As you may have heard, the Howard years are over in Australia. Eleven and a half years of conservative reign destroyed by the Ruddslide (sic). And, adding insult to injury, this election has made history, with John Howard set to lose his own seat of Bennelong in the parliament to former ABC journalist Maxine McKew. Howard’s since 1974, Labor for the first time, and the seat of the second PM ever to lose his seat.
So how is it that Kevin Rudd, right, managed to be so effective, with some seats racking up double figure swings against the incumbent government? Many commentators are trying to figure out the turning point but as with a fine game of chess, there is rarely a single move that was key to victory. Even if you can pick a handful of blunders or masterful plays.
Of particular note, this election has defied conventional wisdom that Australian governments do not lose in economic good times. Especially to a party behind in the polls as better economic managers.
As Andrew Charlton pointed out in book Ozonomics, John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello have presided over and taken credit for a booming economy that owes more to the radical reforms of the Hawke-Keating years than to their own. And the polls show they have successfully painted themselves as ingenious economic managers. This myth has served them well for many years and, in elections gone past, has often side-lined much of the community’s discontent in other areas.
And yet, the key issues that the election were won on, consisted of the Health, the Economy, Industrial Relations and the Environment, and Education. In that order. So, either these issues were considered more important than the national finances or Rudd had clawed back economic credibility. Perhaps the answer is a little of both.