Bruce Hawker on the US election

Australian campaigner and political consultant Bruce Hawker has been over in the US observing their election. Given his experience, and firm grasp of the differences between the Australian and American systems, he has some interesting insights. He’s writing a series of blog posts about his trip, the first of which went up today. I found this particularly exciting:

Anything that could be measured or analysed was put under the microscope. This, he said, was the big development made by the 2012 campaign. Messina told the conference that his camp spent $100 million on technology alone. That’s what you can do when you have more than a billion dollars to spend. In fact total spending by both parties and Political Action Groups (PACs) over the last two years is estimated at $6 billion.


The Northern Territory and Heffron

There were two elections yesterday in Australia, the Northern Territory election, and the Heffron by-election in New South Wales.

Labor lost in the Northern Territory. I haven’t followed the election closely, so I’m not going to to speculate. However, I was reminded of this passage from the brilliant book by Christine Jackman, ‘Inside Kevin07‘:

But one should never underestimate the Northern Territory when it comes to originality. Out of the blue, Gartrell received an email from the NT’s Labor secretary, George Addison. ‘What if someone writes or paints a political slogan on an animal, say a pig or a cow? The animal is then tethered on private property – though clearly visible to voters entering a booth,’ Addison had written before adding, almost as an afterthought: ‘I would suspect this question is restricted to the NT.’

(Many thanks to Jonathan Williams for helping me locate the passage as my copy of the book has gone missing)

The Heffron by-election was a much better result. It was the seat of former premier Kristina Keneally, in a state where Labor is still well behind in the polls. The Liberals chose not to stand a candidate, presumably for the same reasons they kept out of the Melbourne by-election, almost handing the traditional Labor stronghold to the Greens. However, in this case the strategy totally backfired, with Keneally’s successor, Ron Hoenig, crushing the Greens with a massive 70.6% of the two-party preferred vote. The Liberals and Greens will both have a lot of thinking to do.


Jennifer Kanis’ election night party. Photo by former NZ Young Labour President, Ella Hardy

Congratulations to Jennifer Kanis and Victorian Labor for the outstanding victory at the Melbourne by-election this past weekend. This afternoon the Greens conceded defeat.

It was a terrible set of circumstances for Labor – their federal poll ratings are rock bottom, the Liberals didn’t stand a candidate – instead giving implicit support to the Greens, and it being a seat with a significant Green shift (the ALP lost the federal seat of Melbourne to Green deputy leader Adam Bandt at the 2010 election).

My one word of warning is that this win does not change the situation that put Labor in this position in the first place. They are still in the same place they were at the disastrous Queensland and New South Wales state elections. This win cannot be seen as an opportunity to rest on their laurels it must be part of a catalyst for the radical change that the ALP desperately needs to have any chance of regaining the confidence of the electorate.

Something to look forward to…

Former Australian Minister of Finance, Lindsay Tanner, is writing a book. From 9 News

Parties are under the sway of “politics without purpose”, former Labor finance minister Lindsay Tanner says in a new book to be published in October.

Mr Tanner, who retired from politics in 2010 after 18 years in federal parliament, has written a follow-up to his 2011 book, Sideshow, published by Scribe.

“We cannot blame particular individuals for modern Labor’s malaise, because it is part of a systemic global phenomenon,” the author is quoted as saying in publicity for the new 368-page book, Politics with Purpose.

“We are all under the sway of politics without purpose. And politics without purpose is pointless.”

The book includes an edited selection of Mr Tanner’s speeches, press articles and essays from 1990 to 2012.

In it he discusses Labor’s problems and prospects, globalisation and lessons from his own life.

ALP moves to democratise it’s leadership selection

From the SMH

ALP branch leaders from across the state have called for the party’s rank and file to be involved in the direct election of the next parliamentary leader of the NSW Labor Party.

A statement signed by branch secretaries, presidents and councillors calls on the state Labor conference, to be held in July, to investigate the benefits of opening up ballots for the NSW parliamentary leadership to rank-and-file members.

It represents a groundswell of support from Labor’s grassroots for a more democratic process of electing party leaders. It is also a bid to rebuild flagging membership numbers.

The statement says social democratic parties overseas have demonstrated that giving party members a role in deciding the parliamentary leader can drive significant membership growth. The New Democratic Party of Canada has reportedly boosted its membership by 50 per cent.

Sounds like the NDP delegation to last year’s ALP conference made a strong impact! They shouldn’t forget however, that many of the NDP’s new members come from newly established branches in Quebec, where they previously had virtually no presence, but still managed to win 59 of the 75 seats at the 2011 election.

Friday entertainment: 1991 NSW ads

As sad as it is, I really do enjoy a good political ad.

Yesterday Bruce Hawker treated geeks like me with a post full of ads from the Labor New South Wales campaign in 1991. In his words…

With Bob Carr again in the news as the new Senator for NSW and Australia’s Foreign Minister I thought it would be interesting to look at some of his 1991 NSW election ads.

In this campaign Carr took Labor from its bad defeat in 1988 to almost winning back government in just three years.

The following ad is particularly familiar, but I highly recommend you check out all of the ads in Hawker’s post.

Carr coming to New Zealand, while we still have a Foreign Affairs ministry to talk to…

Julia Gillard’s new foreign minister has hit the ground running, talking about visiting New Zealand before he has even been officially appointed. Via the SMH

Incoming foreign minister Bob Carr says he will reach out to the federal opposition to try to engender a more bipartisan approach to Australian foreign policy.

A day after Prime Minister Julia Gillard appointed him to the coveted portfolio – and before being sworn in or officially taking up his Senate seat – Mr Carr has hit the ground running.

He has already begun speaking with his world counterparts, including UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, and is planning a visit to New Zealand.

I think he’s just in a hurry to get here while there are still some staff at MFAT to talk to.

Wayne Swan on inequality and politics

The Australian DPM and Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has written a fascinating piece in The Monthly: ‘The 0.01 Per Cent: The Rising Influence of Vested Interests in Australia‘.

Today, when a would-be US president, Mitt Romney, is wealthier than 99.9975% of his fellow Americans, and wealthier than the last eight presidents combined, there’s a global conversation raging about the rich, the poor, the gap between them, and the role of vested interests in the significant widening of that gap in advanced economies over the past three decades.

Rachel Maddow had an excellent infographic comparing Romney’s wealth with that of former Presidents. To say he’s mega-rich is an understatement.

Our own John Key has an estimated net worth of US$38.7 as of 2010, which ranks him as the 21st richest head of state or government, just behind King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

Is that in of itself a problem? Is John Key a bad person because he is rich? No, of course not. It is however, a sign of the times.

Australia’s fair go is today under threat from a new source. To be blunt, the rising power of vested interests is undermining our equality and threatening our democracy. We see this most obviously in the ferocious and highly misleading campaigns waged in recent years against resource taxation reforms and the pricing of carbon pollution. The infamous billionaires’ protest against the mining tax would have been laughed out of town in the Australia I grew up in, and yet it received a wide and favourable reception two years ago. A handful of vested interests that have pocketed a disproportionate share of the nation’s economic success now feel they have a right to shape Australia’s future to satisfy their own self-interest.

So I write this essay to make a simple point: if we don’t grow together economically, our community will grow apart.

Of course, rewards should be proportionate to effort, recognising the hard work and entrepreneurship that create wealth and employment. We should not seek pure equality, but we do need to combat the types of disparities in opportunity that damage our society. That’s why providing more people with a good education and a decent job with fair rights and conditions should be an economic as well as a moral goal.

So what does that have to do with the influence of money in politics?

I fear Australia’s extraordinary success has never been in more jeopardy than right now because of the rising power of vested interests. This poison has infected our politics and is seeping into our economy. Though these vested interests have not yet prevailed, every day their demands get louder.

Politicians have a choice: between exploiting divisions by promoting fear and appealing to the sense of fairness and decency that is the foundation of our middle-class society; between standing up for workers and kneeling down at the feet of the Gina Rineharts and the Clive Palmers.

Australia’s future in the Asian Century will rely on retaining a strong, united, middle-class society. We will need a nation which calls on everyone’s skills; which is tolerant not resentful; which recognises the need for public investment in skills, infrastructure and education; and which continues to extend a social licence to the market so Australia’s flair for entrepreneurship, innovation and free trade can continue to create more wealth for all of us.

Racial issues in Australian politics fascinate me. I’ve heard stories from friends about the calls they hear on rural talkback radio about boat people, the intervention and Julia Gillard herself. The word bigot isn’t strong enough.

But this is not a problem unique to Australia. When there is general public support for some of the filth that people like Paul Henry feed on, we have a problem. I bet the Government were thrilled when Sue Bradford came out attacking their welfare reforms.

Swan concludes…

To me, the most significant question in politics when I started out in the late ’70s, when I wrote Postcode, and when I go to work tomorrow, is what we use our prosperity for. It’s not just about putting dollars in people’s pockets, but about building a better society; a society that creates wealth and spreads opportunity, a society that lifts up the worst-off and gives everyone a decent shot at a decent life.

When we were confronted with the biggest economic downturn in 75 years, our egalitarian values underpinned our response. Our stimulus package was designed to protect jobs and business. Our unemployment rate is now around half that of Europe and our economy is 7% larger than it was before the GFC, while other developed economies have yet to make up the ground they lost.

And here in New Zealand, National’s great plan to deal with the GFC was a worthless job summit.