TONY Abbott’s Coalition government has completed about 20 per cent of its term. It makes sense, at this relatively early stage of the political cycle, to challenge some of the prevailing mythology.
● Myth one: Tony Abbott and the Coalition are travelling poorly.
I was one of the few commentators who recognised Abbott was a real threat to Labor — then led by Kevin Rudd — when the member for Warringah became leader of the Liberal Party on December 1, 2009. This was not the fashionable view at the time among political commentators — leftists and conservatives among others.
For example, Judith Brett, writing in The Age, declared that under Abbott, the Liberals would be “a downmarket protest party of angry old men and the outer suburbs”. Of course it was not to be and Rudd was soon replaced by Julia Gillard.
Abbott nearly led the Coalition to victory in August 2010 and achieved one of the highest two-party-preferred votes in September last year — doing better than Bob Hawke in 1983 and Kevin Rudd in 2007.
Since last year’s election, the Coalition achieved a swing to it in the by-election of Rudd’s former seat of Griffith.
In the special West Australian Senate election on April 5, the swing against the Liberal Party now stands at 5 per cent — the normal swing against an incumbent government in a by-election.
The media focus on Labor’s poor performance in WA overlooks the fact that in April (as in the first count of the September 2013 Senate election), the Liberal Party seems to have won three Senate seats. This is a successful outcome.
● Myth two: Labor, under Bill Shorten’s leadership, is unelectable.
At this stage, the opinion polls mean little. Even so, Labor is ahead in some. Moreover, Shorten’s approval rating, at 44 per cent in Newspoll, is reasonable for a new opposition leader after a significant defeat.
Some commentators once said Abbott could not win. It would be just as foolish to say Shorten cannot win.
In what is essentially a competition between the two parties, the opposition invariably has a chance of victory.
● Myth three: Senator-elect Joe Bullock was responsible for Labor’s disastrous showing in WA.
Certainly Bullock made some unwise comments when addressing a Christian group in Perth last November.
However, Labor had done poorly in WA in the September election — it just did worse earlier this month.
David Marr told the Insiders program on April 6 that Bullock’s trade union — the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association — “operates … as a sort of arm of the Catholic Church inside the Labor Party”. The fact is Joe Bullock is not now — and never has been — a Catholic. But he does represent a tradition in the Labor Party that is just as valid as that of his left-wing running mate Louise Pratt.
Labor’s ongoing problem is that it has to retain the support of social conservatives like Bullock while trying to keep some of the green-Left vote. In Western Australia, Labor’s specific problems turned on its continuing support for a carbon tax and the mining tax.
● Myth four: The so-called “Israel lobby” has too much influence in Australia.
This is the only fresh material in Bob Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister. The book indicates the author exhibits a lack of self-awareness about what, using Carr-like terminology, might best be termed the “Palestinian lobby”.
The diary’s entries for November 2012 make it clear that, in Carr’s view, Labor’s policies on the Middle East had to be adjusted to take account of “the bursting Arab and Islamic populations” in western Sydney.
In September last year, Phillip Coorey reported in The Australian Financial Reviewthat Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, the Grand Mufti of Australia, threatened to withdraw support of the Muslim community for Labor if Bob Carr was replaced in the Senate by Paul Howes. Shortly after, Howes withdrew from the contest.
The so-called Israel lobby has little influence within any electorate and has never sought to veto the preselection of an able political contender with respect to either the Labor Party or the Liberal Party.
According to the Diary of a Foreign Minister, Labor needed to change its foreign policy on the Middle East in order to accommodate the interests of Muslim Australians living in western Sydney.
What Carr did not point out is the same concern explains why, in September 2012, all but one of the western Sydney Labor MPs voted against same sex marriage — including some who admitted they supported the concept.
● Myth five: Clive Palmer will control the balance of power in the Senate.
To get legislation through the Senate after July 1, Abbott will need support from either the Labor Party or six of the eight crossbench senators.
The Palmer United Party has three senators as of July 1 — Glenn Lazarus (Queensland), Dio Wang (Western Australia) and Jacqui Lambie (Tasmania) and seems likely to be supported by the Australian Motor Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir (Victoria).
Clearly, PUP’s support for Coalition legislation will not be sufficient if Labor opposes the Abbott government.
The backing of at least two of the four remaining senators will also be required. That is, two of Nick Xenophon (South Australia), John Madigan (DLP, Victoria), David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrat, NSW) and Bob Day (Family First, SA).
In other words, all the crossbench senators will share the balance of power after July 1. Not PUP alone, although it will be able to block legislation with Labor’s support.
Australian national politics will be interesting enough during the next 1000 days or so — without the current mythology.