Qld debacle

Since Mr Howard left us (apart from casual encounters) I’ve largely forsworn political commentary on this blog, but the rout of the ALP in last weekend’s Queensland election is difficult to pass over in silence.

Long before the election, commentators have stated that the ALP was on the nose in Qld because of its failure prior to the last election (when it just squeaked in) to disclose its plans to sell off various government assets.  Voters did not forgive the ALP for this or for the abolition of a petrol rebate (though I’m not sure whether this was a plan which was not disclosed).

There is an irony here, given that the odds are that if the ALP decided to sell off state assets, it is hard to imagine (even allowing for the National Party as it once was) that the coalition/LNP would not also have sold off such state assets.  So why should voters switch their vote to the LNP on this issue?

Given the close call the ALP had in the last election, it seems to me the likelihood goes the other way: there must have been voters who switched their vote to the ALP or at least left their vote with the ALP precisely because they expected that way to prevent sale of government assets.

It is not necessary for voters to have actually been tricked for them to react against a political party: it is sufficient, especially given the fairly deep suspicion in the community against politicians, for them to be told that they have been tricked and to come to accept that belief, or to simply lose their faith in a political party.

That’s because democracy, at least when reduced to the casting of votes at elections, is such a blunt instrument.    In political discourse, this then makes arguments about “trust” very important.

The demise of the Democrats after their deal with the coalition over the GST is the obvious recent example in Australia of a loss of faith in a political party.  The loss of support for Rudd and the ALP in the first half of 2010 after the faltering on climate change seems to be another.  In the latter case, it hardly seemed to matter that the opposing party was offering nothing better: it’s as if the electorate or parts of it simply said “if you aren’t going to follow through on something which you used to rally our support to you, then we won’t support you any more – even though the other side aren’t going to do it either.”

Of course, there is no such thing as “the electorate” other than the aggregation of many individuals, and there are many other reasons for the changing political climate at that time which led to the wind spectacularly falling out of the sails of the global warming cause.

I’ve presumed to write about this now because on Saturday it was my pleasure as part of my “Continuing Professional Development” obligations to listen to a talk by former Justice Murray Wilcox about the Carbon Tax legislation.  I realised as I listened just how little I knew about it, and how little I had conceptualized how the tax is intended to work.  In a room full of lawyers, I was scarcely alone.  Somebody, in all seriousness, asked a question about whether some of the tax had to be paid to the United Nations.

Just now, the prospects of the federal ALP retaining office at the next election seem pretty slim.  I don’t think Ms Gillard can simply shrug off the “JuLIAR” rhetoric of the opposition.  She has to do a lot more to explain how the carbon tax works, to show that fears of its effect on ordinary punters as a “big new tax” are exaggerated.  It won’t be enough for her just to say “I didn’t lie; I changed my mind.”  She will need to persuade people that the tax is just a change of approach, and that it keeps faith with the fundamental goal of adopting a scheme to reduce CO2 emissions.

What is a bit outrageous to me is that she will also have to remind people that CO2 emissions need to be reduced.  It doesn’t seem like such a big leap from there to argue that the adoption of a scheme is a good and necessary thing, that even the coalition still says it is a good and necessary thing, and that the government’s measures have a better chance of doing what they aim to do than the opposition’s proposals.

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