November 19, 2003 | Graham

Howard, cricket and the DDs

Friends of John Howard say that he knows the batting averages in parliament as well as he knows those in test cricket, and that he wants an average that is up there with the best. Just as there is only one Bradman, there is only one Menzies, and Howard understands that he will never be number one, but he can hope to be the Border or Waugh of his generation.
When it comes to Prime Ministerial run-making there is Menzies, then there is Hawke, then there is Fraser. By winning the last election Howard guaranteed himself a better score than Fraser, and a win at the next election will see him eclipse Hawke, but Howard knows that mere run scores don’t guarantee you a pre-eminent place in history. Bradman is acknowledged as the best batsmen ever not because of the total number of runs scored, but because of the quality of them. Menzies has quantity and quality, and so do Hawke and Fraser. At the moment, with the exception of the GST, Howard has more quantity than quality. That is ultimately why I think he is probably prepared to call a double dissolution election next year. Whether he does or not depends on how much he can wangle out of the Democrats between now and the election using the threat of a double dissolution.
Yesterday’s announcements on Medicare and university funding give an insight into the way this government works. On Medicare it is prepared to increase its spending from $917 to $2.4B to buy its way out of political trouble on the issue. On university funding it appears to be trading away many of its changes to buy-off key constituencies (although one should assume that some of these trades were anticipated right from the beginning and were in fact designed in). As predicted in our Havachat analysis, this may also include ditching the industrial relations part of the package.
It is politically smart for Howard to do these things and the changes will probably mean he will get the legislation through the Senate. In fact, he probably owes the Senate. It is inadvertently helping him to fine-tune his political message by opposing parts of his legislation. But there is other legislation that cannot be massaged through in the same way, including the industrial relations bills.
There is no chance that the changes to the Senate that Howard is promoting will be passed in a referendum. A measure of the hopelessness of this task is the fact that you will find no stronger opponents of Howard’s “reforms” than a branch meeting of the Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, which is Howard heartland. That being the case, there is another purpose to this push, and that is to set-up a situation where if Howard calls a double dissolution election he will have a strong alibi. It is also about striking fear into the hearts of the Democrats.
On current polling figures the Australian Democrats would virtually get wiped out in a double dissolution. Even though the quota for a Senate seat reduces by almost half to 7.7%, they would still not get there in any state with the possible exception of South Australia. Their only hope is that while the hurdle is higher in a normal half-Senate election they have a number of long-term Senators who won’t face election next time around. In 2007 when the election after next is due the Democrat vote may have recovered enough to save them.
Democrats report that frequently when they attempt to negotiate with the Government there is a lack of engagement from the other side. Instead the matter is airily added to the “DD List”. It could be that the government is actively courting a double dissolution, or it could be a game of chicken. One thing is sure. Howard is now playing for a place as one of the iconic Prime Ministers of Australia. He needs more than the GST to claim that place. He needs to be able to demonstrate a significant influence on Australian society. Having settled in at the crease Howard has so much confidence that he is just as likely to crack the ball aiming for the top of the pavilion as he is to glide it gently down to long-on. A double dissolution is therefore very much a possibility.

Posted by Graham at 2:48 pm | Comments Off on Howard, cricket and the DDs |
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