Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Archive for February, 2008

So just how bad is 9% for Brendan Nelson?

Posted by Possum Comitatus on February 19, 2008

crikeylogo.jpg This was me earlier today in Crikey.

It’s days like these when you wonder whether the fine folks over at Newspoll have a full compliment of keys on their keypads. The poll released overnight has the ALP ahead 46 to 36 on primaries and 57 to 43 on two party preferred – a level of political support for the ALP which has been consistent for 12 months, only interrupted by an inconvenient election result.

While this latest voting intention is hardly newsworthy, even to the poor poll junkies among us, it is the Preferred Prime Minister figure that really grabs the attention.

Way back yonder the commentariat was aghast at John Howard becoming Mr 22% (See Note 1.) in those years before his political triple bypass – a positively respectable result considering what was to follow in the years ahead. We had the Downer Months where Lord Alex delivered us a Preferred Prime Minister rating of 21% before Simon Crean conquered all before him with his outstanding 14% (See Note 2) mark achieved in November of 2003.

While records are meant to be broken, this one was obviously meant to be smashed.

Brendan Nelson has stormed into the worse Preferred Prime Minister result in the history of Newspoll with an astonishing 9%. Not 29%, not 19% — there be no typos here, it really says 9%.

So just how bad is 9%, I hear you ask?

Think of every left handed person you know in the country, not of voting age, just in the country. You would, on average, know more left handed people than you would know people that preferred Brendan Nelson to be the Prime Minister. This is not so bad that you could actually list the names of Brendan Nelson supporters on a moderately sized pamphlet – but it’s getting awfully close.

This result really highlights the big problem that the Coalition faces. Its twin support bases of affluent inner metro seats and the less affluent, more socially conservative regional and rural seats have irreconcilable views on a large number of issues, the latest being the apology to the Stolen Generation.

Newspoll conveniently polled on the support levels for the apology and the results speak for themselves – while 69% of the public overall is in favour of the apology, when it comes to Coalition voters, the stats split evenly with 46% of Coalition voters supporting the apology and 50% being against.

With Nelson trying to walk the tight rope between these two camps, he was always going to alienate a chunk of his voting base. His apology wasn’t good enough for some of those 46% of his supporters, but went way too far for some of that 50% block that was against the apology to begin with.

Nelson had better hope that this Preferred Prime Minister rating has a lot of short term feedback caused from the Stolen Generation apology he made on behalf of the Opposition in Parliament, for if it is actually representative in large part of what is playing out on the ground with these twin Coalition support bases – the problem may not be Nelsons alone, but could simply be a sign of things to come for any opposition member that takes on the Leadership position.

It really adds food for thought to the debate over merger proposals between the Nationals and the Liberals. Is it really worth bringing these two irreconcilable groups under one centralised political banner?

If the mergers eventually go ahead, the new party better pray that the two party preferred vote doesn’t start heading the way of the preferred PM rating as a consequence of being unable to unify its twin support bases that have less in common than they do things that divide them.

Note 1: Although Howard scored 18% in a Morgan/Gallup poll published in the Bulletin , leading to the “Mr 18% – Why does he bother” quip, using Newspoll for the record to maintain consistency, Howard’s lowest Preferred PM score was a slightly higher 22% .

Note 2: Simon Crean’s lowest preferred PM score is registered in the Newspoll database as being 14%. It has since been pointed out that the particular Newspoll where Crean scored 14% was taken on the 28th to the 30th November 2003, even though Crean had announced his decision to stand down from the ALP leadership on the 28th of November. In the interests of accuracy and fairness, we probably shouldn’t burden Simon Crean with a paltry score of 14%. Instead, the 16% he scored during April, May and September of 2003 would be a more fair dinkum appraisal.


This leads us onto something I’d like your help with. Brendan Nelson lacks a good nickname – Spanky doesnt quite cut it even though that’s what some have been calling him for years. Aquaman does Tunrbull well, Mezmerelda is perfect for Julie Bishop and we cannot forget The Google Assasin for one Andrew Robb.

But Brendan – he’s lacking. All suggestions would be much appreciated.

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Posted in Crikey, leadership, Polling | 146 Comments »

When Narcissism Collides With Entitlement

Posted by Possum Comitatus on February 19, 2008

Occasionally, when the timing is right and the wind just perfect, keen river goers get to witness vast hordes of jellyfish floating aimlessly on the tides around the river mouth. It’s quite the show, eliciting many an “oooh” and an “ahhhh” from spectators that don’t appreciate what’s to follow. It’s not to dissimilar for keen political watchers, when the timing is just right and the winds of leadership speculation start picking up, the vast hordes of spineless jellyfish in parliament start floating aimlessly on the tides of opinion polling and the eddies of political myth. They too provide quite a scene, yet here it’s the scene makers themselves that don’t seem to appreciate that which inevitably follows.

Death, decay and a not insubstantial stench that lasts for longer than most would wish.

There were two definitive points to come out of last nights Four Corners program on Howard’s End; firstly, that Peter Costello’s sense of entitlement was only surpassed in magnitude by John Howard’s political narcissism and secondly, the front bench of the Liberal party were inflicted with an impotence so debilitating that they were not only played for fools by Howard for years, but were told to bend over and think of England while they were getting shafted.

Costello’s great leadership barrier was always the slight problem of his ambitions transcending his popularity. He never had the numbers, he never had the Newpolls and he singularly lacked the capability to change either. But he had the promise of being next in line, a worthless promise that never eventuated, but a promise that fuelled a raging sense of entitlement and one which now seems to drive a rather large amount of contempt for his parliamentary peers, particularly Howards Class of ’96, who didn’t share Costello’s view on his own political brilliance .

But while Costello raged impotently over his right to the leadership, Howard did what Howard has always done – whatever it took to achieve the aims of John Winston Howard. From the dysfunction he caused to the Liberal Party in the 1980s with his perpetual destabilising of the Peacock leadership, through to his “mean and tricky” memo through to his blatant, repeated breaking of his original leadership agreement with Costello, Howard has always enjoyed an inordinate fascination with his own political position and survival. “Sacrifice” and “John Howard” are not words that one will regularly find near each other in the sentences of future historians.

Fittingly, Howard’s End was little different to Howard’s Middle or Howard’s Beginning – in the ultimate act of political narcissism, with his party facing electoral oblivion largely from the consequences of his own making, his final act was to place the Liberal front bench in an untenable position the very first and only time that he found himself on the wrong side of his long term leadership mantra of “staying as long as the party wanted him“.

It was untenable for the party front bench to blast him out and take responsibility for the inevitable loss, but it was untenable for them to keep him as leader when he believed he would lose the election and his own seat, and he no longer had the support of the party. Their weakness delivered Howard the outcome he wanted. It was this final act that rubbed the faces of his Cabinet colleagues in their own political impotence, and one which seems to have made a fair number of them realise that they’d been played for fools for years.

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Posted in leadership, Political Risk | 25 Comments »

Yesterday an Extraordinary Thing Happened

Posted by Possum Comitatus on February 14, 2008

crikeylogo.jpg This was me earlier today in Crikey.

Yesterday an extraordinary thing happened, in public, in Parliament, live on national television – but it wasn’t the apology to the Stolen Generation (although, that too was quite the moment). Nor was it the deranged escapades of Chris Pearce, the Member for Aston, who found the need to demonstrate his displeasure at the profound proceedings unfolding before him, by ignoring events and spending his time flicking through some magazine that we can only surmise wasn’t the latest edition of The Art of Healing.

No – yesterday, Kevin Rudd rescued Brendan Nelson the Person, from being suffocated under the polarising burden of being Brendan Nelson the Leader of the Coalition.

And a Coalition it truly is, a Coalition of the irreconcilable.

In highly charged, highly emotional moments of national importance like yesterday, moments that become headlines rather than footnotes in our national history – unity, political unity, or at the very least a well constructed façade of national unity is the necessary ingredient that makes the difference between an event being one of momentous celebration, or becoming one which leaves a potentially bitter aftertaste.

With the Coalition descending back into its natural state of internal ideological conflict now that the artificial glue of government power has been removed, the chances of Brendan Nelson ever producing a response to Rudds speech that not only reconciled the views of those like Sophie Mirabella with the views of people like Petro Georgio, but also didn’t sound like a “yes, an apology BUT” moment that cuddled up to a Howard legacy that half of the Liberal Party would prefer to forget, well that was remote – especially since Nelson owes his leadership to the apology naysayer’s.

Nelson was left delivering a camel of a speech in Parliament, forced by petty internal party politics to say things which he knew would spoil the moment, things he did not believe, things that would likely leave a bitter political legacy for the future. He knew well that it would be ‘these things’ for which Brendan Nelson would always be remembered when those of tomorrow look back to yesterday’s moment in history.

When the time came to deliver his camel, Brendan Nelson had the look of a man that, as one wit put it, “suddenly realised that he had chosen the wrong party”, and would now be forever burdened as the name behind a speech whose contents were not reflective of Brendan Nelson the person, but simply reflective of the cancerous political dynamics of the Coalition itself.

The public reaction to his speech was probably not that different to how Nelson himself would have reacted were he not a Member of Parliament and found himself listening to those very words on the lawns of Canberra with thousands of others.

Just when Nelson probably thought it couldn’t get any worse, when he’d accepted his inevitable fate of historical villain – Rudd delivered him a lifeline. Not only a lifeline that would forever have the effect of boosting those parts of Nelsons speech that apologised and downplayed the list of caveats that accompanied it, not only a lifeline that created a media friendly image of national political unity as the two leaders stood together on the same side of the chamber presenting a gift to the House from the representatives of the Stolen Generation, but a lifeline that saved Brendan Nelson personally from shouldering the historical burden of being the spoiler, a spoiling role that more reflected the Coalitions political dysfunction than any views that Brendan Nelson himself might have had, but could not say.

It’s hardly any wonder that of all the political players involved in yesterday’s proceedings, it was Nelson that looked the most emotional, particularly when he greeted the Stolen Generation members.

The three great images to come from yesterday were Rudd saying sorry, the standing ovation and the presentation of a coolamon to the Speaker. Rudd threw Nelson a lifeline by deliberately bringing his political opponent centre stage into the symbolism of that last moment, guaranteeing that the historical narrative over yesterdays event will be far kinder to Nelson than even he thinks he probably deserved.

We can only hope Nelson learned a lesson in political leadership yesterday – partisan politics has limits. But even if he didn’t, he certainly owes Rudd a beer.

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Posted in Crikey, general politics | Tagged: , , , , | 46 Comments »

What a Coalition Apology Would Look Like.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on February 8, 2008

crikey1.jpg This was me in Crikey earlier today.

We apologise to the Stolen Generation” – pretty simple stuff and not really rocket science, unless you try to make it complicated.

The new Opposition, under the leadership of Nick Minch … sorry, Brendan Nelson, have demonstrated that over the last few months they are not a group to take simplicity lightly. So what would such an ordinarily simple apology look like if the Coalition had to write it?

Well for starters, the word “stolen” doesn’t technically describe the reality of the situation according to Tony Abbott:

Some kids were stolen, but some were rescued and some kids were helped, so you have to be true to the real history of our country, not to a fanciful history of our country.

Brendan Nelson believes that “forcibly removed generations” is more accurate, while professional contrarian Dennis Jensen tells us that “I think separated is probably a better word than stolen, personally“.

Ian Macfarlane, in his contribution to reconciliation reckons that: “Some of these children were not stolen from their parents, they were taken by church groups and welfare groups in the belief that these children needed to be looked after“.

These aren’t merely simple definitional quibbles – they are the pursuit of accuracy over the meaning of the word “stolen” and would surely need to be taken into consideration for the wording of any apology. Sadly missing from the field, however, is amateur semanticist Senator John Herron now that he has so unfortunately retired. His contribution to specificity with his ground breaking work on whether 10% of people constitutes a “generation” should continue to be recognised in the Liberal intellectual pantheon.

The other part of that very simple statement is, of course, “We apologise“.

Here too, the Coalition believes that we ought not to let the allure of simplicity stand in the way of definitiveness. Brendan Nelson thinks that “In my view we have no responsibility to apologise or take ownership for what was done by earlier generations“, and that, “I have great difficulty with the idea of intergenerational responsibility for the good or not-so-good things done in the past“.

Senator Stephen Parry appreciates that “we should acknowledge what has happened, feel sympathy for what has happened, but we can’t take full responsibility for something that has happened well before we were born.”

While not to be outdone, Senator John Watson professes that “There is a possibility that some of the genuine people could feel a little bit hurt when they did it with the best of motives. Many are still alive in northern Tasmania, some of them are friends of mine“.

So how would the two versions of the apology stack up? On the one hand we would have the Coalition version:

We acknowledge and sympathise with, whilst not being able to take full intergenerational responsibility for, those Aboriginal people of the forcibly removed group of individuals that may or may not be accurately described as a generation, whilst simultaneously recognising that many members of this group of separated Aboriginal people were actually helped, rescued or otherwise looked after by the well meaning church and welfare bodies at the time, including the genuine people that participated in these organisations with the absolute best of motives.

Or the alternative:

We apologise to the Stolen Generation.

It’s quite obvious which one would do the job.

So despair not dear reader, WA Liberal Judith Adams reassures us that should the proposed government apology not meet the Opposition’s high expectations for accuracy, the Coalition will head back into the bunker once more and “…have another party room meeting and discuss it again because I’m sure it has to be right for us to go along with it“.

Oh the anticipation.

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Posted in Crikey, general politics | Tagged: , , | 56 Comments »