Guest slot on the Oz election by Stephen Phelps

Guest slot on the Oz election by Stephen Phelps

    Will this man replace John Howard in the autumn?

rudd rh.JPGThe next Aussie General Election will be the 5th since Coalition leader John Howard became PM in 1996. It’s virtually certain to be held in either late October or in November, with a possibility of early December.

Two contrasting trends have emerged in recent weeks:1. the opinion polls have continued to show a slow but gentle improvement in the Coalition’s fortunes, and 2. the betting markets have tightened considerably, moving against the Coalition. Last time I reported, Labor were on around 1.95 on Betfair, now it’s more like 1.6, and of course the trend is the same among the Aussie bookies.

So why the paradox? Polls are showing that people think that the ALP (Australian Labor Party) under Kevin Rudd (pictured) is going to win. Although there’s been a drift in the polls to the Coalition, it hasn’t been very strong. The latest one from AC Neilsen had the forecast TPP result as ALP 55%, the Coalition 45%. Since Rudd’s rise to the top, the ALP had been getting a TPP in the high 50’s.

On Friday, the latest Morgan face-to-face poll was issued. But this one has shown a move in the opposite direction: ALP 58.5%, Coalition 41.5%. If the election result bore this out, the Coalition would be annihilated and Howard would be completely humiliated in his own seat of Bennelong.

What can explain the change? Last week, there was yet another interest rate rise in Australia. Worse for Howard, though, Morgan’s fieldwork polling was carried out before the financial market turmoil this week. This saw the Aussie dollar slip 5% in a couple of days, though some of this movement has been clawed back since then. The price trend for raw materials has been very firmly down and the Australian economy’s biggest strength is mining. Electorates don’t like incumbent Governments when economic problems emerge.

Howard is renowned for liking to strut the world stage. In a few weeks the next APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) annual meeting will be held, this time in Sydney. The centre of the city will be cordoned off in a security blitz that – it must be said – isn’t going to be popular. Bush will be in town. He has been and is a friend of Howard, but in the States, even Bush’s own party is rapidly distancing itself from him. Meanwhile Rudd wants the Aussie contingent out of Iraq now.

    Make no mistake, Howard will pull out all the stops he can to be re-elected, and he has shown himself to be ruthless. But while Australia is a very different country, the parallels between this Australian Federal Election and 1997’s General Election here in the UK in 1997 are stark.

The UK electorate had had enough of the Tories and New Labour were offering a very small target. In Australia, Howard has been PM for eleven years, long enough for an increasing number of people, and the ALP are offering a very small target. Many are calling the ALP the Alternative Liberal Party. Meanwhile polls have shown for nine months that the average Australian thinks he or she can trust Kevin Rudd and that, well, they actually quite like him.

This is my last article here; I’m moving back to Australia in a few weeks. So I’ll say now that I think – despite the question mark in the headline – it’s Game Over for Howard. To me, it looks like a no-brainer. They’re going to give Rudd a go. For further information, I can recommend and

Stephen Phelps

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