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Howard win not unexpected, says analyst -

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Howard win not unexpected, says analyst

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

KERRY O'BRIEN: Of course, everyone's an expert after the event on why people voted the way they
did, but one man who's been absolutely consistent all year - and as we now know was right on the
mark - is social researcher Hugh Mackay.

For decades now, he's talked regularly with a wide cross-section of Australians for his quarterly
Mackay-Ipsos Report.

I spoke with Hugh Mackay a short while ago from Brisbane.

So, Hugh, taking us back to basics - was it really all about the economy and did John Howard have
this election in the bag long ago?

HUGH MACKAY, SOCIAL RESEARCHER: John Howard certainly had the election in the bag, I'd say, six
months ago without any doubt and probably two years ago.

I mean, we have to go back pre-Mark Latham to remind ourselves that everything was looking pretty
bad for Labor throughout 2003.

There was a flurry when Latham was elected the new leader.

But it was just a flurry, and by March, certainly, our qualitative research was saying it was
basically all over.

And of course when you say because it was about the economy, that's the overwhelming truth of it
but there was a kind of a bedrock, almost a given in this campaign, which was that national
security was also an issue and that was an agenda completely controlled by John Howard.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But are you saying - I mean, two years ago when you say it arguably was in the bag
for John Howard then, a lot of that was put down to the leadership of Simon Crean and the Labor
Party that wasn't going anywhere.

Are you saying that the change to Mark Latham did little or nothing for Labor?

HUGH MACKAY: Yes.

Yes, I am saying that.

Because I think in fact although commentators were very savage on Simon Crean and there was a
problem certainly of a lack of profile for Simon Crean - but remember, we're now all saying the
same thing about Mark Latham, the problem of a lack of profile - I don't think -

KERRY O'BRIEN: But what do you mean though, a lack of profile?

HUGH MACKAY: A lack of familiarity, a lack of sense of comfort.

The opposition leaders that we have elected to the prime ministership have all been household words
in the last 54 years.

Think of Whitlam, think of Hawke, think of Howard, 20 years in the Parliament before he became
prime minister.

That's one of the prerequisites in modern Australian politics, an Opposition Leader that's got the
feeling of being safe hands, because we really know this person.

KERRY O'BRIEN: To the extent that John Howard is clearly such a shrewd, focused and dogged
campaigner who almost never takes his eyes off the ball it would seem, from year to year, what
could Mark Latham have done to unseat him?

HUGH MACKAY: It sounds pathetic to say this but I think the answer is nothing.

I honestly think that going into this campaign, going into this year, Howard was effectively
invincible.

Circumstances all favoured him.

I mean, things like house prices, things like the national obsession with home renovations and
backyards, I mean, people would refer prefer to watch home renovation programs than current affairs
programs on television.

When they're in that kind of mood they're not in the mood to throw out the Government that has made
them feel, in their mind, so comfortable.

Now I suppose you can never say a situation is impossible, a mountain is unclimbable, but I think
this mountain was unscaleable for Latham and probably for anyone on the Labor side.

KERRY O'BRIEN: If you're right about this campaign not being all that relevant to the result, then
the huge resources and energy that went into the last six weeks - the massive amount of money spent
on advertising, the mail-outs, the endless round of policy announcements, the billions of dollars
being thrown at the public - counted for very little in the end?

HUGH MACKAY: Well I'm tempted to quote some ancient wisdom - "Sound and fury signifying nothing."

I think that is counting for almost nothing.

I think a lot of analysis over the last six weeks - and we've discussed this previously on this
program - I think a lot of the analysis completely misses the point of the bedrock situation.

Of course even in the polls, there are fluctuations that make it look as though the electorate is
volatile, this is neck and neck, people are in a lather of indecision.

I couldn't find the evidence for that but I have to say - and I hope this doesn't sound too cynical
- there is now a modern election campaign industry that sustains itself by telling us that it's all
too close to call and that what someone said last Tuesday was the turning point in the campaign.

I mean, there are PR operations and advertising agencies who do, I have to say, have a vested
interest in making everything look like a cliffhanger.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Although, you'd have to say that, in one case at least during the campaign, the
old-growth policy in the last week of Labor did very clearly seem to hurt them significantly in two
seats?

HUGH MACKAY: Yes.

That's probably true, but of course, we don't know that.

We don't know what would have happened if that policy had been differently presented.

Considering what happened on the mainland, it would be a brave person who would say if that had not
happened Labor would have held those seats in Tasmania.

I certainly wouldn't confidently assert that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So, will it be business as usual for the Prime Minister from an even more powerful
position than usual and what can - what does Labor do, to seriously challenge that impregnability
that you've seen leading up to this election?

HUGH MACKAY: Mmm.

Yes.

I don't agree with Michael Costello that Labor are now stuck with two more terms in opposition.

I think every term is a fresh opportunity.

We don't know what will happen to John Howard.

We don't know what will happen to the economy, we don't know what will happen to the international
situation.

And we don't know how well Labor will perform.

But Labor have to get it into their heads strategically that the election campaign for 2007 began
today.

And unless they'd act as John Howard acts and makes every statement in a sense a campaign
statement, then they're going to face the - anyone who thinks that it's time to act when an
election is called, strategically, really has missed the point of how this game is now being
played.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Hugh Mackay, thanks for talking with us.

HUGH MACKAY: Thank you, Kerry.

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