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Issue No. 183 20 June 2003  

A Beautiful Set of Numbers?
In the coming week the NSW Government will hand down the first budget of its third term. Few things are certain in politics, but rest assured the budget will be characterised as ‘tough and responsible’.


History: Nest of Traitors
Rowan Cahill uncovers a ripping yarn that could redefine the way we look at Australian involvement in World War II.

Interview: A Nation of Hope
Former PM Bob Hawke bemoans the demise of industrial relations but takes heart from the prospect of peace in the Middle East

Unions: National Focus
Noel Hester reports on a soap star rebellion, Howard’s plans to renuclearise South Australia, more historical atrocities in the north, the redundancy test case plus more in the monthly national wrap.

Safety: The Shocking Truth
It’s every power worker’s worst nightmare – and it happened to Adrian Ware. In a flash of voltage, his life changed forever, as Jim Marr reports.

Tribute: A Comrade Departed
From Prime Ministers to wharfies, the labour movement paid tribute to Tas Bull this week. Jim Marr was among them.

History: Working Bees
Neale Towart looks at a group of workers who got sacked so their boss could keep making the Bomb.

Education: The Big Picture
The NTEU’s Dr Mike Donaldson and Tony Brown join all the dots in the current debate around higher eduction.

International: Static Labour
Ray Marcelo argues there’s another side to the recent furore over Telstra’s use of cheap Indian IT contractors.

Economics: Budget And Fudge It
Frank Stilwell argues that Peter Costello’s latest budget plumbs fiscal policy to new depths.

Technology: Google and Campaigning
Labourstart’s Eric Lee argues the latest weapon for campaigning could be the humble search engine.

Review: Secretary With A Difference
Looking for a new job can be hard enough, without having to worry about sadomasochistic bosses and the threat of being spanked for forgetting to cross your ‘t’s, says Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: The Minimale
The Labor Party leadership is in the news again, inspiring our resident bard David Peetz to song

Satire: Howard Calls for Senate to be Replaced by Clap-O-Meter
John Howard released a controversial policy statement today, arguing that the Senate be abolished in favour of a device measuring noise from the gallery of the House of Representatives.


 Task Force Sleeps Through Killing

 Go To Gaol – Do Not Collect $500,000

 Green Pollie in Picket Blue

 D-Day for Media Diversity

 Putting Steel into Government’s Spine

 Fortnight in Killing Fields Anyone?

 Underpaid Worker Fights Deportation

 Truckies Deliver Death Watch

 Job Cuts Caught in Spill Cycle

 Mum Wins Family Friendly Hours

 Allianz Plans Bite the Dust

 Aussies Back Zimbabwe’s Gaoled Strikers

 Boral Faces Stadium Stoush

 Drought Claims More Jobs

 Bridge Chaos Looms

 Activist Notebook


It’s Our Party
Long time union watcher Nicholas Way looks at the changing dynamics between the industrial and political wings of the labour movement.

The Soapbox
Grass Roots
In his Maiden Speech, new MP Tony Burke argues that the ALP’s union links are nothing to be ashamed of.

Opinion Forming Down Under
Evan Jones condemns the mainstream’s media coverage of the War on Iraq and the damage it is doing to our national psyche.

The Locker Room
Location, Re-Location!
It’s all fun and games until someone loses a club, writes Phil Doyle

 Questions for Cuba
 Is Beazley's Popularity a Winner?
 Rank Marchers
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Letters to the Editor

Is Beazley's Popularity a Winner?

The debate about the leadership of the Labor Party has centred around the question of who would win the most votes for Labor.

There is no doubt that Beazley is, and always has been, a more popular leader with the electorate than Crean. As Opposition Leader, Beazley's approval ratings in Newspoll averaged 45%. Crean's have averaged just 32%. Crean has consistently been less popular than Prime Minister Howard.

Yet many opposition leaders have won office despite being less popular than the incumbent. They include Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Nick Greiner in 1988, Jeff Kennett in 1992, Richard Court in 1993, Bob Carr in 1995, Geoff Gallup in 1996, Steve Bracks in 1999 and Mike Rann in 2002.

Recent polls have also asked voters how they would vote if Beazley were ALP leader. The hypothetical Labor vote is higher under Beazley than presently recorded under Crean.

The whole problem with such polls, of course, is that they are hypothetical. They don't locate voters in the real world situation of what politics would actually be like with Beazley as leader.

To give an extreme but illustrative example: in the 1960s, a pollster asked voters for whom they would vote in the bizarre scenario of Gough Whitlam leading a new party comprising a breakaway right faction from the ALP plus the DLP. It showed Whitlam's 'new' party would achieve a higher vote than the ALP was receiving. Wisely, Whitlam ignored this poll, and at the 1972 election humiliated Billy McMahon who had been as popular as Beazley at his peak when he first took over the Liberal Party.

So how can we tell whether the ascension of a popular Beazley would lead to a higher Labor vote? Fortunately, we can look back on his record. If Beazley's popularity as leader then led to Labor improving its relative vote, there may be a good chance it would do so again now.

The trouble is, Beazley's popularity did not statistically correlate with the net Labor vote (Labor's primary vote minus the Coalition's primary vote). When Beazley's popularity rose, Labor's vote did not.

To give some examples, using poll figures averaged over a month: in May 1999 Beazley's Neswpoll approval rating was 46%, and Labor had a 1 percentage point lead on primary vote in the polls. Four moths later his approval had risen to 54%, but Labor was now 5 points behind in the polls.

By April 2000, his approval fell to 43%, but Labor had a one point lead again. By March 2001, his approval had fallen slightly further to 41%, but Labor now enjoyed an 11 point lead. By November 2001, just before his last election, his popularity had risen to 49%, but Labor had lost its lead and ended up over 5 points behind on election night.

So while Beazley is more popular than Crean, there is considerable doubt that this would translate into votes. One reason is obvious: voters take account of more than just their personal feelings about the opposition leader. The degree of party unity, how close a party is to voter's personal philosophies, and its policies, all have big effects.

Many commentators have remarked on the lack of policy development during Beazley's leadership. There is little doubt this led to disaffection amongst Labor sympathisers. Many voted informal, costing Labor votes.

The informal vote in the 2001 election was nearly 5%, over 50% more than in the pre-Beazley elections of the 1990s. The two states with the highest increase in the informal vote, NSW and Queensland, were also the states with the largest drops in the ALP two-party preferred vote. Tasmania, the only state with a swing to Labor, also had the smallest increase in the informal vote. In the 10 seats with the largest increases in the informal vote, the two-party swing against Labor was 4%. In the 10 seats with the largest reductions in the informal vote, there was a swing to Labor of 0.2%.

Other voters switched from Labor to the Greens, and in turn preferenced the Coalition. About a quarter of Green voters give their second preferences to the Coalition (why would you care who gets your second preference if you see no difference between the major parties?). Other disaffected voters switched directly to the Liberals. Because of leakage to minor parties under Beazley, Labor's primary vote at the 2001 election was lower than in the landslide defeat of 1996.

Labor is in trouble, though not terminally. Averaging the most recent polls suggests that, after Crean has started issuing policies, Labor had recovered to be approximately level. His antagonist may have a higher personal approval rating, but it is questionable whether he would produce the policies that would put Labor into office.

David Peetz

Associate Professor

School of Industrial Relations

Griffith University.


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