ELECTION 2004: News Weekly
Will Labor, Liberal big-spending promises swing voters?
, October 9, 2004
John Howard's election campaign has been more of a brazen game of defiance than a conventional appeal to the voters.
Having built the foundations of a seemingly impregnable economy, Mr Howard is daring the voters not to risk all by trusting the nation to an alternative team headed by an albeit new and appealing leader in Mark Latham.
Mr Latham's $2.9 billion "Medicare Gold" plan to provide free health care for the over-75s - along with other sweeteners to retirees - is a clear attempt to capture the votes of a section of the electorate which has swung heavily towards John Howard and the Coalition.
Mr Howard is as astute a reader of the public mood as former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
And though he would not admit this publicly, he knows there is a strong level of frustration about his government which no amount of promises or pledges can placate.Mistakes
The frustration is caused by an accumulation of mistakes and mishaps, avoidable and unavoidable, compounded by the community's natural restlessness for change after eight and a half years.
So Mr Howard has gambled his re-election and a crowning fourth term on his single greatest achievement in government - prosperity.
The Howard boast is uninterrupted economic growth, which has massively increased the wealth of the Australian property class. It has created jobs, but has left a sizeable sector of the community underemployed, including older workers and those trapped in regional black spots and housing commission ghettos.
He has also kept interest rates low for business to thrive and for higher personal debt than any other nation in the world.
How much of this is good management or good fortune - and how long it will last and how long we will all have to pay for the debt to fuel this unprecedented boom - seems to be completely glossed over in the election campaign.
Take the recent history of the great Clinton surplus. This was supposed to pay for the social security bills of generations of Americans, but it was wiped out in a flash by the US recession and the war on terror, and the US Government is now heavily and dangerously in debt.
A sudden jump in unemployment in Australia would see our surplus - and the promises which went with it - evaporate as well.
Will the Howard gamble work?
On a superficial level the following would seem a timid and equivocal prediction, but there are in fact three likely outcomes for the October 9 poll in the following order:
(1) A returned Howard Government, but with a reduced majority,
(2) A hung Parliament controlled by the independent MPs, or
(3) The narrowest of victories for the Labor Party.
Few elections have been more difficult to call. Newspaper opinion polls have contradicted each other, and it would surprise no-one including Mr Howard to see Mr Latham claiming victory on election night.
However, it is safe to assume there will be no landslide win for either side.High price
Commentators have all but excluded the possibility of the three independents assuming the balance of power in the House of Representatives, yet there is a faint chance of their numbers being increased at this election in the form of Peter King.
Nothing would be more intriguing than seeing Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Peter Andren becoming kingmakers after the election, and their sympathies are more likely to lean to the conservative side of politics than to Labor.
However, after the appalling way Mr Katter and Mr Windsor have been treated by their ex-National Party colleagues, they would be certain to exact a high price for their support.
The people are getting tired of the Howard Government, but not sick and tired. And they are interested in the Labor Party as an alternative, but not convinced.