09 July 2006

WorkChoices as a vote-winner for Labor

It's true that Beazley's vague and ultimately unsustainable plan to restore the unions to some degree of power is his one big chance at winning government. It is commendable that he is investing so heavily in an issue, a contrast to the empty bombast or mealy-mouthed hedging he usually contributes to national debates.

At a NSW Young Liberal dinner in 1996, Amanda Vanstone said that it was disgraceful that people could be removed from the unemployment lists for working 20 hours a week - she oversaw the redefinition of employment to one hour a week. However you define the unemployment rate, it is irrelevant outside the major cities. Jobs are scarce and so are skilled people in rural Australia. The labour market is bigger, more complex and more fluid in the cities than in rural/regional communities. The abattoir workers in Cowra, the retail worker in Coffs and the machine operator from the Hunter, all demonstrate the power of this message beyond the major cities.

For the first time since World War II it is possible for Labor to win government without winning a single seat from the suburbs of the major cities. Labor needs 12 seats to deny the Coalition a majority, 16 to win - here are 18 eminently winnable regional seats for Labor:

  • La Trobe (Vic)

  • Corangamite (Vic)

  • Hinkler (Qld)

  • Page (NSW)

  • Bass (Tas)

  • Braddon (Tas)

  • Wide Bay (Qld)

  • Gippsland (Vic)

  • Kalgoorlie (WA)

  • Cowper (NSW)

  • McEwen (Vic)

  • Paterson (NSW)

  • Leichhardt (Qld)

  • Gilmore (NSW)

  • Fairfax (Qld)

  • Maranoa (Qld)

  • Mayo (SA) - Alexander Downer's seat

  • Lyne (NSW) - Mark Vaile's seat

Some of these are on 10+% majorities for the Coalition, but Latham isn't here to fight off the swinging vote - and if any issue is going to get that sort of swing, WorkChoices is it. Beazley should be able to win back the three suburban Perth seats Latham lost in '04: Canning, Hasluck and Stirling.

There you go, that's a Labor majority of five. I'm assuming that Qld Labor's apparently unpopular dams won't affect Federal Labor. I could have counted Macquarie and Robertson (NSW) as regional, and of course there'll be a bandwagon effect with suburban marginals if the swing is on. A Labor regional strategy could be awesomely effective. Now, here's why it won't happen.

Howard will target the bits of WorkChoices that focus groups really hate and cut the worst of them out, just like he did with the GST. This will leave Beazley then as now pretty much buggered, with all ammunition spent and nothing else to differentiate Labor from and above the Coalition. Beazley will pull off one of those great concession speeches and then, hopefully, get out of Federal Parliament altogether. People will vote for safe, moderate Labor but they just won't vote for someone who won't fight like Howard fights; Beazley has no fight in him.

The Nationals are the soft underbelly of the government and the ALP would be smart to hunt them down like dogs. They will do so half-heartedly this time, and will win a few seats. Labor will reap the disappointment that comes from a winning strategy not being pursued.

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