Good management has produced a tremendous economy for Australia, with consistent growth and stability. The longer that goes on, the easier it is to take it for granted and to believe that it’s the natural state of affairs - but it ain’t necessarily so.
Everyone knows where the Howard-Costello Government stands, and how it performs. That’s not true of Labor. You would think that this would mean that we would have more information from them, rather than less. Kevin Rudd’s continued refusal to provide a detailed plan to keep inflation and interest rates under control emphasises the risk a Labor government would pose to Australia’s economy.
On the other hand, there has been some criticism of the government over the most recent interest rate rise, and those that have preceded it. None of us like interest rate rises and they can certainly lead to difficulties. But what some people don’t seem to appreciate is that these rises are: (a) occurring in an extremely successful economic environment, and (b) have been small each time. To put them in perspective, over the course of three years under the Howard-Costello Government, there has been a 1.5 per cent increase in interest rates. Under Labor there was a 2.75 per cent increase in 4 months - try budgeting for that. The Prime Minister has been lampooned by the media on interest rates - but the question he has frequently asked: "who do you trust more to keep interest rates low?" - is nevertheless the right one, and one that is met with answers favourable for the Coalition.
One of the frustrating things about politics is an all-too-common unwillingness to acknowledge good work. Hawke and Keating were both good for Australia - and that should be acknowledged. But contrariwise, in some quarters the merits of the Howard-Costello team go unjustly unacknowledged. We are in the midst of an election campaign in which the media seems remarkably reluctant to acknowledge the unprecedented positive state of the nation’s finances, restored from a near-$100 billion debt under Labor (likewise, enormous debts are now on the balance books of the Labor-run state governments).
That disconnect between action and attitude is sometimes prevalent amongst voters, too. Let’s take an example from my current home state, Victoria. Unemployment in the Batman electorate when the Coalition came to power was 13.7 per cent. Unemployment in Batman now is 6.2 per cent. Yet Batman is amongst the safest ALP seats in the country. The decline in Bob Hawke’s old seat, Wills, is even more remarkable - 14.1 per cent to 4.4 per cent. But like Batman, this electorate which has benefited greatly from the Coalition’s strong governance, has returned an ALP representative by significant margins for the last decade. People often don’t make the connection, but there are real and tangible effects from good government on our lives and the lives of our families and friends. That record shouldn’t be sniffed at.
Of course, people vote on many issues, not just the economy, and rightly so. But without a solid economic performance, action on all of the things we care about - health, education, law and order, transport, the environment, aged care and so forth - become so much more difficult to provide. The economy is central to everything.
Sometimes the Coalition is accused of focusing too much on the past. Certainly, there’s a record to be proud of. But that record helps us when we weigh up the merits of the respective sides and try to predict what will happen in the future. If the Coalition is re-elected, things will carry on much as they are. That prospect will please some and displease others. In light of the tremendous improvement in Australia’s fortunes, one hopes that the majority plump for no change. "More of the same" may not be the rallying cry that attracts fervent support, but government shouldn’t be changed on a whim. Things are good in Australia - voters shouldn’t risk Rudd.
And it’s not just Rudd that one risks. The deeply strange Peter Garrett must be considered, and Julia Gillard’s far-left background means that she commands a position from which she might topple her glorious leader. Union influence under Labor is alarmingly high. Famously, 70 per cent of all of Labor’s front bench are former union bosses. Finally, even Rudd himself, upon whom all Labor’s hopes depend, is hardly the ideal candidate. Behind the confidence and the oft-repeated lines, I think there’s something a bit, well, not quite right about him.
Finally, I would point to the risk of wall-to-wall Labor. There will be nobody to say "No" to the states’ absurd plans and to their frequent negligence and common incompetence.
At a Federal level, the Australian electorate has always got it right. The voters were right to abandon McMahon, to throw out Gough (which, let us remember, was done by the electorate), to keep and then abandon Fraser, to sustain a long Hawke and Keating period and to judge its usefulness to be at an end. And it’s been right to keep the Howard-Costello government for four terms. It will be right to keep it for a fifth.
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