CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Little chance of reprieve for Gillard government
, May 26, 2012
Every so often there is a seismic shift in public and media sentiment toward that unusual occurrence in Australian politics — a change of government.
That shift occurred in the lead-up to the May Budget when the twin Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson scandals overwhelmed the Gillard Labor Government, robbing it of its last chance to redeem itself with voters.
Until that point, the idea that Tony Abbott could be prime minister was still considered by many, including leading commentators, to be fanciful and unlikely, and that his inherent unpopularity would in the end count against him.
Certainly, the Government got a small bounce in the polls from Wayne Swan’s fifth and supposedly most austere Budget, which is hardly surprising given the extent of the billions in give-aways to low-income families.
Mr Swan declared his Budget “Labor to its bootstraps”.
However, the bounce was risible and confirmation of Labor’s worst fears — that the government is now terminal with the electorate.
Such is the disenchantment that voters will accept the money offered, but won’t be rewarding the Labor Party with their vote.
Of course, an Abbott-led Coalition Government is not inevitable — anything can happen in politics.
But Abbott’s authority in the party is now unquestioned, and Coalition MPs acknowledge that his single-minded focus on the Government’s failings has resulted in the Opposition’s primary vote approaching 50 per cent of the electorate.
The forced resignation of Mr Slipper as Speaker and Mr Thomson’s effective expulsion from the Labor Caucus meant that the last fig-leaf of legitimacy protecting the Gillard Government has disappeared.
Journalists, who had been contemptuous of Tony Abbott, are looking at him as a real alternative prime minister, and Coalition frontbenchers are being feted by lobbyists, industry groups and diplomats who all expect them to be running the country within a short space of time.
Given that the Coalition has not released any policies of substance, nor has it explained how it will bridge the gap between promised Budget cuts and spending initiatives, this is an extraordinary situation.
It is possible, though unlikely, that Julia Gillard could call it quits after delivering the carbon tax in July.
It would be an appropriate moment to tender her resignation.
She would leave politics having made history as the nation’s first female prime minister, together with having built hundreds of Julia Gillard Memorial school halls and libraries.
Such a move might give Labor at least a chance of recapturing some of its base vote.
But with or without Ms Gillard, Labor is chained to the carbon tax.
A new leader might like to ditch it, but its revenue funds the compensation hand-outs and tax cuts to low and middle-income earners.
What seemed like clever politics at the time, in outmanoeuvring Tony Abbott, has become an albatross around Labor’s neck.
Such is the public’s loathing for the carbon tax that the taxpayer-funded advertisements heralding the accompanying compensation package fail to mention what they are compensating for.
The carbon tax will be Ms Gillard’s political epitaph.
On cue, and in a sign of clear desperation, the Government’s own Climate Commission, headed up by Dr Tim Flannery, released supposed scientific data that global warming would cause heat-waves in western Sydney resulting in higher crime rates, mental illness and death.
It was surely not without coincidence that this apocalyptic vision was focussed on the Labor-held seat of Parramatta, which would be the epicentre of these catastrophic events.
It is as if the Government needs to manufacture a final scare campaign to convince voters in the suburbs of the necessity of the new hefty tax on electricity and gas.
So, on the one hand, the Government is frightening people into accepting the necessity of the carbon tax — without of course mentioning the tax — and, on the other hand, paying them compensation for the tax — again, without mentioning the tax.
Nevertheless, Ms Gillard remains utterly convinced she is doing the right thing and that history will vindicate her government.
She told an ACTU congress that this was not the time to succumb to political pressure, and that a fear campaign was being waged against her.
“We should not allow days of political pressure to become a council of despair. Rather than that, we should ensure that we stiffen our spine and get on with the job that working Australians want us to do,” the Prime Minister told the congress.
Ms Gillard blamed the Government’s poor standing in the polls on an unrelenting “fear campaign” waged by the Opposition, coupled with “dramatic reporting” on the difficulties of running a minority government.
Ms Gillard appears not to have grasped that the electorate is not responding to a fear campaign perpetrated by the Opposition or the Climate Commission, but are simply refusing to buy an unnecessary new tax she pledged she would never introduce.