Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Election: still postponing the inevitable

The last election was held three years ago today. It was called August 29 for October 9.

Of course, this year's election has been delayed because the Liberals are so far behind in the polls that they're giving themselves as much time as possible to catch up. Not that it's helped: the last couple of opinion polls have not moved a jot in their favour.

Howard has claimed he'll call the election before Christmas, but given the necessary lead time, the available Saturdays are rapidly slipping away.

Apparently, he doesn't have to call the election until January. And if the omens aren't propitious, it's not too long a call to say he might drag it out that long. If nothing else this year, Howard has readily demonstrated his grim determination to hang on to the Prime Ministership as long as humanly possible. His accession to handing over the reins to his deputy at some time in the next term is just such a sign. The vagueness in that pronouncement could be seen as a sop to the voters who aren't enamoured with Costello, but it's entirely within character that he would hang on until just before the following election. Howard has at several points in the past stated that his life's ambition had been to be Prime Minister. Not "statesman", no focus on what he would achieve. Just to have that top job.

There's a particularly good reason for not announcing the date, as the Herald pointed out yesterday. Once announced, the government is in caretaker mode and spending has to stop. In particular, this means a halt to the tens of millions of dollars worth of current advertising campaigns (on a wide variety of fronts) that are posing as "government information" yet are undeniably party political.

And they haven't finished yet. In addition to taxpayer-funded political advertising, they're spending our money on expensive market research to test how effective that political advertising has been. When you think about it, that's quite a rational thing to do: if you've still got access to the money, it makes sense to test how effective that spend is. Rational, but clearly piling one unethical behaviour on top of another.

Opposition leader Kevin Rudd would have political ads banned three months out from an election. Yes, he would say that. But that is not unethical behaviour.

The calendar is such that if Howard doesn't call the election this weekend, parliament would have to sit again next week, which recall would again cost millions of dollars (albeit not in the same league as the above advertising spent). Would he suffer that cost - and opprobium?

News reports suggest he would. He has indicated he plans to attend a Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga next week. There's no way he would be away in the first week of an election campaign, so it looks like we're going to have to wear at least a week's worth of parliament - with no business scheduled.

And the election date is dragging towards Christmas.

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