Even the politics have relevance to things that are happening here in the USA today and what happened in Aussie in the 90's. Aivars Lode
Geoff KitneyAs they watched Mitt Romney conceding he had lost what had once been seen as the unlosable US presidential election, some Australian conservatives had horror flashbacks to this country in 1993.
Nearly 20 years on, the loss by John Hewson to Paul Keating of what came to be known as “the Fightback election” still haunts the Coalition side of politics.
The bitter experience of that loss still profoundly influences the political thinking of key Coalition team members.
Tony Abbott (a key Hewson adviser) and his shadow finance minister Andrew Robb (then Liberal campaign manager) have memories of that loss seared into their political brains.
It’s an experience which is strongly factored into their strategic thinking today.
The Coalition’s absolute determination not to release detailed policies and the costings that underpin them until as late as possible can be traced back to the early release of Hewson’s intricately detailed and costed Fightback manifesto and the amount of time Hewson gave to a rampaging Keating to rip it to shreds.
This week’s spat over the ham-fisted effort by Treasurer Wayne Swan’s office to use Treasury costings of a handful of opposition policies to put pressure on Abbott over his refusal to come clean about how he will fund his promises is a reverberation of those events nearly two decades ago.
As it turned out, the latest message Labor intended to send about Abbott’s shiftiness got lost in the Coalition’s successful efforts to deflect the debate to the way in which the material was released and away from the issue of its costings.
Senior Labor strategists insist that one lesson to be learnt from the US election is that Romney failed to overcome voter doubts about him and, while he said he had a plan for the future of America, he never produced a detailed plan with plausible costings.
The Gillard team believes that Abbott, trapped in a time-warp fear of producing detailed costings, will be making a grave error if he does what Romney did and not substantiate the detailed elements of his plan for the nation’s future.
Coalition figures retort that Labor “would say that, wouldn’t they”.
They see this week’s events as a sign that Labor is getting desperate to pressure Abbott into releasing policy detail.
A long game of bluff and counter-bluff in the battle of budget numbers can be expected to continue through to the federal election.
Key Coalition insiders concede that the timing of the release of its detailed alternative economic strategy will be a critically important decision.
But they are also counselling against any temptation within Coalition ranks to be panicked by Labor into releasing policy details too soon.
Senior Coalition frontbenchers are working to calm concerns that have been sparked by recent signs of a shift in base voter support back to the Labor Party as Abbott’s ferocious anti-carbon tax campaign has begun to run out of steam.
For example, in Canberra Coalition MPs have been reassured that the Liberal Party’s research shows there are no signs of any significant shift back to Labor in key battleground electorates such as in western Sydney.
MPs are being told that hostility towards Labor and Prime Minister Julia Gillard among the so-called “battlers” remains intense.
Senior Abbott team members say cost of living pressures are potent electoral poison for Labor.
This is not likely to change before the election, even if Gillard holds out until the latter part of next year to call it (still the most likely timing, even though Labor is readying for a possible snap election in March).
The Coalition has detailed cost of living breakdowns for the key battleground seats which show prices for a range of sensitive products and services – ranging from electricity prices to medical costs – have risen by far more than the rate of inflation.
Liberal strategists also insist that the voters in those areas where the cost of living pressures are intense are still extremely hostile to the carbon tax.
They say their research shows that Abbott’s promise to repeal the tax has entrenched support and this is why he has not and will not relent from attacking it.
Labor knows the cost of living issue is hot and dangerous for the party in western Sydney, where any loss of seats would make it impossible for the government to be re-elected.
But it says the political dynamics of the issue are shifting.
They say that in recent months, particularly since the carbon tax compensation money started rolling out, voters who had previously given up on Labor were now prepared to have a conversation about cost of living pressures, their causes and their cures.
Labor believes the “Cash for You” message it uses to sell the carbon tax compensation and an average annual $4000 fall in mortgage costs due to lower interest rates can be translated into a hard-hitting campaign on the cost of living issue.
Labor plans a finely targeted grass roots campaign (using proven US Democrats techniques) to convince voters that it has a cost of living strategy as part of a comprehensive and detailed plan for the future, while Abbott only has slogans.
Of course, both sides are aware that their plans will face intense scrutiny from the experts, who will want to know where the money is coming from.
But in the end it will be the battle for the battlers that really matters.
The Australian Financial Review