Nicholas Way

I’ve seen it before – there comes a point when not even an open cheque book can sway voters.

Out of touch?

The shock defeat of the Kennett government in the Victorian state election of 1998 has generated its share of urban myths; one of the more enduring is that the then government ignored regional and rural Victoria. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What is true is that the Kennett government, which inherited a Victoria that was going out the back door (or in the case of the population, out the front door and off to Queensland) when it came to office in 1992, took the knife to services to the bush. Schools closed; train services derailed; the list of cuts was as long as the Murray River.

But by 1996, when the state’s books were well and truly back in the black, Kennett and his ministers knew they had to mend their political fences in the bush. It might not have been an open cheque book, but the wallet did come out.

It did not end there. Ministers spent time in the bush, announcements were deliberately made there and cabinet meetings held there; there was no lack of political spin outside of Melbourne.

But the bush had stopped listening, especially in the regional arc that swings from Geelong in the west to Ballarat and Bendigo to the north and across to Gippsland in the east – the seats that put Steve Bracks into office. As former Queensland premier Wayne Goss once famously said of the Keating government in 1996: “Queenslanders were waiting for him with baseball bats”. It was little different in rural Victoria two years later.

What it says about voters is that they reach a point where they “turn off” a government. If the Opposition is half credible, if voters think they have an alternative, all the pork barreling in the world will not persuade them to re-vote for the Government. Like Shylock, they want their pound of (political) flesh.

In the wake of the one of the more favourably received federal budgets in my living memory – both in terms of its economics and politics – it’s worth recalling the experiences of the Keating and Kennett governments.

Because, to date, the Howard Government – in sharemarket terms – has got a “dead cat bounce” from the budget. It seems the voters have taken the money and run.

It’s still early days. But the polls have been consistent for a long time now – even under Kim Beazley, Labor was ahead. It might just be the voters have made up their minds; that after 12 years in the Lodge “it’s time” for Howard.

And for small business – and their organisations – that means one thing: start talking to Labor. Because soon you might be dealing with them.


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Neil Damerow from writes: If the Australian public thinks it (the economy, economic management etc) can get better under Rudd & Co, then they need to vote for a change and experience their inexperience first hand.

I will be the first, in years to come, to say “you voted for change and that is exactly what you got!”

I can’t believe that anyone in their right mind would believe that things can get any better than what they are at present.

There are only two ways to go from any peak and that is down, or down the gurgler and fast, under a Labour Party Government.



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