January 31, 2013

Horse 1433 - One Day in September

They say "politics is a funny ol' game",
Why isn't Tony Windsor laughing?
Wake me up, when September ends.
- apologies to Green Day.

The date of September 14 has been picked for a time so deliciously strange, it immediately makes me think that some real statisticians were consulted.
With a variable term parliament, one if the distinct advantages that the government of the day has us that they can call the dates that elections are to be set. Sitting governments can call elections early if they think that the tide of public opinion is such that they'd be returned to power and they can also delay the date if they think that the public is against them.
This particular advantage of government and the converse disadvantage of the opposition, means that there is a natural tendency for governments to have more stable leadership and for oppositions to change their leaders more often.

The average life expectancy for an Opposition Leader in Australia is 11 months. Parties in opposition are more subject to leadership coups and takeovers than parties in government. I also did some checking and found that since federation, the ideal length of time that an opposition leader to be appointed before an election so that they lead the party to government is only 5 months; this usually causes a wave of popularity and the hope of genuine change, before the public wakes from their collective amnesia and realises that they're still just another politician.
Usually elections are pushed right back as far as they'll go in the window, they're also usually announced 12 weeks before the election day which is just short of the ideal time frame for a party leader in opposition to lead the party to government.
This time around, Tony Abbott has been the Opposition Leader for 38 months which means that he's been there rather a long time indeed, although on an ideal statistical basis, he'd need to be and replaced in mid April; since the party probably wouldn't pick Hockey who'd be more palatable as a leader of the nation, or Turnbull who quite frankly is the most skilled politician of this generation, the Opposition is stuck with a leader who even failed to swing five MPs to his cause. Come September I don't think that that set of circumstances will present itself a second time. Either Labor stinks so much that they'll be turfed out on their ear, or the Liberal-National coalition will win through with a statistically unfavourable leader.

I could be wrong about this but I think that such a vast lead time before an election in variable term parliaments in Australia is unprecedented. The longest previous distance that I could find that an election was called in advance, was a Menzies Government which called an election 6 months in advance in 1958 and won it handsomely.
In that respect, I just don't know why this Gillard Government has called the election 7.5 months in advance. Are the terms of the Independents and Green too burdensome? Is this deliberately designed to cause "election fatigue" in the electorate so that they'll return the incumbent government to power? Maybe this has something to do with the International Day Of Democracy which follows on September 15? Maybe it has more to do with the final few sitting weeks in parliament and ensuring that MPs get a decent holiday. Even if there is complete and utter gridlock of legislation on the floor of the house in December, they'd be able to go on holidays quite easily because no supply bills would need to be presented until May of 2014 (assuming of course that the 2013 budget was settled, which would be more than likely well before a September election).
Ms Gillard said that it fixes a date so that it is fair for both sides. This might sound noble but fairness doesn't immediately spring to mind when you're fishing in the mucky waters of politics.

I do wonder though about all the dark horses which might start running. Announcing an election this far in advance gives everyone ample opportunity to register new parties, to develop campaigns and for the minor and micro parties to make their voices heard.
I personally think that this election will see a majority for one of the majors to form government without the help of independents and minors but if the public is sufficiently disappointed with the two majors, we may see more than a mere half dozen independents on the post September floor.
A week is a long time in politics, nine months is enough time to have a baby in. Whatever the outcome in September, you can bet that the new parliament that will be born will come kicking and screaming.

The weather here is as nice as it could be,
Although it really doesn't matter much to me,
With pollies hawking, every day's a rainy day,
So it might as well rain until September.
- apologies to Carol King.

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