NEWS AND VIEWS
Monday, 29 January 2007
With Friends Like Glenn .
Ardent supporters can be a pest at times and this morning Peter Costello probably puts Glenn Milne in that category. Over the years the Treasurer has basked in the praise of the punchy little columnist for The Australian but now that John Howard is not going, reminders of leadership contests to come are not what Mr Costello needs. Milne's column under the headline "Turnbull could sink" will be interpreted in Canberra as reflecting the views of a churlish Costello wishing failure upon his chief potential rival for the Liberal leadership.
The column itself suggests that Turnbull's rapid elevation to Cabinet rank is the result not of merit but of Prime Ministerial patronage designed to ensure that Costello has a challenger of substance when the great man finally departs. Heaven forbid but Turnbull recently even "chatted amiably with Janette Howard, the ultimate arbiter of who gets entry into Howard's inner orbit." Has the man who once declared that Howard was the "Prime Minister who broke the nation's heart" over the republic got no shame?
For good measure Glenn has tossed in that best of all sources, the anonymous Liberal MP who declares that the PM will see the error of his ways when Turnbull starts getting on his nerves by starting to "claim credit for fixing the water crisis." Perhaps that is true but elsewhere the thrust of the column is that the water crisis will not be easily or quickly fixed as state Premiers bring forth their weasel words and protracted negotiations end up in the High Court.
A little each way commentary, of course, is not important when the main message is to leave the impression that a two-faced Howard is principally concerned with making future life difficult for your mate the Treasurer. As Milne puts it: "Despite the Prime Minister's public comments to the contrary, few in the Liberal caucus are in any doubt that Howard is constructing the Turnbull edifice as yet another bulwark against Costello ."
Rallying the Donors
Frightening the potential donors is an essential tactic for those who must take the hat around to finance election campaigns so the Liberal party's federal secretary Brian Loughnane took the opportunity when chatting to Young Liberals at the weekend to pretend that his team would be at a sizeable disadvantage when the next election campaign comes. Labor and its union allies, suggested Mr Loughnane, would spend a combined $50 million while the poor little Liberal Party would have less than $20 million.
Both figures should be taken with considerable skepticism but there is no doubt that things are looking better for Labor fund raising than for several campaigns. For the union movement this election is a last stand against the industrial relations changes of the Howard Government. If the Coalition is returned for a further three years there will be little chance of stopping the spread of work place agreements to the point where their future abolition becomes virtually impractical. It is a case of now or never if the remnants of trade union power are to be preserved so this is the time to use any hidden reserves tucked away on union balance sheets. As well as the ACTU running its own advertising campaign the Labor Party can expect substantially higher contributions.
From the business community, the share Labor gets depends very much on the assessments companies make as to the likely return on their investment. If Labor is seen as having little chance of winning, or of doing things business does not like if it does win, the money dries up. Under Mark Latham both these things applied and financing of the last campaign suffered accordingly.
With Kevin Rudd at the helm the expectation of a good Labor showing has increased and polls that six months ago were deemed unbelievable are now believed by many. That makes business leaders keener to understand what a Rudd Government might have in store for them and it is much easier for a donor to party funds to get a hearing than it is for a company that refuses to play the game of political donations at all and very much harder for one with a record of giving to the Coalition and not to Labor.
Brian Loughnane is well aware that Rudd has made a difference and that companies are likely to split their donations more evenly between his team and Labor than they have in the recent past. We should not feel too sorry for him though. The Coalition will still have the advantage of the mass of taxpayer-funded advertising which should ensure that this is a very profitable year for television companies.
A High Water Profile Where it Counts
Gary Nairn as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister in charge of water did not achieve the national prominence of a Malcolm Turnbull but he has shown some skill in using the issue to the advantage of the Coalition in his own electorate of Eden Monaro.
Nairn, now Special Minister of State, was involved before his promotion in long running negotiations between the Federal and ACT governments on the ownership of the Googong dam and its water just outside of the national capital. Control of the dam was originally ceded to the Commonwealth to provide an adequate supply to Canberra but the transfer to the local ACT government was not completed at the time self government was imposed. From memory there was some wrangle or other about liability in the event of the dam collapsing but it was always assumed that control would eventually pass to the administration which actually used it.
Over the border in Queanbeyan, water is provided by the grace and favour of the ACT electricity and water authority and, according to Nairn, this has stopped the expansion of the neighbor Canberrans describe as struggle town which he represents in the Parliament. His answer, suggested to the PM, was for the Commonwealth to retain control of the Googong dam so a water policy could be developed for the whole region around it and not just for Canberra .
This, naturally enough, has enraged ACT Chief Minister John Stanhope who wonders why he was not consulted before such an arbitrary decision was made. And the more Mr Stanhope protests, the happier Mr Nairn becomes as his voters of Queanbeyan delight in the role reversal as the other side of the border struggles for its water.