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Why John Howard will win next year's federal election

By James McConvill - posted Wednesday, 25 October 2006

John Howard will win the 2007 election. A backbench revolt over proposed changes to refugee laws, debate over workplace reforms and a recent turn against Howard over the war in Iraq are a mere distraction from the natural course of the election cycle.

Federal politics in Australia is as easy as, perhaps easier than, taking candy from a baby.

We will inevitably be bombarded with all manner of political analysis leading up to the next election. Commentators will speculate about how close the race is, how issues of the day may affect the outcome and public sentiment about the leadership styles of Howard and Opposition leader Kim Beazley.


Such analysis is a good way to fill newspapers or get people to switch on the radio or TV. But beyond that it has very little use. There is an inevitability to the 2007 election outcome: Howard will win, Beazley will lose. Since the election of Sir Robert Menzies as prime minister in 1949, Australians have only voted the incumbent federal government out of office four times: in 1972, 1975, 1983 and 1996.

Each time the government was voted out of office, questions over economic management were the key factor. Economic performance is the only reason a federal government is voted out in Australia.

But more needs to be said than just that. While it is axiomatic that the economy influences how people vote, no doubt readers will look to Australia's political history and question whether economic performance is the only factor.

For example, wasn't the change of government in 1972 attributable to the "It's Time" factor of 23 years straight conservative government? Wasn't the 1975 outcome attributable to the events leading up to Sir John Kerr's dismissal of the Whitlam Government? Wasn't the 1983 outcome partially due to the public's love of Bob Hawke's beer-drinking record?

Didn't Keating win the unwinnable election in 1993 on the back of the recession we had to have and soaring unemployment?

Not at all. The history of the federal election cycle is clear. The suggestion that federal election outcomes in Australia are determined by anything other than economic performance assumes that most Australians think beyond their hip pocket when voting. They don't and never will.


The election cycle at a federal level since 1949 has been dictated by one factor: Australia's economic performance, comprising a combination of the inflation rate and unemployment rate.

Australians are only prepared to vote out a government federally when the economy is experiencing stagflation - a relatively high unemployment rate and high inflation.

Because stagflation is rare in Australia, since the election of the Menzies Government in 1949, change of government at a federal level is also rare.

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First published in The Age on October 5, 2006.

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About the Author

James McConvill is a Melbourne lawyer. The opinions expressed are his personal views only, and were written in the
spirit of academic freedom when James was employed as a university lecturer.

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