catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Is Howard sacrificing his new constituencies?

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In The Australian this morning (not online, sorry), La Trobe University academic Judy Brett reverses her previous argument that John Howard has successfully appropriated the national culture for his political ends. With his industrial relations reforms, she suggests,

Where once he spoke from Australia’s heart, he is now attacking the institutions on which Australia’s egalitarian values depend.

Certainly, Howard is running a mopping-up campaign against the old IR system. But it’s been a long time since the IR system was the main force for Australian egalitarianism, such as it is. It has been replaced by the welfare system, with 60% of Australian households (pdf) net beneficiaries of the tax-welfare system. Increases in market-income inequality have not had much of an impact on overall inequality as a result. The small real falls in minimum wage rates that we assume will be delivered by the Fair Pay Commission aren’t likely to affect overall inequality much, especially if they bring more people into the workforce.

The more interesting political question for Howard is how the the ‘Howard battlers’ will react. Through a combination of economic growth, low interest rates, generous income assistance (especially through family benefits), and popular policies on security and immigration he has so far delivered for them. As Brett points out, the IR reforms are not going to be so unambiguously ‘battler’ friendly. Could this alienate the swinging voters who have backed the Liberals since 1996?

The polling so far (some older links here, the latest polls here and here) does suggest that the government has slipped well behind on the two-party preferred. Most Liberal supporters are not being put off by the reforms, but significant minorities are not in favour of them. In last month’s Newspoll, 19% of Coalition voters thought that the reforms would be bad for the economy. In the Morgan Poll around that time, 28% of Coalition voters disagreed with the reforms. In a Ipsos Mackay poll, 13% of Coalition voters thought their job security would be lower under the reforms. (Though on the whole the polls show that most of the opposition to the reforms is from non-Liberal voters). If these Liberal-for-now voters have their concerns realised, that spells potential trouble for Howard.

On the other hand, the main likely beneficiaries of these reforms, small business and would-be workers kept out of the labour market by the current system, aren’t likely to contain many swing voters, being fairly solidly Liberal and Labor respectively already.

So this is a risky strategy for the government. However my hunch is that current opinion is based on the hyperbolic assessments of the reforms current in the media, which are worse than the likely reality. If that’s correct, a better-than-expected actual result will help Howard neutralise this issue, and turn the election back toward issues on which he is strong.

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Written by Admin

November 21, 2005 at 5:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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