Thursday, February 12, 2009

Early Election Is Cheating The Taxpayer

It has been reported that the Rudd Labor Government may be making preparations for a possible early election to be held later this year. The most obvious indication has been the apparent instruction to the New South Wales movers and shakers to protect Nathan Rees from the much talked about plots to replace him as Premier. Obviously the lacklustre performance of the New South Wales Government would be a liability for Federal Labor if there was to be an early election. But the irony is that it would be good advice for the state government anyway.

To be perfectly blunt, the New South Wales government is already dead. It just hasn’t fallen over yet. Nothing that they do can stop them from being thrown out of office at the next available opportunity in 2011. Even if they replace Mr. Rees all that they will achieve is to create another ex-Premier. About the only thing they could possible do to improve their standing with the voters of New South Wales is precisely what has been suggested. Stop the squabbling over the deck chairs on the sinking ship, and get their heads down and tails up working at fixing the problems which have largely resulted from their own policies anyway. It won’t save them, but it’s the best chance they have.

As for Kevin Rudd possibly going to an early election this year, it’s not difficult to see the political logic supporting the idea. Firstly, there is the Global Financial Crisis. At this point, there is a widespread belief that Mr. Rudd is handling the crisis well. He is seen to be taking action to both help boost the economy and at the same time provide support for ordinary Australians. Whether his $42 Billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan passes the senate or not, Kevin Rudd is the winner because he has come to the aid of the Australian people, where the opposition has chosen to stand between the taxpayer and a cash handout. As time goes by however, there is the risk that the international crisis will continue to get worse before it gets better, with the worst of the impact hitting just as the election falls due at the end of 2010. From that point of view, it is obviously better to be re-elected now, giving the government a guaranteed further three years in office.

No doubt, should he choose the early election option, Mr. Rudd will tell the nation that it is necessary to provide certainty in uncertain times, and to allow the government time to properly manage the crisis. What he won’t admit will be the fact that right now Malcolm Turnbull’s opposition is losing popularity because of its stand on the Economic Stimulus Package. It would certainly be to the government’s benefit to run early before Malcolm Turnbull can get the opportunity to claim vindication, which he certainly will should the stimulus package fail to prevent recession.

Truly hard core cynics will also observe that times of national crisis usually see an increase in support for a national leader, and the bushfire tragedy in Victoria certainly qualifies as a national crisis. The truth is that even without this terrible event, the opportunity exists for the government to take the early poll option in an attempt to catch the opposition on the back foot. The harsh reality is that in politics the only thing that matters is winning.

Of course, there is also a risk involved in going to the polls early. Voters can feel that a government is being too clever by half, and is simply playing politics for a perceived advantage. Get it wrong, and the government has just thrown away the remainder of its term. Although it was once common to have early elections, Australians have in recent years become accustomed to their governments running full term, or close to it. There is an increased feeling that once a government has been elected for three years there is an obligation to stay the distance.

Of course, it costs money to hold an election, so doing so more often than you have to is quite literally cheating the taxpayer.

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