With the Australian election result still hanging in the balance, what can political strategists on this side of the Tasman learn? Five tips, plus the insight of one old man

While the Australian federal election still plays out, it is always interesting to play the 'what could we learn for New Zealand' game, and there are some clear lessons for political parties on this side of the Tasman.

Lesson one is that a leader can fall from grace rapidly and ruinously.

Not much more than a year ago Kevin Rudd was generally judged to be odds-on favourite to beat whatever the Liberal Party could throw up.

The possibility of Tony Abbott as a near future Prime Minister of Australia seemed then as likely, well, yes, as Phil Goff becoming next Prime Minister of New Zealand.

In October, with an election looming, Rudd’s position in the beauty contest was such that the spooked federal caucus dumped him for his smart and telegenic deputy. Rudd’s political demise began when the media began to see previously identified positive character traits in Rudd as negative.

Attention to detail became “control freak”. The buzz in the ALP was that the latter interpretation was the correct one.

Lesson two; don’t make a big promise you can’t keep.

Rudd made a big issue of doing something about climate change, couldn’t deliver and wouldn’t go to the polls on it.

National risks this effect on the wage-gap-with-Australia issue, and they know it. So does the media.

Lesson three; electorates are volatile.

The proximate cause of Rudd’s downfall was an unprecedented twenty-five percent swing to the Liberals in a by-election in the usually safe Labor state seat of Penrith.

History may well decide that Gillard mitigated a much larger disaster for the ALP, but swings were well beyond the normally glacial federal movements.

Lesson four; privatisation remains a very dirty word.

It was widely recognised that part of Gillard’s problem was the unpopularity of the state Labor Governments in New South Wales and Queensland, which rubbed off on to the Federal Party. The collapse of voter support in both states can be largely traced back to attempts at the privatisation of state assets.

Voters simply saw this as selling off the family silver and even the NSW Liberal Party, philosophically in favour of privatisation, correctly spotted political advantage in derailing an electricity privatisation in that state.

Lesson five; campaigns matter.

Tony Abbott, gaffe-prone in the past, ran a steady if uninspiring campaign whereas Julia Gillard’s was at least patchy.

Abbott stole a march on first female Prime Minister Julia by opening up with a generous parental leave scheme, while the ALP seemed like the proverbial possum caught in the headlights.

The ALP lost one week through a series of damaging leaks, thought to have originated in the Rudd camp, and later lost momentum again by raising the dormant but divisive issue of the monarchy.

The sight of Gillard with the unpopular Premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally promising a long delayed rail link in Sydney drew derision rather than support.

The last lesson was delivered to me by a nice old bloke I got nattering to while waiting for the tram at Paddy’s Market a week before the election.

A Labor voter since the Bob Hawke years, he’d had a sudden “the emperor's got no clothes" moment with Kevin Rudd. “I just noticed he was full of shit” he said.

Comments (2)

by stuart munro on August 31, 2010
stuart munro

A number of commentators have also said, with respect to the Australian elections, that notwithstanding New Zealander's perception of their competence (based on comparative performance with our own leaders), they are not serving the aspirations of Australians, who are irritated and mistrustful of them. The tie is then fairly natural, there being no preferred leader in the race.

by Bruce Thorpe on September 03, 2010
Bruce Thorpe

Has anybody got something to say about the traditional Westminster parliaments still providing a swing to multi party governments?

Is MMP facilitating a political will of the electorate rather than in itself creating minority governments?

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