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Observations, Opinion, Politics

Keys to The Lodge – is Gillard hanging on?

Third in an irregular series which looks at 13 possible Keys to The Lodge and how many Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard might currently be holding.

In January 2012 I ran a little exercise to see if I could predict the outcome of the next Australian Federal election.

As my starting point I used this article about American academic Allan Lichtman and his 13 Keys to the White House. According to Lichtman, if six or more of his ‘keys’ go against the party in power, they lose.

Lichtman has correctly predicted every US election result since Reagan in 1984 so why not see if his method can work here?

At the start of the year, by my humble and purely subjective assessment, Julia Gillard had a grip on just six Keys, not enough to keep her in The Lodge. In April she was hanging on to eight of them.

As Parliament returns from its winter break, let’s take another step outside the daily news cycle and attempt a cool assessment of Things as They Stand.

Key 1 – Party mandate

Has the incumbent party increased or decreased its majority in the Parliament since the last Federal election?

So far through this turbulent year Julia Gillard has held on to this key through some deft political manoeuvring and a lot of sheer grit, but there’s no easing of the tension and to lose this one would be to lose all.

Slippery but held all year.

Key 2 – Contest

Does the incumbent prime minister face any serious contest from an internal challenge?

As long as her grip on the first Key remains so tenuous, so does her hold on this one. The rumblings will not die and one day the serious contender must inevitably emerge. For now, another one she’s got, but just by her fingertips.

Slippery but held all year.

Key 3 – Incumbency

The incumbent party leader is the serving Prime Minister

Still a keeper.

Looking back on the year to date, I am struck by the strength and dignity of our Prime Minister.

Lichtman’s first three keys go right to the heart of the matter.

With a minority government, a ferocious opposition and the almost daily vitriol that’s flung at her, Julia Gillard maintains an impeccable calm and dignity, not to mention a sense of humour.

If I could award her a bonus key for hanging on to these first three vital keys I would, but it doesn’t work that way.

Tenaciously hanging on.

Key 4 – Third Party

Is there a significant third party challenge?

In both January and April I said the Greens were a big problem for the ALP.

The Melbourne by-election and the anti-Greens posturing which coloured it confirm it’s a problem the Labor Party has come nowhere near solving.

Until it does, this Key will elude Gillard.

No key and no change.

Key 5 – Short term economy

Is the economy in recession?

The economy is not in recession. Gillard has held this one all year and continues to do so, in spite of the best efforts of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, aided and abetted by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman.

Key firmly in hand and has been all year.

Key 6 – Long term economy

Does real per capita economic growth during the term equal or exceed mean growth during the previous two terms?

According to the Macro Business Superblog which also has some excellent charts on the matter, GDP per capita grew by an imperceptible 0.53 per cent over the 14 quarters since its peak in March 2008.

Before that, it grew a steady 1.5 per cent per annum for the previous 10 years.

No key, no change.

Key 7 – Policy change

Has the incumbent effected major changes in national policy?

Yes. In fact, you could call her a bit of an over-achiever on this one, and good on her for it. Through all the sturm und drang of our politics, she’s kept plodding methodically on and getting her agenda through.

A firm grip on this one all year. No change.

Key 8 – Social unrest

Is there any sustained social unrest during the term?

Lichtman didn’t see any social unrest in the US when the Tea Party was at its most raucous, so on that basis Gillard has comfortably held this key all year, again against the best efforts of Tony Abbott and his cheer squad,

Retain. No change.

Key 9 – Scandal

Is there a major scandal tainting the incumbent?

There’s been enough mud slung around all year that Gillard can’t avoid getting spattered. She’s looking a bit Pollockian, when you add the bloodstains as well.

Scandal is in the eye of the beholder and in many voters’ eyes she has been tainted, no matter how fairly or unfairly, by the Thomson and Slipper allegations, not to mention the knifing of Kevin Rudd and the carbon tax ‘lie.’

No change, no key

Key 10 – Foreign military failure

Has the government suffered a major failure in foreign or military affairs?

Our continued bumbling about on refugees is costing lives and damaging our regional relations.

Meanwhile, we’re reduced to arguing over just how ugly we are prepared to be to deter people from exercising their rights under international law and seeking asylum with us, our obligation under the same law to provide.

The reality is that any Australian policy on asylum seekers needs to be negotiated with our neighbours.

To be effective it must include an increase in our intake of refugees from these countries and Australian dollars must be invested in improving facilities and conditions for asylum seekers while their claims are processed.

When we get serious about those two things we can start talking about the treatment of asylum seekers in Indonesia and Malaysia. Until then, we sound just like the hypocrites I fear we are.

I withheld this key in January and reluctantly gave it back in April. That was before the raw and extraordinary debates at the end of the last sitting of Parliament.

The Houston Report has now been delivered and the next round of the debate has begun. At this point I have no reason to expect an improvement in its standard.

As long as the government remains adrift on this humanitarian issue, Gillard does not win this key from me.

Lost, after briefly winning it by default

Key 11 – Foreign/military success

Has the government achieved a major success in foreign or military affairs?

Another key that’s slipped in and out of the Gillard grasp. She was holding it in January after the Obama visit and lost it in April in the murk of our abysmal continuing foray in Afghanistan and the muddle of our non-policy on asylum seekers.

I can’t see any reason to hand it back this time round. No key.

No change.

Key 12 – Incumbent charisma

Is the incumbent party leader charismatic or a national hero?

No matter how much respect she’s won from me over the year to date, I cannot award Gillard the charisma key.

And it’s a shame, because when she relaxes she’s charming and when she’s on fire in the House she’s magnificent.

Alas, that’s not enough to win this key.

No change.

Key 13 – Challenger charisma

Is the Opposition Leader charismatic or a national hero?

In spite of Tony Abbott’s unflagging energy and seemingly endless collection of hairnets and hi-vis vests, I have put this key firmly in Gillard’s hand all year.

In January it was because I predicted his negativity would start to play against him and in April I judged his efforts to change his one-note tune had failed.

Abbott is often described as a devastatingly effective opposition leader and he’s certainly got the ‘opposition’ part of it down pat. But how good is he on the ‘leader’ side of the equation?

At some point we have to pass judgment on him in those terms.

Unfortunately for Abbott, everything he opposes seems to come to pass regardless – with the tragic exception of a refugee policy. Julia Gillard remains prime minister, the carbon price is in, the mining tax sorted and Whyalla endures.

And now it seems some of his colleagues are starting to think about what an Abbott government would mean. So should we.

I see a more difficult road ahead for Tony Abbott in coming months and I’m therefore leaving this last key in Gillard’s hands.

Retained all year.

Six of Lichtman’s keys fall against Gillard, enough to keep her out of The Lodge, by just one key.

Can she turn around just a few of them in the next three months? As ever with this minority government, the answer turns on a knife edge. At any moment, she could lose all.

Julia Gillard has consistently shown us since her controversial elevation to power that it’s a mistake to write her off. As Tony Abbott observed, in some frustration, “she won’t lie down and die.”

She has just opened a new front on electricity prices. Will it signal a change in luck and the polls? Or will her tenuous grip on the keys to The Lodge make it all for naught?

The white knuckle ride continues…

About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

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