the general principle of having profitable mining companies paying a higher amount of tax. The basic idea of mining companies paying some sort of resource rent tax is so the nation as a whole gets recompense for the miners getting to make use of a one-off resource – when the value and profits made from using those resources rises significantly, it is only fair and reasonable that the amount of tax paid by those who have got permission to mine that resource increases as well.

    However, even though I support the thrust of their policy I still can’t see any excuse why the government should be able to use millions of taxpayers dollars advertising why it’s a good thing. There are few things that irritate me more than governments promoting their policies using the public’s money. Mr Rudd and all his Ministers have the opportunity to access huge amounts of free media to explain what’s good about their policy and what’s wrong about the miners’ claims – they shouldn’t have to resort to using public money to do so.

  5. Guido

    Given how difficult it is for even a third party to survive and prosper in our two party system, I really can’t see there being sufficient space for a strong fourth or fifth one – especially if it is going to overlap at least in part with an existing one.

    Some people might say the Liberal Democratic Party (the Australian one) fits your description, although I think their fairly purist libertarian ideology, which can lead them to stances which I wouldn’t describe as progressive. In any case, I find it hard to see how they will manage to become a politically viable force.

    I’m sure many people would feel that the description of the former Australian Democrats as ‘pro-business, low-tax’ isn’t terribly accurate (and personally I don’t think being pro business automatically requires you to be low tax either).

    Personally, I think those who have a progressive approach on social issues, the environment and higher standards of political accountability who also like a supportive attitude towards business would be best served pushing the Greens to show more in that regard.

    Speaking from personal experience, there is a lot of overlap in the views and attitudes of Greens members and those in the Democrats – many of them are not instinctively anti-business, but are just motivated first and foremost by social and/or environmental issues. They may not necessarily have the personal knowledge or experience of how best to pursue those goals in a way which is more cognisant of the needs of business – although having said that, there are quite a few people in the Greens with business experience, especially in the small business arena.

    As for the Don Chipp style keep the bastards honest, strengthen accountabilty, use balance of power to negotiate constructively, etc – that’s a space the Greens have now all but fully occupied, and they have already shown a fair bit of skill in doing that robustly and effectively, following in the Democrats footsteps. It appears likely the Greens will hold Senate balance of power in their own right after he next election. The more Senators they have there in that role, the more capacity they will have to get fully across the views and concerns of all sectors, including business.

  6. Andrew,

    The last third party with these sorts of Newspoll numbers were the Australian Democrats in 1990 – they polled 17% (+- 2%) which is exactly where the Greens are now.

    There are differences though – between 1990 & 2010:

    1. Both majors have moved alarmingly to the conservative right – and are indistinguishable from each other on most key issues of deep concern;

    2. Both majors are on the wrong side of most key policy and governance issues as far as progressives are concerned;

    3. Both majors suffer from a historically ‘soft vote’ because of substantial vocal disruption & rejection by progressives from both ‘sides’ (Labor & Liberal).

    Spending multi – millions of dollars will not change these dynamics – if the messaging from both majors is wrong – indeed it is likely to accelerate their defecting vote on current policy and message settings.

    When the Democrats campaigned in 1990, they told the electorate 3 things:

    1. To “Give A Damn”

    2. To “Send Both Parties A Message”

    3. To “Keep the Bastards Honest in the Senate”

    The electorate interpreted these messages as encouragement by the Democrats to care enough to cast a protest vote – and then rely on the Democrats to fix up the policy problems of both parties after the election with a few Senators.

    This left potential Democrat voters scratching their heads, wondering why Janine Haines was even bothering to run for the Lower House…

    This message was the wrong one – and failed to consolidate the 17% or to grow it. It implied that the Democrats either did not believe they could, or did not aspire to replace the Bastards and govern in their place. Voters were not inspired by this message.

    In my view – the Greens (even if outspent) can accelerate the disruption of the majors core vote and grow their vote to about 20% at the election if they message differently in 2010 – and learn from Democrat strategic and tactical errors of the past.

  7. The Greens should try this strategy:

    1. Challenge the old “Left vs. Right” political dichotomy as false – and position both Labor & Liberal as alarmingly ‘the same’ and both conservative right on the policies, and governance issues that matter;

    2. Challenge the stereotype of the Greens as a protest vote, ‘extreme left’ party who only care about one issue. Clearly state the aim of the Greens to build progressive majority positions in both Houses of Parliament.

    3. Promote the concept that the Greens are preparing to govern on a whole of government basis, with a progressive suite of policies in all portfolios (Environmental, Economic, Social and Foreign Affairs), contrasting with the majors conservatism.

    This can be done without matching the expenditure of the major parties – as the UK Lib Dems proved with a smaller, but more salient message and campaign at the recent elections over there.

    Following the Democrat example just wont cut the mustard – it didn’t then, and it won’t now.

  8. Andrew O

    That strategy looks reasonable to me, and isn’t that far removed from the directions the Greens are seeking to go. However, encapsulating that in a message and finding ways to communicate that message in ways that will gain enough traction to garner the attention and support of the politically disengaged is another thing again.

    The messages you listed from the Democrats 1990 campaign included the main slogan of ‘Give a Damn’. This was aimed at reinforcing the reason to vote for Janine Haines and the Dems in the House of Reps – that people should say they give a damn by changing their vote to someone new and responsible/credible. The slogan may or may not have been the best (I don’t like it much, but I’ve rarely seen a slogan that does anything much for me and they’re not really aimed at people like me anyway), but I don’t think that’s why the Democrats and Haines couldn’t their vote (which ended up being 11.3% nationwide in the House of Reps in that year – Haines got 26.4%. Both were the best national and individual House of Reps votes the party achieved in their history).

    As Nick Minchin has openly admitted, a week or so out from polling day, Janine Haines was polling first in her seat of Kingston and well on track to win. It was only when Minchin’s Libs unleashed the “most negative campaign ever” on the Democrats in that final week that a good 10% or so was carved off her vote. It’s fair to say the Democrats were not well prepared for that and were not able to counter it. In my view, she would also have had a better chance if she had run in Mayo rather than Kingston.

    Having said all that, I broadly agree with you. The Greens are more prepared for dishonest negative attacks – such as we saw in the final week of the Tassie campaign from Labor, but it is still very hard to match targetted negative campaigns, esp if they are last minute and well resourced.

    However, that’s part and parcel of politics, and complaining about it won’t help. With higher support comes greater scrutiny and fiercer competition – accepting and dealing with that will be part of the challenges the Greens will face as they continue to mature.

    The Greens have also basically moved into the space the Democrats used to occupy in the Senate in regards to accountability, scrutiny and reasoned negotiation. That transformation should be complete after this election when the Greens are likely to hold the Senate balance of power in their own right. It will be very important that the Greens do that role effectively and well, as it is both important and valued by many people – and the performance of the current Greens Senators over the past couple of years in a shared balance of power role gives me no reason to think they won’t do it well. However, you are right in saying that role and message has its limitations, and the Greens certainly see themselves as doing and providing more than that. Convincing more of the electorate of the value of that greater role as a credible alternative to the two old parties is the challenge ahead.

  9. I’ll be a wet blanket here guys, but I don’t believe for a minute that the Greens will attract anywhere near 16% of the vote come election time. My interest in is how Newspoll has divided up the 24% that is not presently with the ALP or The Coalition.

    This is how I see it: The Greens will get 10%, so that 6% can be added to the 8% on independents and minor parties, equalling 14%.

    If this 14% is split in accordance with the respective primary votes of both major parties, then 7.5% goes to the Coalition, 6.5% to the ALP.

    So, added to the primary votes, we now have 48.5% Coalition and 41.5% ALP.

    Am I wrong in supposing that the Greens preferences will be split about 70-30 ? If so, then the Coalition will have 51.5% and the ALP 48.5%. On these figures the Coalition will win comfortably.

    For the ALP to win it will need 85% of Green preferences.

    Is that possible ?

  10. Andrew,

    I had to laugh listening to Question Time on June 2. Gillard was askd about a radio interview that Brad Orgill (Head of Building Education Revolution Rorts Taskforce) gave that day saying that he had NO ACCESS to cost data for any of the projects he was investigating. It like doing a report with hands tied and mussled.

    Anyway when asked in parliament Gillard said that she has not heard the radio interview. Around 30 minutes later during another question she said that her staff had seen the transcript and that the Oppositions Question saying that Orgill has said that was a FABRICATION and she went on with a tirade.

    The Radio station (2GB) played the interview today and he indeed said that, so Gillard has lied to parliament.

  11. While the greens preferences will certainly aid the ALP the other minors will normally flow to the Coalition.
    Its now starting to look like two contenders are emerging for the 6th Senate ticket. The LNP will be running on a common LNP ticket and will pick up 3 Seats, The ALP will gain 2, both parties will provide a minor party with preference flows.
    The emerging contenders are the greens and they should gain the popular vote and the second contender now seems likely to be the DLP coming in with a strong preference block.

    With this in mind I attended an interview on the ABC and it can be heard on the following link
    ABC’s Steve Austin

    Looks like interesting times ahead and has certainly oppened up the vote in the north for the DLP.

  12. I think there will be a swing to Liberals, with smaller parties and independents picking up a lot more votes than usual.

    I think Rudd may be about to hand the reins to Corporate Neo-Communist Queen Gillard, now that he has flushed so much money down the toilet that he couldn’t win a second term as Prime Minister.

    When I attended the forum “Make Poverty History”, I noted Arch Bevis, Labor incumbent for the seat of Brisbane, to say something like:

    “Australia has one of the lowest foreign debts out of all of the OECD countries.”

    He neglected to mention that just about the whole of the developed world has a massive foreign debt, and climbing.

    On my walk back to the railway station, I saw a man scrounging through bins for something to eat.

    Arch Bevis MP said he wanted to do more for the homeless before increasing foreign aid to 0.7% of GDP.

    We cannot hit foreign debt for 6, while driving mining companies out, some to the vast iron ore fields of Africa.

    We should easily be able to increase foreign aid, but what do we see instead? Food Bank putting its cages back in the shopping centres at the beginning of June, in the hope of feeding many thousands of starving Aussies. They were there for about 3 months around Xmas.

    I also saw food cages in shopping centres after the Indonesian tsunami – makes me wonder what the world is coming to, when Aussies are starving.

    Huge numbers of women have spent the last 2 years knitting blankets, jumpers, scarves and beanies for our own homeless and destitute citizens.

    For 11 years, the knitted items went to the back blocks of China and Europe, until the recession and reduced donations made it impossible for World Vision to pay shipping costs.

  13. the only way the greens can become a force is to convince the people that they can be trusted to do what they say weather good or bad as interprited buy the ppl and NOT BE CORRUPTED BUY LABOR OR LIB.
    this is a very hard thing to do but thats what most ppl are looking for a handbreak on stupidity .
    most ppl see the greens as tree huggers they have to become a party that is the ppls voice in the parliment then STICK TO THERE PROMISES .nomater what thats where credibility is .

    we all know what happend when the last mob who had the ppls respect went against what they had sead .

  14. It’s hardly surprising that the corporate media and ABC never actually inform readers about the Greens achievements and policies but rather take any opportunity to present the Greens as some kind of social movement detached from politics.

    That’s to be expected, but what is perplexing is that Greens candidates adopt the same talking points – here’s an example from today’s ‘Sun-Herald’/’Brisbane Times’:

    Get political, Greens founder urges party fundamentalists

    In it, Libby Connors and Drew Hutton appear to suggest that some members of the Greens are somehow hobbled by their more radical members, and need to compromise in order to achieve political change.

    Andrew, perhaps you might have some views about “selling out” a political party’s base in order to be “pragmatic” about political compromise, and how that pans out come voting time?

  15. Andrew,

    Does Labor need to dump Rudd to win the election? If so, does Gillard have enough time to turn the ship around? Do you think Rudd was planning an election in August and now the party have delayed to later in hope the polls turn?

  16. I’m wondering if the election might now be put off until September or October, with Rudd passing the ball to Gillard, and Hockey stealing it from Abbott.

  17. Disagree. I think the lack of philosophical and ideological debate in recent years has been to the benefit of the Greens and others. With Rudd and his bureaucratic, no ideology style gone and with a stronger and more opinionated prime minister in charge I think you will see the landscape rapidly change. It may be for better or worse depending on your view. The bipartisan, non-political ideals of people like Rudd and Obama may appeal to voters in theory but I believe deep down they really respond to leaders with strong, divergent views that they either love or hate.

  18. I don’t think Australians like any politicians very much. Nobody seems to do what is best for Australians as a whole. They mostly want to serve interest groups, rather than deal with major problems head on.

    Labor has given Rudd his marching orders due to his gross unpopularity. They had to get Gillard into his chair very quickly, in the faint hope of salvaging the last vestige of credibility before they go to election.

    I think they have no chance of winning a second term, but last night at my dance class, a lot of women were putting on a show of domination over males in response to the instalment (not election) of Julia Gillard. This turned me off quite a lot.

    I prefer equality of the genders, not a patriarchal or matriarchal society, but hopefully this will finally give some of the smaller parties the idea that we have moved decades away from the “pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen” domination, and belittlement of women’s intellectual abilities.

    Maybe some women will vote for a Labor government because they have installed Julia Gillard as party leader, but I think most will not.

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