Category Archives: Strategy

Direction, Markers and Symbolism

Two weeks since the Coalition formed government under Tony Abbott’s leadership, it is very clear to me that they’re about to run rings around their political opponents (at least in the short term while the ALP remains leaderless). In this post I’ll attempt to go over how they’re going to do this.

People are very uncertain about the direction of their lives and the direction of the nation. What this means for the government is they need to provide firm and achievable markers for people in order to communicate what they’re doing in a way they can both digest and understand.

The previous government failed miserably in this respect. There was the marker of a budget surplus but it wasn’t achievable due to the volatility in the global economy which the Coalition exploited at every opportunity with great effect.

Some examples of markers the new government have established are very familiar: “stop the boats”, “end the waste”, “repay the deficit”, “abolish the carbon tax”, “abolish the mining tax”, “restore trust”, “cut red and green tape” etc.

In terms of the way policy and outcomes are viewed within the Canberra bureaucracy, this stuff is vague, overly simplistic, unspecific and potentially dangerous but to voters who have short attention spans due to the complexity and demands of their day to day lives, this is very clear and understandable because it’s emphasising actions and values rather than numbers and data which people generally find meaningless.

“You have uncertainty everywhere, we’re making things certain” is the Coalition’s message in a nutshell. Whether they can deliver what they promise remains to be seen.

The direction is in the overarching message, the markers are in the sub messages which relate to particular issues e.g the economy, climate change, asylum seekers, infrastructure and so on.

As someone who identifies with the progressive, moderate, socially democratic “side” of the political spectrum, I’m constantly frustrated when I see “my side” attacking the Coalition on things they’ve already inoculated themselves against.

Last week, Tony Abbott announced his cabinet of twenty which included only one woman in the group: Julie Bishop. The outrage was predictable as it plays into the “left’s” preexisting line that Tony Abbott’s a blue tie wearing misogynist etc. This attack has been used for the last three years with literally zero success but it keeps getting used regardless.

All this sort of attack does is reinforce the view that Abbott’s opponents are desperate, spiteful and insecure while positioning him as a centrist. What’s worse is there’s no actual issue being addressed. It’s just name calling for name callings sake. Abbott has made a successful political career as a parasite for this sort of combat since his days at university.

The far more powerful point that “if 95% of people at the top are male, it’s not a meritocratic system” and that this should be judged as a systemic failure of the Coalition’s ideology and values tends to get lost in this noise.

The dots aren’t being joined for people in a way they can understand and digest.

It’s the same thing with these sorts of T-Shirts.

Abbott hater t-shirt

People might not like Abbott, however the professional people advising him clearly understand this point and have adjusted accordingly. These sorts of attacks say more about the attackers and their political views than they say about Abbott.

What is most clear to me about the new government is priority will be placed on the way things are done over policy detail. The best example of this so far has been the decision by Scott Morrison to stop reporting the numbers of boats that arriving in Australian waters. There are two important points that need to be made in relation to this announcement:

1. The proxy issue of boats was never about the boats in and of themselves. It was about the symbolism of bombardment in people’s lives which hooked into issues like the economy, education, transport, infrastructure and so on. The symbolism of a boat arriving to the “right” was an amplifier of this bombardment. By not reporting the numbers of boats, the government is addressing what people want emotionally: stability. Whether this is a good or bad thing, again remains to be seen.

2.  The point many have raised i.e “imagine the outrage from Abbott if Labor did it” misses the key point that Abbott was in control of the outrage in opposition and this announcement was deliberate meaning the government is now in control of the outrage on the issue once again. Abbott successfully played with fire in opposition on multiple issues however in government this approach might come back to bite him.

It will be interesting to see how the new ALP leader (Anthony Albanese or Bill Shorten) responds to these markers and symbols. I think they’re both on the ball but we shall see.

Thoughts on the election campaign so far

These are ads from the ALP’s campaign so far. None of them are good (I feel like I’m going to get stabbed after watching the first one).

In a previous post, I mentioned that the structural base votes of the two major political parties are somewhere around the region of 38% for the ALP and 43% for the Coalition. For the ALP to win elections, they need to make inroads into the Coalition’s vote. The Coalition can afford to target their base when the ALP doesn’t offer an alternative because they have a larger base to work with.

All of the ads above are doing is targeting the ALP base and not in a way that is electorally appealing or effective in my view.

The major issue for voters over the last term of government has been the widespread disillusionment with politics and the perceived lack of direction from their elected representatives and it has been specifically focused at the top job: the Prime Minister. This then plays into the emotions of voters and inevitably gets linked to major issues like the economy, job security and people’s day to day lives.

Kevin Rudd initially addressed this issue when he regained the ALP leadership by talking about ending the negative politics from both sides and addressing the public’s disillusionment with the national debate. It wasn’t the negative politics in and of itself that was the issue but the framing of the national debate Kevin Rudd was using to attack his political opponents (from all sides).

Since the campaign began, Rudd has contradicted this message by firstly trying to make a conspiracy out of the Coalition’s plans for the NBN by insinuating the editorial attacks from Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers against the government were due to a conflict of interest in regards to Foxtel and trying to link Tony Abbott to sexual harassment after Abbott said one of his candidate’s had “sex appeal” (Tony Abbott has spent the last three years politically inoculating himself from these sorts of attacks). He would have been better off to leave both of these incidents alone.

What these sorts of things inevitably lead to is getting dragged into the malaise that has dominated the national debate over the previous three to four years.

The Coalition’s campaign slogan is “Hope, Reward, Opportunity.” When I hear these words I don’t feel any hope, reward or opportunity, I feel fear, doubt and uncertainty. I genuinely want to know what their plans are for the nation’s future, yet I don’t feel that they have had any serious pressure put on them by the ALP so far in this campaign. Many ALP supporters will blame the media for being partisan. Story’s like this one in the Australian Financial Review today contradict that view.

In the absence of any pressure or competition at the electoral centre from the ALP at an emotional level on issues such as job security, cost of living pressures, economic management (specifically as it relates to ideological agendas in uncertain times) and the nature of politics in it’s present form (where Rudd’s electoral popularity stems from) the Coalition’s campaign wins by default.

And all this time, I’ve been smoking not so harmless tobacco!!!

While the so called “political class” keeps talking about issues that have either been neutralised in terms of their negative electoral impact or up for speculation, the government is shifting the agenda to something people actually care about in their lives: health.

The way the government has gone about doing this is by increasing the tobacco excise by 60% ($5.3 Billion) over the next four years.

If we look at Essential Media Communications polling from  July 23 2013, we can see how important voters consider health as an election issue.

Q.  Which are the three most important issues in deciding how you would vote at a Federal election?

 

Total

23 Jul 13

Total

17 Jun 13

11 Feb 13

19 Nov 12

30 Jul 12

5 Dec 11

6 June 11

25 Jan 10

Management of the economy

45%

47%

62%

66%

64%

62%

61%

63%

Ensuring a quality education for all children

25%

25%

29%

35%

26%

22%

26%

23%

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

42%

45%

52%

57%

47%

47%

49%

48%

Protecting the environment

12%

13%

14%

14%

11%

13%

15%

16%

A fair industrial relations system

10%

10%

12%

8%

12%

11%

8%

na

Political leadership

21%

22%

14%

15%

25%

18%

17%

23%

Addressing climate change

11%

11%

9%

9%

9%

10%

15%

16%

Controlling interest rates

13%

11%

9%

11%

9%

11%

13%

15%

Australian jobs and protection of local industries

39%

34%

40%

32%

41%

36%

32%

33%

Ensuring a quality water supply

3%

5%

4%

5%

3%

4%

5%

12%

Housing affordability

17%

14%

11%

14%

13%

13%

16%

14%

Ensuring a fair taxation system

20%

19%

21%

17%

18%

16%

17%

14%

Security and the war on terrorism

8%

8%

6%

5%

5%

4%

8%

9%

Treatment of asylum seekers

14%

11%

6%

6%

10%

8%

5%

na

Managing population growth

9%

11%

9%

7%

8%

8%

12%

na

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system is rated second as an important election issue behind management of the economy. This isn’t new information. What is a bit newer is the next bit.

Next, from the same poll, we’ll look at which party is better trusted to handle these election issues.

Q.  Which party would you trust most to handle the following issues?

 

Labor

Liberal

Greens

Don’t know

Difference 23 Jul 13

Difference 17 Jun 13

Management of the economy

29%

44%

3%

25%

-15

-18

Ensuring a quality education for all children

40%

31%

4%

25%

+9

+1

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

34%

33%

7%

27%

+1

-5

Protecting the environment

19%

21%

39%

21%

+18

+10

A fair industrial relations system

41%

30%

4%

24%

+11

+3

Political leadership

28%

35%

5%

31%

-7

-19

Addressing climate change

20%

23%

30%

27%

+7

Controlling interest rates

26%

40%

2%

32%

-14

-17

Australian jobs and protection of local industries

34%

35%

4%

26%

-1

-7

Ensuring a quality water supply

19%

26%

22%

32%

-7

-14

Housing affordability

26%

28%

6%

39%

-2

-12

Ensuring a fair taxation system

31%

33%

5%

31%

-2

-11

Security and the war on terrorism

23%

38%

4%

36%

-15

-18

Treatment of asylum seekers

22%

33%

13%

31%

-11

-22

Managing population growth

20%

33%

8%

39%

-13

-19

Only a 1% difference between the parties in terms of who’s better at managing the health system!

The rule of thumb is that the Coalition are always stronger on issues such as the economy and national security and the ALP are always stronger on issues such as education and health. For the ALP to be only narrowly in front in terms of the perceptions gap on the issue of health is something that would be major cause for alarm.

So the government now is trying to address their problem on perceptions of the health issue by raising the tobacco excise. Smoking kills people. Lets raise a tax on cigarettes to reduce consumption and death. This is a pretty obvious point. What’s interesting though is the coordinated way the ALP have gone about addressing the issue.

Firstly there was a press conference yesterday in which the Prime Minister said

“Around 30 per cent of cancer is caused by tobacco consumption and it’s estimated this will kill 15,000 Australians each year, that is far too many and it’s also really expensive for the country to deal with. We need to get serious on this major driver of cancer in Australia. There is a limit to the number of taxpayer dollars available to health”

So that’s out there. Then comes the next bit which was released last night in the form of an advertisement (when I typed in Tony Abbott on youtube, this was the first result that came up).

So now it’s become a personal issue for Tony Abbott that he has to deal with. How does he respond to this claim. Will he deny the claims made in the advertisement or will he attack the government for engaging in “negative politics.” If he denies the claims, he accepts tobacco donations (bad). If he attacks the government for engaging in “negative politics” he accepts tobacco donations, is engaging in “negative politics” and giving the ALP a soundbite to use in election material by getting caught in the word game Rudd has established (triple bad).

The immediate response from the Coalition was to point out that Rudd as a backbencher took hospitality whilst on the backbench from a foundation that provides equipment to the smoking industry in Germany. It sounds so tame by the Coalition’s standards. So tit for tat. So boring. So easy to address by someone with their act together.

Already, we have the Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey attempting to make this an economic issue and not a health issue.

Note the use of the words “it’s not a health measure.” When you negate the frame, you evoke the frame.

It should be fascinating to see how this plays out over the coming weeks and months. The ALP have not been this organised in their attacks on the Coalition for years. If the ALP can regain their strength on the issue of health, that will be more positive ammunition for the ALP to use during the election campaign.

It’s early to make this judgement, but finally the ALP seem to have their act together!

The Time Dynamic – the case for going late

There is a lot of speculation right now about when the next election will be held. Will Prime Minister Kevin Rudd try and take advantage of the ALP’s sudden rise in the opinion polls or will he play mind games with Tony Abbott and go to a “late election?”

I’m firmly of the view that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should decide to go for a late election.

There are a few reasons for this that go beyond the usually yakety yak yak that you’ll hear from the various commentators in the media.

Firstly Kevin Rudd needs to establish himself in the public’s mind as the Prime Minister. This means using the authority of the office to make decisions in the national interest. If this means recalling the parliament to make a few legislative tweaks in the coming months, so be it. Journalist Katherine Murphy in The Guardian last week went into some detail on this point in what I thought was a very good opinion piece.

Secondly, going late allows the ALP to come up with a campaign ground game for victory. This is not something that can be rushed. There needs to be as much time as possible given for the ALP campaign team to come up with a strategy for winning at least 76 seats, state by state, electorate by electorate.

Thirdly, there have been reports of both a membership and donation surge within the ALP since Kevin Rudd returned to the leadership. There needs to be time for this to be measured in order to allocate campaign resources and get the logistic settings for the election campaign as correct as possible.

Lastly and most importantly is the framing of the national conversation.  What going late ultimately does is allow the ALP and the Prime Minister to gain control of the framing of the national conversation. The more Tony Abbott and the Coalition call for an early election and attack on issues where they feel they are strong and where they think the ALP and Kevin Rudd are vulnerable, the more they look, sound and feel like an opposition and the more the ALP and Kevin Rudd will look, sound and feel like both a government and a Prime Minister who are in control of events.

This week, we have seen the Prime Minister deal with three major issues: Australia’s relationship with Indonesia (border protection and asylum seekers have now been framed by Kevin Rudd as an issue within this issue), reform of the New South Wales branch of the ALP and the deaths related to the Home Insulation Scheme which was rolled out during the economic stimulus in 2008-09.

The Coalition have tried to tear the Prime Minister down on each one of these issues without success. The longer they try and the more they fail, the more desperate and the more stupid they will look.

Around October last year, Coalition pollster Mark Textor wrote an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review in which he said:

“The most successful leaders in the next few years will be those who slow the political and comment process down enough for voters to catch up. After all, the whole point about politics, commerce and leadership is for people to be participants, not passengers in a car stuck in the slow lane.”

By slowing down the time dynamic, the ALP and the Prime Minister give themselves and the community time to digest the big picture and the important issues that will decide this election. If they go early because they think the rise in the opinion polls is everything and there is no substance to what the Prime Minister is doing because they think electoral politics is all about the popularity of the leader rather than anything that affects people’s day to day lives, they will be handing the massive advantage they have presently to the Coalition.

Winning the psychological game

“The purpose of wedge politics is to define and limit the political space within which Labor must operate” – Andrew Norton

Paul Keating has often said that in federal politics a general rule of thumb is the ALP have a structural primary vote of 38% and the Coalition have a structural primary vote of 43%. The “structural vote” is the amount of the electorate that can be relied upon to support either of the political parties at an election.

If the ALP consistently goes above a 38% primary vote and the Coalition goes below a 43% primary vote in the national polling, you can say the ALP are winning the “middle ground”. If the Coalition’s primary vote consistently goes above 43% and the ALP’s primary vote goes below 38%, you can say that the ALP are losing their “base” vote.

Right now, the federal ALP’s primary vote is consistently below 38% (well below 38%) which we can take to mean that they are losing their base vote.

With that in mind, what I’m going to address in this post is the subject of winning.

Winning federally to the ALP is anything over a 40% primary vote. You could make the excuse that the ALP could win federally with a primary vote of 38% or 39% backed up with preferences from the Greens and other minor parties but any victory from that position is always a very narrow one. The ALP have only won two federal elections on a primary vote below 40%: 1990 and 2010 and both were won by the skin of their teeth.

A 40% primary vote for the federal ALP goes a long way to securing victory.

That’s the simple part. The hard part for the ALP (for some anyway) is what winning entails.

If your structural vote is 38% and you need a primary vote of over 40% to secure victory, you need to face a few realities.

Firstly, it’s very difficult for the ALP to win with a defensive, passive, risk avoidance strategy. In the current situation of the hung parliament, that is especially true.

Politics is meant to be a contest of ideas. What the ALP have done over the past three years or so has been to abandon the ideas contest in favour of talking about processes. For example, the carbon price has never been explained or spelled out in terms of addressing dangerous climate change: the greatest moral challenge of our time, transitioning the economy into the modern world or making the future safe and secure for our children and their children. Far from it!

All we’ve had is the mechanics and the process of the policy: the price will be $23 per tonne, it will be imposed on the 500 biggest polluting businesses, households will be compensated in order to deal with the rise in electricity prices etc etc etc. This is not the language of victory!

There isn’t even any talk about how an issue like climate change invalidates half of the Liberal Party’s ideology of “let her rip” free market fundamentalism and what that should mean to people in relation to what they value in their lives. It’s just been boring lines that mean nothing to nobody.

Put simply, the ALP have failed to engage the Coalition ideologically, let alone define the Coalition’s positions on issues or limit the political space in which the Coalition operate within.

Take compulsory superannuation. The idea that the ALP have created a $1.5 Trillion financial services industry in Australia is something that would emotionally trigger many people inclined to support the Liberal Party. “Wealth creation” and “saving money” are ideas that attract many people to support the Liberal Party yet it was the ALP who created and built the industry in Australia from the ground up and it was the Liberal Party who opposed it every step of the way.

What’s more, an issue like compulsory superannuation goes straight to the psychological jugular in relation to why the Coalition exist politically. Do the Coalition oppose the idea of every person in Australia being responsible for their own retirement or do they support the idea of having an extremely large cohort of elderly people depending on the government pension after they retire from the workforce? Do the Coalition oppose the idea of every person in Australia being a financial capitalist? On this policy, the conventional framing on the economy has the potential to be completely reversed but the opportunity always seems to be missed by the ALP as they’re simply not in that head-space.

Consider the mechanics of the Coalition’s Paid Parental Leave scheme. Tony Abbott has known since the time he became leader of the Liberal Party that one of the big personal issues running against him has always been that women don’t approve of him and he tried to neutralise it by offering a ridiculously generous parental leave scheme.

When pressed on the issue in April last year on the John Laws radio program, he conceded the word game by calling it a tax, yet the ALP didn’t capitalise on the key point: the ideology, not the policy. This is a policy Abbott talks about that offends people in the business community and yet the ALP can’t score points on it because they are too timid or simply uninterested in targeting that sort of constituency. “They aren’t “Labour rusted ons” so why bother” tends to be the misguided rationale. In this particular case it’s not the word “tax” in and of itself that was the issue but the emotional values and the associations behind the use of the word (not the word, but “the use of the word”).

It’s the same deal with the Coalition’s Direct Action policy. Professor Ross Garnaut gifted the ALP a line in February 2010 in relation to it being akin to “Soviet Union style resource allocation” yet the ALP only figured it out last month: 3 years after the fact! … 3 years too late!

The ALP don’t seem to grasp the potential for dividing the Coalition at an ideological level. It’s just processes all the way down to them.

There is no understanding of the values or the emotional triggers underlying the policies and how to influence them so that they make a significant difference in the ALP’s favour.

The Coalition by contrast appear to “get it” (at the present moment). They aren’t afraid to go after the ALP’s working class constituency because they understand the misery it’s causing the ALP psychologically and how that translates into the rest of the national conversation. They know that if they get the ALP trying to salvage their structural vote (38%), that translates into people on the far left splintering off to the Greens and the Coalition being able to claim more of the middle ground (anything above 43%) for themselves.

What the ALP need to do instead of thinking in terms of merely “winning the next election,” is focus on destroying the Coalition’s ideology forever. That sort of mindset has a few implications. For a start it means thinking on a huge scale and being big picture focused. It also means being secure about issues like industrial relations. What the ALP failed to do after 2007 was destroy the Coalition on the issue once and for all. Instead what they’ve done is attempt to create a contest where one didn’t need to exist in order to appeal to a rapidly declining constituency.

Another implication is that the ALP would need to create a foundation and a narrative that transcends and includes the Coalition’s ideology, in effect making them a redundant political force. This is true right now, but the ALP never spell it out both because they don’t seem to know how, or worse, they deliberately would prefer not to do it for internal organisational reasons.

Instead of going on about things like “Labor values” and such and such is a “Labor policy” they need to talk in terms of the country and spelling out the big picture in a persuasive way so that the community can digest it.

I could go on a very long tangent but I’ll try to land the plane.

Winning the psychological game from the progressive “side” of politics requires having your act together psychologically. That means organisation, energy, belief and thinking on a very big scale. The real reason why people vote for the ALP is to get the big things done and to make the economic and societal transitions necessary for the country to preserve and prosper from the future.

Australian’s have very high expectations in relation to how their governments perform and when those expectations aren’t met, it is often greeted with mass disapproval. The way to overcome it is with repeated psychological victories and playing in order to win rather than accepting noble defeat.

You can’t exceed the people’s expectations or win by adopting the Charlie Sheen approach to victory: mindlessly posting updates on twitter with hashtags that reflect various psychotic states of delusion …

While the thinking and the actions of the federal ALP remain small, internal and process driven and generally treating politics like a football game or a crude television show such as The West Wing (just the thought of that show makes me want to vomit), you can expect their primary vote to remain well below 38%.

Why the ALP should return to the Hawke and Keating period of electoral governance

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the ALP returning to the Hawke and Keating method of electoral governance in relation to solving the ALP’s problems of the present day.

On one side, there are people like Simon Crean, Bill Kelty and to a lesser extent Mark Latham who want to return to that mode of electoral governance and on the side there are people like Bob Carr who say that the ALP shouldn’t get nostalgic about the period. There are also people like Ken Henry who say that the Hawke and Keating period had as heated a political atmosphere over policy issues as the one that dominates politics in the current day.

As a member of Generation Y (an age group that never really experienced the Hawke and Keating government), I understand first hand why the ALP must embrace the Hawke and Keating mode of electoral governance.

When I went through my schooling years, John Howard was Prime Minister for pretty much the entire time. The only memories I have of political events centered around his Prime Ministership (the only other political figure I remember clearly when I went to Primary School was Pauline Hanson). When I finished my Bachelor Degree in late 2008, Kevin Rudd had been the Prime Minister for less than one year.

Politics to my generation before 2008 WAS John Howard. No one else. You might have heard a little bit about Kim Beazely or Simon Crean or Mark Latham, but they never won elections. Howard was the Prime Minister and he was the one who was making the decisions.

With that in mind, lets look at what the electorate in the present day considers the most important election issues. This is from the Essential Media Communications poll from February 11th 2013 (there were a lot of issues listed, however for the purposes of space, I’ve narrowed it down to the top three. If you want to see the full table, click on the link below).

Q. Which are the three most important issues in deciding how you would vote at a Federal election?

25 Jan 10

6 June 11

5 Dec 11

30 July 12

19 Nov 12

11 Feb 13

Management of the economy

63%

61%

62%

64%

65%

62%

Ensuring a quality education for all children

23%

26%

22%

26%

35%

29%

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

48%

49%

47%

47%

57%

52%

As the table above shows economic management is clearly judged as the most important issue in deciding people’s vote at a federal election with ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system number two and a distant third is ensuring a quality education for all children.

Here’s how the party’s compare on each of these issues at the present moment.

Q. Which party would you trust most to handle the following issues?

Labor

Liberal

Greens

Don’t know

Difference
11 Feb
13

Management of the economy

31%

46%

3%

21%

-15%

Ensuring a quality education for all children

37%

35%

6%

22%

+2%

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

33%

36%

6%

25%

-3%

As we can see, there’s not much difference between Labor and the Liberal Party on issues like education and health (which is not normal as usually Labor would be dominating the Liberal Party on these issues), but on the economy, there’s a major gap between the two major party’s with the Liberals leading Labor by 15%.

The Australian economy right now is the envy of the world given everything that has happened since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and 2009, yet the ALP hasn’t benefited politically from it.

What the Liberal Party have done over the last five years or so is frame Howard and Costello as the ones who gave Australia the strong position from which to deal with the Global Financial Crisis and the ALP as wasting the surpluses they accumulated over 11 years in government and plunging the nation into debt and deficit.

“Budget surpluses” = good economic management. “Debt and deficit” = bad economic management. That’s all the Liberal Party have done: word association.

So when most people my age hear this sort of message, they feel extremely insecure about the ALP’s economic credentials because all they remember is Howard and Costello being “good” with the economy. The facts don’t matter, all that matters is what gets triggered in the brain.

So when someone like me in 2008, when I didn’t know anything about politics, thinks about the ALP government and the economy, they had been emotionally primed over an 11 year period to feel insecure about the ALP’s ability to handle worldwide economic meltdown. They might have trusted the ALP more than the Liberal Party on issues like health and education, but they’re not as powerful issues as an issue like the economy (as the tables above demonstrate).

The simple fact of the matter is during that 11 year period, there was no real authoritative challenge to Howard and Costello on the economy. It might have been mentioned here or there, but they were never wrestled to the ground and taken apart.

With all of that in mind, when someone my age, in 2008 sees a clip like the one below, it’s an extreme breath of fresh air because it puts Howard and the Liberal Party into perspective on economic issues.

People my age have no idea that Howard was Treasurer between 1977 and 1983 let alone presided over a recession during that period. It doesn’t matter if the facts Keating states in the clip above are accurate or not (they mostly are accurate), the fact is that this was a genuine contest and the ALP were landing real blows against the Liberal Party on the issue of economic management.

The reason Tony Abbott is able to get away with a lot of the rhetoric about returning to the “golden years” of economic management under the Howard government is because there isn’t anyone in the federal ALP leadership challenging or taking apart his and the Liberal Party’s legacy from the middle.

My age group has no idea what the Hawke or Keating government did to Australia in the 13 years they were in government. They have no idea how they fundamentally changed Australia and set up the conditions for over 20 years of economic growth without a recession (my generation hasn’t directly experienced a recession, which is something to keep in mind) and how Howard and Costello sat on their hands for their period in government and did bugger all except implement a Goods and Services Tax (GST) and WorkChoices.

All they know is the Howard years were apparently good years for the economy and the ALP apparently don’t know what they’re doing.

It’s for this reason the current ALP government needs to rediscover the way Hawke and Keating communicated their strong economic credentials to the electorate because quite frankly my age group … (no let me rephrase that) … the entire Australian community doesn’t seem to have a clue!

Values rhetoric: what the “class warfare” name calling is really about

The big talking points from the last few weeks in relation to federal politics have been around the apparent split in the ALP over compulsory superannuation and whether taxing the top two percent of income earners constitutes “class warfare.”

In a previous post, I made it clear that I’m not a policy person. I honestly don’t know whether what the government plans to do in relation to compulsory superannuation is good, not good or somewhere in between.

My understanding is that compulsory superannuation was a policy enacted by the ALP in the 1980’s and 1990’s to turn every member of the workforce into a capitalist and make every working person responsible for their own destiny by making it possible for them to pay for their own retirement rather than relying solely on the pension in their old age.

It had both micro and a macro objectives. The micro objectives revolved around making sure everyone maintained a decent standard of living by providing them with an annuity income to sustain themselves for the rest of their lives after they retired from the workforce (most of this objective got lost during the Howard period of government) and the macro objectives related to issues like the demographics of Australia in the 21st century, making sure wages growth and inflation were under control, building the financial services industry and giving the union movement a renewed purpose in the information age.

This policy has created a $1.5 trillion industry in Australia and is one of the most important economic reforms of any government (ALP or Coalition) in the country’s history.

The actual policy is not the issue I want to address in this post as what I’ve written above is pretty much all that I know in relation to it.

What is very interesting to observe is people who are experts on policy feeling extremely depressed about the national political conversation devolving to petty name calling and accusations of “class warfare” when what the current ALP government is doing in a policy sense is no different to what the Hawke and Keating government did when they were in power.

For example: the current ALP government has tripled the tax-free threshold under its carbon pricing policy, yet this gets derided as “class warfare” and socialism when it’s taking one million people out of the tax system!

How is taking one million people out of the tax system “class warfare?”

The reason it gets lumped in this sort of category and all of that other “bad stuff” the political “right” often accuses the political “left” of doing to the economy has zero to do with the actual policies the government is implementing. The reason it happens is mostly because of the values rhetoric coming from the ALP and more specifically the constituency they’re targeting in their communications!

The mere act of writing that last paragraph probably puts me at risk of being strangled by people dealing with extremely complex policy issues as it trivialises what they do for a living and the many years they’ve spent mastering such knowledge in order to provide value to the community, but it’s the truth!

When Paul Keating talks about compulsory superannuation, you’ll hear him talk in terms of financial capitalism, why it’s strange that the Coalition are opposed to universal compulsory retirement savings when such a policy would be the dream of pretty much every conservative political party around the world.

While doing this, Keating will often tell the personal story of how Reagan economic adviser Martin Feldstein told him that the Republicans would have kissed the Democrats if they had gotten the union movement to agree to the entire workforce saving 1% of their income for retirement let alone 9% with an agreement to get it to 15% and how strange the Coalition were to back-flip on their 1996 election promise to take the super guarantee charge to 15% of employees incomes when it was already agreed to by the union movement and they would have been the beneficiaries of any political benefits resulting from the change.

When saying these sorts of things, Keating isn’t only targeting what you’d consider the average ALP “base” voter. He’s targeting a much larger audience and aligning the ALP’s values to what they value.

When the current government talks about superannuation, all they talk about is making sure that everyone gets a “fair go” and it being an important “Labor” reform. The values rhetoric, the communication style and who the messages are targeted at are entirely different.

Another example is industrial relations. When the Keating government talked about enterprise bargaining, the emphasis of the message was on moving away from the old centralised wage fixing system and towards a system that was focused on productivity while making sure no one got left behind (which is why the “no disadvantage test” was a key part of the policy and one of the big differences between it and WorkChoices).

At the time, this was considered extremely radical. Keating will often describe the process of implementing the policy as similar to “putting the union movement in a headlock and pulling out their rotten teeth with an old pair of pliers.”

When the current government introduced the Fair Work Act, the policy wasn’t that much different to the Keating enterprise bargaining system, yet the policy is derided as a return to the old union biased centralised wage fixing system and all the bad things that were associated with it (wages breakouts, high inflation, declining productivity etc, etc, etc) without any evidence or data.

Maybe this is because the business community and certain sections of the media are angry that the government got rid of WorkChoices and want to punish the ALP out of spite.

I take a different view.

The reason there is now a call from within the ALP for a return to the Hawke/Keating method of governance has nothing to do with the policies of the current government. It’s entirely due to the values rhetoric, communication and tone coming from the current ALP leadership team and their supporters, how it’s unsustainable and how it’s contributed significantly to the ALP government’s significant decline in support.

The reason the Fair Work Act gets derided so much by certain sections of the media and the business community is not because of the policy itself. That was evident in the QANTAS dispute in November 2011. The reason it gets derided so much is because certain people in the ALP want to pretend that the policy IS centralised wage fixing in order to play to a certain constituency that they are extremely insecure about holding as their positions and power rely on their patronage and belief in the status quo.

In short: the ALP’s messaging isn’t targeting the entire Australian community. They are only focusing their messaging towards the ALP base and the union movement.

The battle right now that is going on between people like Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson and others on one side and Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and others on the other side is not one over policy.

The current policy “debate” the ALP are engaged in publicly is merely a sideshow for the real issue which revolves around the party’s long-term electoral strategy. Whenever the Hawke/Keating model is invoked by anyone, it’s really a call to end the ALP’s relentless obsession with targeting their communication to the base and their supporters and start focusing on what resonates with the rest of Australia as well as a reduction of union influence both on and within the party.

Had Hawke or Keating been accused of class warfare, they would have laughed at it because their messaging and values rhetoric was immune to such accusations and whoever was making them would simply look ridiculous. The reason the current government gets bogged down by it is because their messaging and values rhetoric is targeted squarely at “the base.” There is no persuasion mechanism to get people who aren’t voting for the ALP to vote for the ALP.

You’ll often hear Wayne Swan talk about the “fair go” while attacking billionaires such as Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest. When the ALP are labelled divisive, this is an example of what’s causing it.

What the ALP should be doing is demonstrating how without their governance and economic stewardship during the events of the global financial crisis, their investments in infrastructure, the productive workforce and the Australian community these people wouldn’t be billionaires.

I think they should be showing how the ALP made these people rich through their actions while framing prosperity and economic aspiration as a concept that can only be achieved by an active, pragmatic government rather than deriding these people as “not one of the base” and taking every opportunity to attack them for that fact.

This week’s poll from Essential Media Communications (2nd April 2013) asked respondents to rate both the ALP and the Liberal Party in relation to what attributes they associated with them. One of the most telling results was on the “divided” attribute.

Here’s the ALP’s results:

  6 July 09 14 Mar 10 27 April 11 28 May 12 2 April 13 Change since Jul 09
Divided 30% 36% 66% 73% 82% +52%

As we can see, the divided attribute has gone up 52% since July 2009. Over the last few weeks, it’s become very evident that the divide is far more than a mere personality contest over the leadership of the party. There is a real divide over policy in the ALP that has manifested itself the public debate and they have been unable to resolve it over the past three years.

Here’s the Liberal Party’s results:

  6 July 09 14 Mar 10 27 April 11 28 May 12 2 April 13 Change since Jul 09
Divided 74% 66% 49% 37% 32% +42%

This table shows that the Liberals divided attribute has fallen from 42% from 74% in July 2009 to 32% now.

I think the reason for the sharp rise in the divided attribute rating for the ALP and the sharp fall in the rating for the Liberal Party is because of values rhetoric. The ALP has forgotten where the splits are in the Liberal Party’s ideology and allowed them to unite as a party against anything the ALP propose, implement or stand for.

One of the reasons the Hawke and Keating government were able to win five elections was because they knew how to take large chunks of the Liberal Party’s philosophy and values (open markets, competition, productivity, achievement, excellence, entrepreneurial spirit) and then re-frame them on progressive, socially democratic terms.

The current ALP government seems to have forgotten how to do that. Policy positions on issues and values rhetoric are not the same thing! Tony Abbott understands this which explains why he has made such a big deal out of campaigning around blue collar, manufacturing, unionised areas and making it clear he won’t reintroduce radical free market policies such as WorkChoices.

While the ALP primary vote remains below 38%, expect the values rhetoric battles within the ALP such as the present one over “taxing” compulsory superannuation contributions to continue.

Remember to tune in for next week’s episode of “ALP Values Rhetoric Debates on public display” featuring an all time favourite of many: asylum seeker policy! … “<inaudible>”

Queensland and Western Australia are more important than Western Sydney

It appears Western Sydney electorates have been designated the “key battleground” for the 2013 federal election by most in the political class.

The area is mentioned so often in relation to federal politics that it’s become a filter for everything important. What does Western Sydney think about XYZ issue? Politician X made a mistake, how will that be interpreted in Western Sydney?

In my opinion, the federal election won’t be decided in Western Sydney alone and the purpose of this post is to attempt to make that clear.

Firstly, we’ll start with the current numbers in the federal parliament. Here’s ABC’s election analyst Antony Green’s 2013 election pendulum:

2013 Australian Electoral Pendulum
Labor (72)
Corangamite (VIC) ALP 0.3%
Deakin (VIC) ALP 0.6%
Greenway (NSW) ALP 0.9%
Robertson (NSW) ALP 1.0%
Lindsay (NSW) ALP 1.1%
Moreton (QLD) ALP 1.1%
Banks (NSW) ALP 1.5%
La Trobe (VIC) ALP 1.7%
Petrie (QLD) ALP 2.5%
Reid (NSW) ALP 2.7%
Lilley (QLD) ALP 3.2%
Brand (WA) ALP 3.3%
Capricornia (QLD) ALP 3.7%
Lingiari (NT) ALP 3.7%
Page (NSW) ALP 4.2%
Eden-Monaro (NSW) ALP 4.2%
Blair (QLD) ALP 4.2%
Parramatta (NSW) ALP 4.4%
Dobell (NSW) ALP 5.1%
Kingsford Smith (NSW) ALP 5.2%
Rankin (QLD) ALP 5.4%
Fremantle (WA) ALP 5.7%
Chisholm (VIC) ALP 5.8%
Oxley (QLD) ALP 5.8%
Perth (WA) ALP 5.9%
Hindmarsh (SA) ALP 6.1%
Bass (TAS) ALP 6.7%
Werriwa (NSW) ALP 6.8%
Barton (NSW) ALP 6.9%
Richmond (NSW) ALP 7.0%
Braddon (TAS) ALP 7.5%
Adelaide (SA) ALP 7.5%
Bruce (VIC) ALP 7.7%
McMahon (NSW) ALP 7.8%
Melbourne Ports (VIC) ALP 7.9%
Griffith (QLD) ALP 8.5%
Fowler (NSW) ALP 8.8%
Watson (NSW) ALP 9.1%
Canberra (ACT) ALP 9.2%
McEwen (VIC) ALP 9.2%
Bendigo (VIC) ALP 9.4%
Isaacs (VIC) ALP 10.4%
Wakefield (SA) ALP 10.5%
Franklin (TAS) ALP 10.8%
Jagajaga (VIC) ALP 11.1%
Ballarat (VIC) ALP 11.7%
Makin (SA) ALP 12.0%
Throsby (NSW) ALP 12.1%
Blaxland (NSW) ALP 12.2%
Lyons (TAS) ALP 12.3%
Chifley (NSW) ALP 12.3%
Hunter (NSW) ALP 12.5%
Newcastle (NSW) ALP 12.5%
Charlton (NSW) ALP 12.7%
Shortland (NSW) ALP 12.9%
Cunningham (NSW) ALP 13.2%
Corio (VIC) ALP 13.5%
Hotham (VIC) ALP 14.0%
Holt (VIC) ALP 14.0%
Fraser (ACT) ALP 14.2%
Kingston (SA) ALP 14.5%
Sydney (NSW) ALP 17.1%
Maribyrnong (VIC) ALP 17.5%
Calwell (VIC) ALP 20.0%
Grayndler (NSW) ALP 20.6%
Scullin (VIC) ALP 20.6%
Port Adelaide (SA) ALP 21.0%
Lalor (VIC) ALP 22.1%
Wills (VIC) ALP 23.5%
Gorton (VIC) ALP 23.6%
Gellibrand (VIC) ALP 24.1%
Batman (VIC) ALP 24.8%
Coalition (72)
Boothby (SA) LIB 0.6%
Hasluck (WA) LIB 0.6%
Aston (VIC) LIB 0.7%
Dunkley (VIC) LIB 1.1%
Brisbane (QLD) LNP 1.1%
Macquarie (NSW) LIB 1.3%
Forde (QLD) LNP 1.6%
Solomon (NT) CLP 1.8%
Longman (QLD) LNP 1.9%
Casey (VIC) LIB 1.9%
Herbert (QLD) LNP 2.2%
Canning (WA) LIB 2.2%
Dawson (QLD) LNP 2.4%
Swan (WA) LIB 2.5%
Bonner (QLD) LNP 2.8%
Macarthur (NSW) LIB 3.0%
Bennelong (NSW) LIB 3.1%
Flynn (QLD) LNP 3.6%
Sturt (SA) LIB 3.6%
Fisher (QLD) LNP 4.1%
McMillan (VIC) LIB 4.2%
Leichhardt (QLD) LNP 4.6%
Dickson (QLD) LNP 5.1%
Hughes (NSW) LIB 5.2%
Gilmore (NSW) LIB 5.3%
Paterson (NSW) LIB 5.3%
Higgins (VIC) LIB 5.4%
Stirling (WA) LIB 5.6%
Wannon (VIC) LIB 5.7%
Goldstein (VIC) LIB 6.0%
Cowan (WA) LIB 6.3%
Fairfax (QLD) LNP 7.0%
Ryan (QLD) LNP 7.2%
Mayo (SA) LIB 7.3%
Kooyong (VIC) LIB 7.5%
Menzies (VIC) LIB 8.7%
Hume (NSW) LIB 8.7%
Forrest (WA) LIB 8.7%
Pearce (WA) LIB 8.9%
Indi (VIC) LIB 9.0%
Flinders (VIC) LIB 9.1%
Cowper (NSW) NAT 9.3%
Wright (QLD) LNP 10.2%
McPherson (QLD) LNP 10.3%
Hinkler (QLD) LNP 10.4%
Bowman (QLD) LNP 10.4%
Calare (NSW) NAT 10.7%
Grey (SA) LIB 11.2%
Moore (WA) LIB 11.2%
Gippsland (VIC) NAT 11.5%
Tangney (WA) LIB 12.3%
Cook (NSW) LIB 12.7%
Barker (SA) LIB 13.0%
Warringah (NSW) LIB 13.1%
Durack (WA) LIB 13.7%
North Sydney (NSW) LIB 14.1%
Fadden (QLD) LNP 14.2%
Farrer (NSW) LIB 14.5%
Wentworth (NSW) LIB 14.9%
Wide Bay (QLD) LNP 15.6%
Mackellar (NSW) LIB 15.7%
Curtin (WA) LIB 16.2%
Berowra (NSW) LIB 16.2%
Mitchell (NSW) LIB 17.2%
Moncrieff (QLD) LNP 17.5%
Riverina (NSW) NAT 18.2%
Bradfield (NSW) LIB 18.2%
Groom (QLD) LNP 18.5%
Parkes (NSW) NAT 18.9%
Murray (VIC) LIB 19.6%
Maranoa (QLD) LNP 22.9%
Mallee (VIC) NAT 23.3%
Others (IND 4, GRN 1, NAT WA 1)
Denison (TAS) IND 1.2% v ALP
O’Connor (WA) NAT WA 3.6% v LIB
Melbourne (VIC) GRN 6.0% v ALP
Lyne (NSW) IND 12.7% v NAT
Kennedy (QLD) IND 18.3% v LNP
New England (NSW) IND 21.5% v NAT

The pendulum shows the ALP have 72 seats, the Coalition have 72 seats, the Greens have 1 seat, there’s 1 Western Australian National, 3 Independents and 1 seat for Katter’s Australian Party. Events during this parliament have made Dobell (ALP) and Fisher (LNP) Independent seats and O’Connor (WA National) formally a Coalition seat making the seat numbers:

  • ALP: 71 seats
  • Coalition: 72 seats
  • Greens: 1 seat
  • Independents: 5 seats
  • Katter’s Australian Party: 1 seat

So before we go into any commentary regarding where the next federal election will or won’t be won, we need to confront the fact that the ALP government needs to win at least 4-5 seats in order to achieve victory!

This is an unusual situation because usually the government would have a majority and could afford to lose a few seats. In this case, the government can’t afford to lose seats and must win seats in order to remain where they are. For every seat lost, that’s an extra one higher up the pendulum that needs to be won.

Given these facts, lets look at what seats the ALP could possibly win. We’ll look at Coalition and Independent seats under a two party preferred margin of 5%. Whether the ALP can achieve that type of swing is debatable. This is a hypothetical exercise to see what’s potentially in range for the ALP.

Boothby (SA) LIB 0.6%
Hasluck (WA) LIB 0.6%
Aston (VIC) LIB 0.7%
Dunkley (VIC) LIB 1.1%
Brisbane (QLD) LNP 1.1%
Macquarie (NSW) LIB 1.3%
Forde (QLD) LNP 1.6%
Solomon (NT) CLP 1.8%
Longman (QLD) LNP 1.9%
Casey (VIC) LIB 1.9%
Herbert (QLD) LNP 2.2%
Canning (WA) LIB 2.2%
Dawson (QLD) LNP 2.4%
Swan (WA) LIB 2.5%
Bonner (QLD) LNP 2.8%
Macarthur (NSW) LIB 3.0%
Bennelong (NSW) LIB 3.1%
Flynn (QLD) LNP 3.6%
Sturt (SA) LIB 3.6%
Fisher (QLD) LNP 4.1%
McMillan (VIC) LIB 4.2%
Leichhardt (QLD) LNP 4.6%
Denison (TAS) IND 1.2%

From that list we have:

  • 9 seats in Queensland
  • 4 seats in Victoria
  • 3 seats in New South Wales
  • 3 seats in Western Australia
  • 2 seats in South Australia
  • 1 seat in the Northern Territory
  • 1 seats in Tasmania

The total number of Coalition and Independent seats under a 5% two party preferred margin is 23.

Next, we’ll look at the two party preferred figures for each state from the last election. These figures are from the Australian Electoral Commission website:

ALP L/NP Total Swing
Votes % Votes %
New South Wales 1,958,077 48.84 2,051,241 51.16 4,009,318 -4.84
Victoria 1,758,982 55.31 1,421,202 44.69 3,180,184 +1.04
Queensland 1,069,504 44.86 1,314,675 55.14 2,384,179 -5.58
Western Australia 524,861 43.59 679,140 56.41 1,204,001 -3.15
South Australia 521,115 53.18 458,834 46.82 979,949 +0.78
Tasmania 198,322 60.62 128,830 39.38 327,152 +4.41
Australian Capital Territory 137,948 61.67 85,749 38.33 223,697 -1.73
Northern Territory 47,636 50.74 46,247 49.26 93,883 -4.67

The question for the ALP is where can their vote be increased? The ICAC inquiry and other issues in NSW (3 seats) which are severely hurting the ALP have been mentioned to death so it’s fair to say the ALP are highly unlikely to increase their vote in that state.

Victoria (4 seats) and South Australia (2 seats) were excellent results for the ALP at the last election. Given this fact, It will be extremely difficult to increase their vote in those two states. Boothby (SA) might be winnable for the ALP under the right circumstances but for the purposes of this exercise, let’s put that to one side.

That’s 9 of the 23 seats under a 5% two party preferred margin we can eliminate from the above list.

That leaves 14 seats. The only poll I’ve seen on the Tasmaian seat (Denison) shows the Independent MP Andrew Wilkie comfortably retaining it.

That leaves 13 seats under a 5% two party preferred margin and guess where they all are? Queensland (9 seats), Western Australia (3 seats) and the Northern Territory (1 seat).

The political class is intensely focusing on the 10 marginal ALP seats in Western Sydney which apparently represent the “key battleground” in relation to electoral victory but in my opinion the 13 or so seats in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are just as important, if not more important!

13 seats is 8 seats more than the 5 seats necessary for the ALP to win the election from where things currently stand.

What we can conclude is that the ALP needs to win more than 5 seats in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. If that is achieved, the second part of the equation for the ALP is to hold as many seats as possible everywhere else … and when I say “everywhere else,” I mean every part of Australia! Not just Western Sydney!

If they can pick up seats in Victoria and South Australia, that makes the job easier.

Every seat the ALP doesn’t win in Queensland and Western Australia makes victory much easier to achieve for the Coalition.

If the ALP fails to win seats in Queensland, Western Australia as well as the seat in the Northern Territory, Western Sydney and other “key battlegrounds” in my opinion will become meaningless in terms of the end result.

Firing blanks on industrial relations

This week has seen the ALP attempt to galvanise the union movement to fight for them in order to prevent the Coalition from winning the next federal election. This has meant that union leaders such as Paul Howes have featured prominently in the media.

I thought I’d take a look at how unions are viewed by the Australian public to see if this would have any benefit to the ALP. Firstly, I’m going to look at how the public views unions, then I’m going to look at how the public views industrial relations as an election issue and finally how it all plays out in the national political debate.

Firstly we’ll start with some issues polling from Essential Media Communications from September 10th 2012.

Q. Overall, do you think unions have been good or bad for Australian working people?

19 Mar 2012

This week 10 Sept 12

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Work full time

Work part time

Total good

48%

45%

67%

30%

74%

47%

51%

Total bad

17%

20%

4%

36%

6%

22%

18%

Very good

12%

11%

20%

4%

28%

11%

12%

Good

36%

34%

47%

26%

46%

36%

39%

Neither good nor bad

28%

27%

24%

30%

13%

25%

21%

Bad

11%

12%

3%

20%

5%

12%

11%

Very bad

6%

8%

1%

16%

1%

10%

7%

Don’t know

6%

8%

6%

4%

7%

5%

9%

This is fairly straight forward. A majority of respondents believe unions have been good for Australian working people. Next we’ll look at the importance of unions to Australian working people today.

Q. And how important are unions for Australian working people today?

19 Mar 2012

This week 10 Sept 12

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Work full time

Work part time

Total Important

56%

52%

72%

34%

82%

52%

56%

Total Not Important

35%

38%

21%

58%

11%

42%

33%

Very important

19%

16%

28%

6%

37%

19%

15%

Quite important

37%

36%

44%

28%

45%

33%

41%

Not very important

27%

28%

19%

40%

9%

31%

25%

Not at all important

8%

10%

2%

18%

2%

11%

8%

Don’t know

9%

10%

6%

8%

7%

6%

10%

Again, pretty straight forward. A majority of respondents appreciate the importance of unions to Australian working people. The next question is where things start to get a little interesting.

Q. Overall, would workers be better off or worse off if unions in Australia were stronger?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Work full time

Work part time

Total better off

39%

58%

24%

71%

40%

40%

Total worse off

30%

17%

47%

9%

35%

24%

A lot better off

13%

24%

7%

20%

15%

13%

A little better off

26%

34%

17%

51%

25%

27%

A little worse off

15%

13%

20%

5%

16%

12%

A lot worse off

15%

4%

27%

4%

19%

12%

Make no difference

15%

12%

18%

7%

16%

15%

Don’t know

15%

14%

12%

13%

9%

21%

This result shows a majority consider Australian working people would be better off if unions were stronger, but it’s not as intense as the response to the previous two questions. A decent chunk of the response is either indifferent or simply doesn’t know. If we were combining the results we could say 60% of respondents consider Australian working people would be worse off, no different or unsure about whether they’d be better or worse off if unions were stronger. If we look at the intensity of response, we can see that only 13% of respondents believe Australian working people would be a lot better off if unions were stronger compared to 26% who believe they’d be a little better off. This is not very encouraging news if you believe in the importance and good that unions do.

Next is another Essential Media Communications Poll from October 22nd, 2012 which looked at trust in organisations and institutions.

Q. How much trust do you have in the following institutions and organisations?

Total

trust

26 Sep 11

Total

trust

12 Jun 12

Total trust

22 Oct 12

A lot of trust

Some trust

A little trust

No trust

Don’t know

% change

The High Court

72%

60%

63%

26%

37%

21%

10%

6%

+3

The ABC

46%

54%

59%

20%

39%

26%

8%

6%

+5

The Reserve Bank

67%

49%

53%

16%

37%

28%

12%

8%

+4

Charitable organisations

61%

50%

53%

9%

44%

33%

10%

5%

+3

Environment groups

45%

32%

36%

8%

28%

35%

24%

6%

+4

The Commonwealth Public Service

49%*

30%

33%

6%

27%

41%

16%

10%

+3

Your local council

na

na

32%

4%

28%

39%

22%

6%

na

Religious organisations

29%

27%

31%

7%

24%

28%

35%

6%

+4

Newspapers

na

26%

31%

4%

27%

45%

20%

4%

+5

Online news media

na

23%

28%

4%

24%

45%

20%

6%

+5

TV news media

na

21%

26%

5%

21%

44%

26%

4%

+5

Federal Parliament

55%

22%

26%

4%

22%

37%

32%

5%

+4

State Parliament

na

na

25%

4%

21%

37%

33%

5%

na

Business groups

38%

22%

25%

3%

22%

45%

21%

9%

+3

Trade unions

39%

22%

23%

5%

18%

32%

36%

9%

+1

Political parties

na

12%

16%

2%

14%

36%

42%

6%

+4

What this table shows is that unions have a very low degree of trust in the Australian community. Very similar levels of trust to the business community. That might be due to the larger dynamics in relation to the changing nature of the Australian economy or it could simply be how the public are viewing the fight between business and unions in the debate around industrial relations issues i.e come to consensus rather than tear each other apart.

Next we’ll look at another Essential Media Communications poll from July 30th, 2012 on public views in relation to the Fair Work Act.

Q. Business groups have said that Australia’s industrial relations laws favour workers and unions and should be changed so that businesses can increase productivity and have more flexibility with their workforce. Do you think Australia’s industrial relations laws favour employers or workers or do they balance the interests of workers and employers?

6 Feb 12

Total

30 Jul 12

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Full time workers

Part time workers

Favour employers

25%

20%

25%

16%

33%

22%

16%

Favour workers

24%

26%

12%

43%

14%

29%

24%

Balance the interests of employers and workers

34%

34%

49%

26%

26%

33%

37%

Don’t know

17%

20%

13%

15%

26%

17%

23%

This result shows the majority believe the current industrial relations system balances the interests of employers and workers, but what’s interesting is the partisan responses. Labor and Greens respondents believe the current laws favour employers more than workers and Coalition respondents believe the laws favour workers more than employers, yet there seems to be a fair amount of agreement across the partisan spectrum that the laws find a balance between both groups. This suggests that a message that transcends the partisan divide from either political party would get a positive response from the community. I’ll talk about this a bit more in a minute.

Next we’ll look at industrial relations as important election issue and which political party is more trusted to handle it. For this I’ll use both the last Newspoll and Essential Media Communications poll that asked these questions. We’ll start with Newspoll from February 2013:

Thinking about federal politics. would you say each of the following issues is very important, fairly important or not important on how you personally would vote in a federal election? (issues rated as very important)

Interest Rates Health and Medicare Education National Security Leadership IndustrialRelations The Economy Climate Change Asylum Seekers arriving in Australia Unemployment
% % % % % % % % % %
1-3 Feb 2013 38 80 77 57 62 39 74 35 48 56

This result shows Industrial Relations is not high on the list of important issues in terms of what would decide how one would vote at a federal election. Then we get:

Which one of the (ALP, Liberal and National Party Coalition or someone else) do you think would best handle the issue of industrial relations?

Liberal/National Coalition ALP Someone Else None Uncommitted
% % % % %
1-3 Feb 2013 36 41 4 3 16

This result shows more respondents think the ALP are best to handle the issue of industrial relations but not by much. This is a bit alarming given how often the ALP talk about the threat of a Coalition government bringing back WorkChoices and other forms of draconian industrial relations legislation.

Next we’ll look at the Essential Media Communications results on important election issues and the political party best to handle those issues. These results are from February 11th 2013:

Q. Which are the three most important issues in deciding how you would vote at a Federal election?

Total

11 Feb 13

19 Nov 12

30 Jul 12

5 Dec 11

6 June 11

25 Jan 10

Management of the economy

62%

66%

64%

62%

61%

63%

Ensuring a quality education for all children

29%

35%

26%

22%

26%

23%

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

52%

57%

47%

47%

49%

48%

Protecting the environment

14%

14%

11%

13%

15%

16%

A fair industrial relations system

12%

8%

12%

11%

8%

na

Political leadership

14%

15%

25%

18%

17%

23%

Addressing climate change

9%

9%

9%

10%

15%

16%

Controlling interest rates

9%

11%

9%

11%

13%

15%

Australian jobs and protection of local industries

40%

32%

41%

36%

32%

33%

Ensuring a quality water supply

4%

5%

3%

4%

5%

12%

Housing affordability

11%

14%

13%

13%

16%

14%

Ensuring a fair taxation system

21%

17%

18%

16%

17%

14%

Security and the war on terrorism

6%

5%

5%

4%

8%

9%

Treatment of asylum seekers

6%

6%

10%

8%

5%

na

Managing population growth

9%

7%

8%

8%

12%

na

There are many more issues for respondents to choose from in this poll than the Newspoll but again it shows “A fair indutrial relations system” not high on the list with only 12% considering it an important election issue.

Q. Which party would you trust most to handle the following issues?

Labor

Liberal

Greens

Don’t know

Diff
11
Feb
13

Diff
19
Nov
12

Diff
18
Jun
12

Management of the economy

31%

46%

3%

21%

-15

-14

-18

Ensuring a quality education for all children

37%

35%

6%

22%

+2

+5

-2

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

33%

36%

6%

25%

-3

-3

-6

Protecting the environment

20%

21%

39%

20%

+18

+16

+17

A fair industrial relations system

39%

33%

4%

23%

+6

+9

+6

Political leadership

29%

37%

6%

29%

-8

-12

-16

Addressing climate change

21%

24%

29%

26%

+5

+9

+7

Controlling interest rates

27%

41%

3%

30%

-14

-11

-18

Protecting Australian jobs and protection of local industries

33%

36%

4%

27%

-3

-2

-6

Ensuring a quality water supply

21%

27%

23%

29%

-6

-7

-12

Housing affordability

27%

33%

5%

35%

-6

-5

-11

Ensuring a fair taxation system

31%

37%

4%

28%

-6

-9

-10

Security and the war on terrorism

25%

38%

4%

33%

-13

-15

-22

Treatment of asylum seekers

20%

37%

14%

30%

-17

-18

-20

Managing population growth

21%

33%

7%

39%

-12

-15

-19

This table shows that one of the only issues where respondents trust the ALP more than the Coalition is industrial relations. But even then it’s only by a margin of 6%. It’s not exactly the margin many in the ALP would like to see in relation to this contest given the amount of time they’ve spent hammering on the issue.

If there’s one issue Tony Abbott has been very clever with, it would be in relation to his political tactics on industrial relations. Many in the Liberal Party would like to see a return to WorkChoices. It’s a reason many people join the Liberal Party in the first place: to shift the policy needles in favour of the business community and crush the union movement. What Tony Abbott has done by contrast is take a different approach.

Instead of advocating for a return to WorkChoices, he’s attempted to position the Liberal Party as the party that favours a fair and balanced industrial relations system. So whenever he talks about flexibility, it’s framing the issue in terms of the pendulum being tilted too far in one direction. The polling above shows many prefer an industrial relations system that balances employers and workers interests. His message is framed towards this group: the middle. So whenever the ALP say he’ll bring back WorkChoices if he becomes Prime Minister, all he does is say he’s for a fair system and the ALP are for an unbalanced system.

Then he associates himself with people from the trade union movement such as Kathy Jackson who are seen as extremely dodgy to Labor people because he’s trying to frame his message in terms of how the ALP behave rather than what he does. It’s part of the reason he’ll also advocate for the reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. People in the union movement know what that means but communicating it with all the noise and framing it in a way that makes him look extreme is extremely difficult when he’s framed it around the way the ALP and the union movement behave.

And to drive the dagger in as firmly in as possible, he then addresses the National Press Club in January and says things like:

“As my personal history shows, I’ve never been anti-union.

I support unions that are honestly managed and genuinely focused on a fair deal for their members.

That’s why a big part of the Coalition’s workplace policy will be tackling the rorts we’ve seen in the Health Services Union and the Australian Workers Union.

These are the sorts of measures that a less-compromised Labor government could introduce and that decent Labor people would support.

I have never believed that Australian workers are overpaid and will never begrudge the decent working people of our country a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

That’s why our workplace policy will ensure that changes have to benefit a business’s workers as well as its owners, managers and customers – because you can’t have a successful business without motivated workers”

http://australianpolitics.com/2013/01/31/tony-abbott-address-to-national-press-club.html

This sort of rhetoric completely floors people who support the ALP and the union movement as it’s the exact opposite of their message that he’ll bring WorkChoices back and worse. It looks like the “Evil Bunny” all over again but this time, it’s the ALP using the tactics.

The ALP: “A government lead by Tony Abbott would bring back WorkChoices”, The Public: “So what? Look at the way you behave!” … That’s pretty much the dynamic Abbott’s trying to create around this issue and I’d say he’s been quite successful at it.

The problem is only exacerbated when the Prime Minister says things such as the passage below

“I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party.

I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party.

I’m not the leader of a party even called the socialist democratic party.

I’m a leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately because that is what we come from.

That is what we believe in and that is who we are.”

http://australianpolitics.com/2013/02/18/julia-gillard-speech-to-awu-conference.html

All this sort of rhetoric does is allow Tony Abbott to firmly plant the Coalition as representatives of the middle in terms of industrial relations and other issues in the national political debate.

Then you see people like Paul Howes on Lateline and the point becomes more profound.

In my opinion, what the ALP should be doing is emphasising the socially democratic, progressive, moderate side of the party. A party with unions attached to it but not one where they’re calling the shots. After all, collective bargaining is a democratic right! It’s not just a plaything for political parties to score points. These are people’s lives and living standards we’re talking about!

The union movement during the Hawke and Keating governments did three very important things that were painful to their membership but were in the best interests of the nation:

1. The Prices and Incomes Accord

2. Ending 100 years of Centralised Wage Fixing and shifting to Enterprise Bargaining

3. Compulsory Superannuation

If you listen to Paul Keating as often as I have, you’ll eventually hear him talk about how he had to put the union movement in a headlock and pull out their rotten teeth with a pair of pliers in order to get some of these things done and he’ll include extreme amounts of praise towards Bill Kelty who was the head of the ACTU at the time for making those sacrifices for the greater good of the nation.

These reforms allowed the union movement to survive in this age as well and made certain that even with the massive cultural and economic changes, the purpose of unions and the right for employees to collectively bargain was enshrined in the Australian social contract.

I think a lot of this history is either largely forgotten by the current ALP or is simply not understood or appreciated.

A lot of the rhetoric from the ALP on industrial relations is filled with good intentions. Fairness is very important to Australians but at the same time, most of the political points being made against the Coalition are simply firing blanks and while Abbott maintains the framing that the Coalition aren’t going to bring back WorkChoices if they form government (regardless of whether people believe him or not), that will continue to be the case.

Policy exemplifies values, connection, authenticity, trust and identity

A key component of this years political debate will be who can communicate their vision for the nation to the public in a way that can persuade swing voters to vote for them in September.

You’re going to hear a lot of predictable talk about policies but what’s really going on is far more complex.

Ronald Reagan’s pollster Dick Wirthlin figured out that voters don’t vote for policies, they vote for who they measure as superior in the five areas I’m about to summarise and how the policies they advocate for exemplify them.

Values

Wirthlin defines values as the measures by which individuals determine their worth or importance of matters of concern in their lives.

The big mistake many politicians make, especially on the ALP “side” of politics is to confuse policies with values. The best example of this is whenever you hear Julia Gillard talk about “Labor values” you will always hear the word “education.”

Education isn’t a value. It’s a process and a policy area. The real question the ALP should be asking is why value education? Is it because we value opportunity? Is it because we value excellence? Is it because we value equality and social justice? Is it because we value creating a sustainable world? Is it because we value greater degrees of freedom? The deeper question on values never seems to be addressed by the Prime Minister.

The Coalition by contrast make it very clear where they stand on values. Every piece of communication they produce is targeted towards the values of individual success and freedom as well as respect of national history and what they define as an “Australian” identity.

There are also stages of values which I’ve gone over at reasonable length in previous posts that can be found here and here.

Connection

When I first visited Canberra, at a gut level I felt a reasonable degree of disconnection with the rest of the country. I’ve heard this is a common experience. There is a cold, artificial, bureaucratic feeling about the place.

Connection is an area many seem to have difficulty with on both “sides” of politics.

I think it’s fair to say that both Gillard and Abbott don’t connect too well with the electorate. Sure Gillard did connect with many women and men when she lashed out at Abbott’s repeated misogyny last year during Question Time, but that was merely one reactive speech that had been a very long time coming. Besides that one time, Gillard has been unable to connect with many people due to the inescapable negative prism she’s created for herself and most of her political decisions are viewed by people accordingly. It magnifies a lot when she says things like “we are us”, “a line has been crossed” and “I’ve made a ‘Captain’s Pick.'”

Abbott, although incredibly unpopular, initially connected with the public’s base level desires in relation to resolving the perceived uncertainty of the hung parliament, promising to get rid of the carbon tax, the mining tax, “stopping the boats, ending the waste” and bringing back the “golden years” of the Howard government.

As time has gone by many people see his platform for what it is: a fraud and they no longer feel that connection as people have more complex and difficult concerns to deal with and Abbott has shown that he doesn’t understand the public by constantly disregarding how they live their lives.

If normal people did what he has done over the last three years, they’d be fired from their job immediately!

Abbott’s new way of connecting is making everything he says about how bad the Labor Party is and how they need to be booted out of office as soon as possible. It has nothing to do with the policies, it is a very partisan message and it’s directed straight at Gillard, Labor and anything they touch. It connects with people because he has control of the way the national debate is framed and Labor appear too stupid to counteract what he’s doing.

Authenticity

It’s fair to say both Gillard and Abbott are seen to be inauthentic on many issues.

In the case of Gillard the obvious examples revolve around marriage equality and asylum seeker policy. On marriage equality, the authenticity issue arises due to her history as a progressive activist, her de-facto relationship and her atheism. How could someone who lives their life that way and hold those positions on “the big questions” possibly justify being against marriage equality? Sure, she can attempt to justify the position, but getting people to believe it is another matter entirely.

In relation to asylum seeker policy, Gillard advocates for “protecting lives at sea” yet the actual policy of locking refugees away in another country violates basic social justice and progressive principles of humanitarianism. It ends up looking like a desperate attempt to win votes in Western Sydney and pockets of Queensland. Whenever this is denied, it looks inauthentic.

In the case of Abbott, he’s spent his entire political career convincing everyone that he’s a crusader for the conservative cause. He has rejoiced in the nickname “Captain Catholic,” emotionally baiting “left wingers” and feminists as well as the negativity and cut and thrust of machine politics. Now he’s attempting to convince the public that he’s a crusader for taking action on dangerous climate change, women’s rights and social justice. Give us a break!

Trust

Trust is a fundamental component of political success. It’s often referred to as “political capital.” How much a government can do in office while maintaining their popularity in the electorate is heavily reliant on how much political capital they have stored in the bank. The more trust is broken by the government, the more unpopular they tend to become.

The trust issue with Gillard has frequently appeared during this term of parliament. Whether it has been the deal with the Greens and Independents on the “Carbon Tax” (saying it’s a carbon “price” is a big authenticity issue because every time it’s said, people think it’s spin), whether it’s been breaking the mandatory precommitment legislation deal with Andrew Wilkie, whether it’s been asylum seeker policy or whether it’s simply been internal ALP politics, it all comes back to trust, political capital and how that relates to certainty.

“How can we trust you given what you’ve done before?” is what it all comes down to and whenever there’s been an attempt at an answer it always gets framed in a negative light because that’s the predisposition towards Gillard’s decisions as Prime Minister.

The trust issue has been used with devastating effect by Tony Abbott (or should I say, Mark Textor) during this term of parliament. Everything they’ve said communicates “you can’t trust Labor and this Prime Minister” in one way or another. Most of this message now is in code as they’ve gone off the direct message and gone into a mode where they want to be seen as positive and constructive when in reality what they’re communicating is exactly the same as what’s been said over the previous three years of this term of parliament.

This will of course come back to bite Abbott big time if he ever becomes Prime Minister because there are very real and complex issues in relation to how he plans to repeal the carbon tax after it has been in operation for over a year and all the complexity that comes with that in relation to what’s happening around the world, how he plans to repeal the mining tax given how Australian’s view the issue and many other areas where he’s drawn a line in the sand without thinking about the long term implications of those promises.

In short, if you make a promise, make sure you keep it or look out!

Identity

Identity is interesting in relation to the two major parties. On the one hand, Labor is defining itself through it’s industrial relations agenda whereas the Coalition are defining themselves based upon anything that isn’t Labor unless Labor falls for their framing.

On the question of identity, I believe the most successful political parties are able to find points of agreement with their opponents as well as identifying those areas beneath the surface where the base are disillusioned with the political party they support and exploiting them as much as possible.

During this term of parliament, Abbott has made it his goal to split the ALP from their working class, blue collar, manufacturing base by linking the ALP to the Greens and playing hardball on the issue of border protection and asylum seeker policy.

The ALP by contrast seems to be making minimal impact in splitting the Coalition from the business community. This is probably due to the ALP’s rhetoric in relation to “Clive, Gina and Twiggy” as well as deliberately conflating various economic and industrial relations issues with a return to the time before Bob Hawke and Paul Keating revolutionised the Australian economy.

In my opinion, instead of declaring war on these wealthy people and accusing them of being evil and in control of the Coalition, the ALP should demonstrate how they made these people into what they are and without the policies of the Hawke and Keating governments, the cooperation of the union movement and the policies that saved Australia from recession during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and 2009, these people wouldn’t be anywhere near as wealthy as they are today!

As Paul Keating once said in a conversation with Malcolm Turnbull in 2008 “I made you rich!”

To make it brutally frank: the ALP are nowhere near as open to this disenfranchised group of generally Coalition supporters as they should be.

The five areas I’ve touched on above are what comes before we can get to a real policy discussion on any issue because they deal with people, knowing where one stands and being real.

To sum it up in a phrase: policy exemplifies values, connection, authenticity, trust and identity.

It’s all well and good to say you want to copy the sophisticated tactics of Barack Obama’s victorious 2012 US Presidential campaign, but if your policies are out of sync in relation to each other or they’re not communicated in a manner that is consistent with what you believe, it won’t work!

The party that is consistent in relation to this concept and injects optimism and inclusion into everything they communicate is the party that usually wins elections.