February 3rd 2007


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Is Malcolm Turnbull out of his depth?

EDITORIAL: Are we in for another interest rate hike?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why Howard Government could fall this year

THE ECONOMY: Qantas takeover bid - leave it to the market?

WORKPLACE RELATIONS: New laws exploit vulnerable employees

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Sheik's outburst - more than once is enough!

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: When truth is no defence

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Invisible premier / Victoria Agonistes / From log-rolling to White House / Another conspiracy? / Russian roulette / Media watch

SRI LANKA: Who are the terrorists in Sri Lanka?

CUBA: Mass-murderer Fidel Castro to die unpunished

EAST TIMOR: Alkatiri's right-hand man tried in East Timor

SCIENCE: Cull the human race - Australian scientist

No such thing as 'private' morality (letter)

Messiah status for Labor leaders (letter)

Major doctrinal errors in Nativity film (letter)

Word engineering (letter)

BOOKS: FROM THE GULAG TO THE KILLING FIELDS, edited by Paul Hollander

BOOKS: JACKA VC: Australian hero, by Robert Macklin

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CANBERRA OBSERVED:
Why Howard Government could fall this year




News Weekly, February 3, 2007
The Coalition should prepare themselves for the unthinkable.

John Howard starts a gruelling election year in an invidious position. Well behind in the opinion polls, facing a new and energetic Opposition leader, and unable to overcome the self-evident reality that his best years and greatest achievements are now behind him, Mr Howard must be wondering if he may have made the wrong decision last year to stay on for another campaign.

Had he left politics then and handed the baton to Peter Costello, he would have gone out on an extraordinary wave of public support and gratitude for providing a decade of prosperity, stability and sensible government.

Now it seems possible that he will have his 16-seat majority slashed and risk losing government at the end of the year.

Diminished

If this occurs, Mr Howard's eventual departure will be far more diminished.

Of course, politics and public opinion are mercurial, and it is also possible that Kevin Rudd will, over time, be exposed for being both shallow and callow.

Mr Rudd is enjoying an extended political honeymoon, despite being on a steep learning-curve, and is extremely unlikely to implode in the same manner as Mark Latham.

The Queenslander is the most conservative Labor leader in decades, and his small target strategy mirrors the tactics that Mr Howard used to wrest power from Paul Keating.

Rising inflation, tightening interest rates, the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, and a general desire for a change of government after four elections - all these are making life difficult for the Coalition.

The Howard Government has built its political reputation on security, but this has been severely undercut by its industrial relations laws, which make workplaces far more insecure.

Added to this mix is the potent force of the ACTU, which is building its own war chest separate from the ALP, in order to fight the coming election.

There is an unhealthy mood of complacency within Coalition ranks, based on Mr Howard's extraordinary successes against the odds over four elections.

However, the reality in Australian elections is that there is not much margin for error.

Veteran election analyst Malcolm Mackerras has calculated that the swing required for Labor to unseat the Howard Government at the 2007 federal election has dropped from 4.4 per cent to 3.3 per cent following redistributions.

The New South Wales election will be one key pointer to the fate of the government. Federal Coalition MPs might be quietly hoping that the Morris Iemma Labor Government will scrape home in March.

For a decade, Australian voters have voted for the Liberal-National Coalition federally, but even more strongly for Labor at a state and territory level.

When the first Labor state falls, that trend will be reversed.

NSW has held the key to Howard's electoral success, but has been virtually in recession for a year, and the poorer half of Sydney is suffering severely from the collapse of the property boom.

Mr Iemma has been plagued by a shocking run of ministerial scandals and bungles.

If Mr Iemma manages to hold on, the power of incumbency will bolster Mr Howard's confidence that he too can overcome his own handicaps.

If Mr Iemma loses power, voters in NSW will have fewer qualms about punishing the Federal Government as well.

Mr Howard is likely to use cultural issues, including citizenship and the dismantling of multiculturalism, to outmanoeuvre Labor, but Mr Rudd will be alert to being wedged on such issues.

In the end, voters may shrug and give Mr Howard one more go; but the margin is going to be close, and in a six-week campaign the margin for error is going to be even closer.




























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