The Null Device

24 November

The Australian federal election has been called; it'll be on 24 November.

Everyone's predicting that the Coalition will be wiped out in a landslide, though I'm not so sure. I think Howard has a good chance of coming in from behind and stealing this one with the biggest shit-eating grin on his face the world has ever seen. My reasoning:

  1. The Coalition was headed for disaster in the last two elections, though got back in (at the last one, in spectacular fashion, securing both houses).
  2. In Howard's decade of rule, the government has been extensively politicised, and in a desperate election race, everything from public service announcements (as we've seen already) to the expanded national security apparatus (see also: "children overboard" and the Tampa) will be pressed into service to win this one. Meanwhile, the ABC (once a bastion of progressive ideas, like most state-run broadcasting services) has been effectively neutered (even entertainment programming has to be politically balanced now) and will be kept on a short leash.
  3. The Coalition having changed the rules in their favour; for example, disenfranchising any young voters (most of whom strongly support Labor; don't believe the Generation Hillsong hype) who had not enrolled before the election was called, which should get them a bit of a boost.
  4. Labor winning a modest majority of the vote will not be enough to capture sufficient marginal seats to form government; they have to sustain their spectacular lead all the way until election day. If it goes down to, say, 52-48 two-party preferred, Howard stands a healthy chance of getting back in.
  5. And let's not forget the Howard team's masterly command of the media and perception management, to the point where the Tories in Britain borrowed Howard's strategist for the last general election. (Fat lot of good it did them, though there's only so far you can polish a turd.)
As the campaign progresses, I suspect that Howard will pull a surprise out of his hat (or, indeed, out of somewhere else), much like "children overboard". Perhaps it'll be some terrorist-related security scare, reminding voters that al-Qaeda's hands are still at our throats and Iron Johnny is the only one who can protect us. Under national security laws, there will be a media clampdown on any aspects of the story which don't add up. Of course, after the election, the story will turn out to have been made up out of the whole cloth. Whether the public will fall for that, and whether they'll do so in sufficient numbers to forget about WorkChoices, remains to be seen.

Having said that, Rudd's in with a chance. A few months ago, I would have been more certain that he, too, will fall before the finishing line and Howard will get back in, though now I'm not so sure. Still, it may be prudent, if you are the gambling type, to bet on a Coalition victory; the odds are still long, and if they do win and you voted against them, you can drink the winnings.

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