October 20th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Issues for the forthcoming election

TESTIMONIAL: Digger James: Why I support 'News Weekly'

CANBERRA OBSERVED: The 'other' election on November 10

ECONOMICS: Who's looking after world trade

BIOETHICS: Cloning: a mixed bag

Straws in the Wind: Come in, Spinner

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Parents call for increased penalties for drug trafficking

TERRORISM: Why the Muslim world hates America

AFGHANISTAN: Australia must protect the innocent victims of war

Letter: Refugee analysis wrong

Letter: Free trade challenge

Letter: Marriage costs

PACIFIC: After the civil war: Bougainville looks ahead

MEDIA: Mutual admiration / "Beazley-class" subs

COMMENT: Baddies are not always cowards

DOCUMENTATION: Latest data show mothers' preference for home

COMMENT: Don't hurt us, we're men

Books: 'THE LITTLE ICE AGE: How Climate Made History 1300-1850', by Brian Fagan

Books: 'One in Thirteen: The Silent Epidemic of Teen Suicide', by Jessica Portner

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Straws in the Wind: Come in, Spinner

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, October 20, 2001

Come in, spinner

The election is upon us, and the pundits are already saying it will be a close affair. The pundits have been saying all manner of things, and like necromancers and tea-leaf diviners, it doesn't matter if they're wrong, for there they'll be, at the door, next day, with a new elixir. But certainly the polling industry is now in total disrepute, and really, there is no excuse.

Many years ago, a properly selected, i.e. representative, survey of 2000 people questioned could deliver a figure with a margin of error of only 3 per cent either way.

Now, we get a Morgan Bulletin poll, which gave the Government 60 per cent to Labor's 40 per cent. Later, Mr Morgan said that was OK - it had been a telephone poll. In fact he'd taken two other polls that day, face to face, which put Labor ahead. "Just shows the superiority of face-to-face polling", Gary said. So everything's OK. Of course it's not.

Doubtless encouraged, the Sunday Herald-Sun (October 7) plastered its front page with: "LABOR BOOST: EXCLUSIVE." "SHOCK IN VICTORIAN MARGINALS." It gave the impression - intentionally, I presume - that Labor had gained ground in Victoria's marginal seats. Only by following the meandering tale onto page 4, and reading the fine print, did one discover that only four marginals - two Labor, and two Coalition - had been "examined"; a grand total of 410 voters were approached in the four seats; they were interviewed by telephone, and, buried right at the bottom of a column - "The results of the other three seats (other than Ballarat) would have been almost too close to call."

What is "almost too close to call"? Either it is too close or it is not. Presumably, a face-saver for the wild headlines - e.g. "VICTORIAN POLL SHOCK FOR LIBS".

Your ABC tried to construct some kind of story around this confection - no relevant details, of course. Sometimes, it's difficult not to feel sorry for them. I can see why they need Friends. These are early days - just a few days in - so we can imagine what thimble-and-pea contortions and distortions, not to mention abortions, await us at the hands of the scribblers and Radio Baloney. Come November 10!

The political realities are that everything "is changed, changed utterly", to recap News Weekly's front page of our last issue. We could be facing a global struggle, one not for the faint-hearted, the morally confused, or the ideologically screwed-up. We are also facing an unprecedented, orchestrated campaign to breach our borders, and an economic downturn, whose velocity, magnitude and possible duration we are simply unable to predict.

The two parties have different strategies, even different philosophies. (Forget all the talk about there being no "real" difference between the parties.)

Labor is going to run on a "business as usual" platform, relying on there being enough voters who don't want to face the fact that everything has changed. Business as usual means a total absorption in disputes over who gets the best bits of the social product - that Magic Pudding which voters have been urged to regard as inexhaustible. This is an atmosphere made to order for pressure-groups, which are wholly concerned with their clients' material or status aspirations - irrespective of the claims of the Common Good, and too often, of the National Interest.

It must be confessed that journalists, and spin-doctors of both parties, regard these terms, and what they represent, with a not-so-secret contempt: as the toys of secular parsons or professional flag-wavers. Only political leaders, and like-minded supporters with political guts and foresight, will override such fissiparous forces.

Though things could change during the campaign, Beazley has not impressed on these vital matters; whereas Howard has. Which is why the nihilists among us hate him so.

A Beazley "business as usual" political program could include the following: a roll-back of the GST (whatever that eventually meant), rolling back private education and private health as far as electorally possible; reviving the corpses of the say-sorry and republican movements; rewarding the public media for services rendered - "rend" meaning "to tear apart" - feeding that unkempt, insatiable succubus, loosely called the Arts; trying to entrench the privileges and the extra-mural financial power of favourite trade unions; and killing off the Royal Commission into the now scandalous building industries.

A lot of the Labor program may be of the Monkey See, Monkey Do variety, or else trying to second-guess the conservatives. Some of this is inevitable - for Labor under Beazley has been a party whose policy-makers have often appeared to be wearing the shape of the last union, pressure-group or party-pollster who sat on them.

The conservative program may contain a few surprises, probably aimed at the Swingeing Middle Classes. I don't think the Coalition will try to outspend Labor on health and education - which are bottomless pits. More likely it'll try some innovative, and quality rather than quantity, programs. Keeping their cards as close to its chest as the Coalition is now doing, and with the final amount of money available for spending from the Budget still unknown, Beazley is not the only one unsure as to what the Coalition is going to do.

Clear outcome

But one thing seems certain. Defence is going to get a big boost, long overdue, and protecting our borders is, let's hope, going to receive a much more determined and insightful treatment than the bureaucratic legerdemain of Beazley would produce.

For him, the cry is already, and always, "It's too hard, it won't work, we have to get on side with Indonesia." Which is, at present, impossible, short of abasement to an unstable collection of fixers - some of whom are obviously living off people-smuggling.

I suspect that if Labor won, it would soon drop the whole idea of border protection. "Bring in the cheap labour, and the next generation of tenured trauma counsellors."

The fact is, this is a severe problem, which most voters want dealt with, and Beazley and Co. keep pouring cold water on all of Howard's and Ruddock's attempts. Beazley's attitude is going to serve Labor badly at the polls.

And it looks as though the Coalition is going to target families with children for any spare benefits. This is going to further consolidate its image as a responsible, respectable voice. Stressing that charity begins at home - a widely shared belief, given the present ideological excesses of the UN and the NGOs, not to mention the people-smugglers.

Opening my weekday Herald Sun this Monday (October 8), I found, as suspected, a very different pre-election poll, giving the conservatives a big swing in Victoria. You should watch for a systematic difference between the weekday and the weekend Herald Suns. While the ABC 9 a.m. news bulletin simply refused to mention the latest front-page boat-people drama unfolding near Christmas Island.

Say no more.

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