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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17133


Mr SAWFORD (1:02 PM) —Last Friday in the Adelaide Advertiser, the state member for West Torrens, Tom Koutsantonis, had an article published about the federal Labor leadership. Unfortunately, his exposition was bereft of analysis and incorporated contradictory arguments. For example, he praised Mike Rann, Steve Bracks and Peter Beattie for listening to voters and he conveniently omitted the fact that they all supported Simon Crean, somewhat destroying his major point. He accused the majority of the federal caucus of ignoring voters, but, like nearly all the commentators on the leadership, he forgot to mention that 60 per cent to 80 per cent of the electorate could not care less who the leader is. He insulted the majority of the marginal members, who, if nothing else, show they are in touch with their electorates by their support for Simon Crean. Does he seriously think marginal members deliberately commit political suicide?

Unlike Tom, there are plenty of federal caucus members who have a corporate memory and understand the real indicators that determine success at a federal level—and personality it ain't, or perception either. Thank goodness the majority of the Labor caucus ignored News Ltd, through its national newspaper the Australian and its polling arm Newspoll, and all the other, largely ill-informed, media commentators who got on the bandwagon. Some of us remember, in 1989, the same newspaper, the same Newspoll, and the rest of the Packer, Fairfax and ABC media pack running exactly the same campaign against the coalition leader of the day, Mr Eighteen Per Cent John Howard.

I remember watching in amazement how the coalition party room in 1989 was spooked beyond belief—`conned' would be a more appropriate term—into replacing their most able leader, John Howard, with Mr So-called Popularity at the time, Andrew Peacock. Of course, in 1990 it all ended in tears and failure. Personality failed, and in its place came intergenerational change in the guise of John Hewson. Again the coalition party room allowed itself to be convinced by outside influences in determining its leadership.

Remember the spectacular failure of the coalition in 1993, losing the unlosable election with Fightback 1 and Fightback 2? Hell, I do. I had a great time on two fronts. I ripped large sums of money from the coalition party room. Mind you, Alexander Downer took eight months to pay up, but pay up he did. And what about the Canberra press gallery, those self-opinionated people—almost gossip columnists—who were so precious about political leadership and the prediction of election results? Forty-nine of 51 got it wrong—and most of them in spectacular fashion. My God, it was a hoot. This was followed by the dream team of Downer and Costello—enough said.

Personality, perception, policy, intergenerational change or following the Canberra media does not determine success at a federal level. Look no further than Natasha Stott Despoja. She was supposed to succeed because she had all of the above. She failed, and she achieved that because of foolish people who think like Tom Koutsantonis. Polling between elections is not worth the paper it is written on. Mike Rann came from 12 per cent. Steve Bracks came from nowhere. Helen Clarke, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, came from 14 per cent. Tom seems fascinated with politics in the United States. He should remember President Clinton, who wrote, `It's the economy, stupid!' Tom would do well to do the same, many times—he should write it down very carefully.

Three economic indicators in a three-year cycle determine who wins federal elections. Those indicators are interest rates, inflation and the unemployment rate. Policy helps decide the quantum of the win or the loss. Personality has no impact whatsoever. Does anyone think that Menzies, Frazer or Howard had a personality impact? Of course they did not. All that is required to determine federal election predictions is analytical skill. When the economy blows up, the government of the day loses. When the economy is under control, the government of the day wins. It has always been so.

Take any federal election as an example. The closest election was the one in 1961, and that is a good start. Compared to 1958, interest rates rose, inflation fell and unemployment remained the same—one indicator up, one down, one the same. An even number of seats would have created a draw, but there was an odd number of seats and the government survived by one seat—all entirely predictable. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to work that out. Analysis is a marvellous thing. Tom and his fellow armchair critics should try a course. As Bill Hayden said of the 1983 election, `Even a drover's dog would have won,' and he was right. No electorate was going to wear interest rates, inflation and unemployment over 10 per cent.

Personality, perception, policy and intergenerational change have some impact but none, singly or together, determines electoral success. The state of the economy does and that can be proved in all federal elections since statistics were kept in the 1960s. As I said at the beginning, the exposition by Tom Koutsantonis, based on synthesised and contradictory arguments, failed. In his next effort, perhaps he should try some analysis. He might then gain some real insights.