Pros­per­ity un­do­ing Howard’s re-elec­tion plans in Aus­tralia

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Michael Keats

MELBOURNE, Aus­tralia — Prime Min­is­ter John Howard looks in­creas­ingly like a vic­tim of his own suc­cess.

With the coun­try ex­pe­ri­enc­ing record pros­per­ity af­ter 11 years of con­ser­va­tive rule, vot­ers are fo­cus­ing on other is­sues — and find­ing the an­swers else­where.

With Nov. 24 elec­tions loom­ing, the long-serv­ing prime min­is­ter and close U.S. ally has been un­able to nar­row a 12- to 14-point lead in the polls held by his La­bor Party op­po­nent, Kevin Rudd. Book­mak­ers have re­in­forced ex­pec­ta­tions of a Howard de­feat, in­stalling Mr. Rudd as a 4-6 fa­vorite.

A Galaxy Poll pub­lished Oct. 29 brought even worse news for the gov­ern­ing coali­tion. In four key seats in the state of New South Wales, La­bor has boosted its sup­port to 46 per­cent, up nine points from the last elec­tion in 2004, while the gov­ern­ing coali­tion has dropped from 49.6 per­cent to 42 per­cent.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say that by stress­ing the suc­cess of his eco­nomic poli­cies dur­ing the cam­paign, Mr. Howard has mis­judged the mood of most Aus­tralians, who no longer are vot­ing with their wal­lets.

“While there are (and al­ways will be) peo­ple strug­gling to make ends meet, the plain fact is that fi­nan­cial con­di­tions in Aus­tralia to­day are more fa­vor­able than they have been in a gen­er­a­tion,” colum­nist Andrew Charl­ton wrote in the Age news­pa­per.

Mr. Howard has been vo­cal in claim­ing credit for this happy state of af­fairs but, de­spite the low­est rate of un­em­ploy­ment in more than 30 years, sur­veys have shown such is- sues as health, ed­u­ca­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment are of more in­ter­est to vot­ers.

Aus­tralia is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing its worst drought on record. The sub­se­quent rise in food prices, to­gether with ris­ing oil prices, has in­creased the pres­sure on in­fla­tion. The Re­serve Bank will meet next week to dis­cuss whether to raise in­ter­est rates — which would be a fur­ther blow to the gov­ern­ment.

In the two weeks since the elec­tion date was an­nounced, nei­ther Mr. Howard nor Mr. Rudd made more than pass­ing ref­er­ence to the con­flicts in Iraq and Afghanistan or other world hot spots where more than 4,000 Aus­tralian troops are on ac­tive duty.

Nor have il­le­gal aliens, an is­sue that helped Mr. Howard to a new term in 2001, been a fac­tor in this cam­paign.

Mr. Howard has stressed his warm per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Bush and said Aus­tralia will not desert its U.S. ally un­til “the job is done” in Iraq. Mr. Rudd said he has no in­ten­tion of dis­rupt­ing Aus­tralia’s friend­ship with the United States but wants to see a timetable for an end to Aus­tralian in­volve­ment in Iraq.

Con­cern over cli­mate change has loomed larger as an is­sue, par­tic­u­larly af­ter press rev­e­la­tions that En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull had un­suc­cess­fully urged his Cabi­net col­leagues to rat­ify the Ky­oto Pro­to­col lim­it­ing emis­sions of green­house gases.

Aus­tralians “no longer are in­ter­ested in a leader who will just take care of their per­sonal fi­nances,” wrote Mr. Charl­ton in the Age. “That’s why Howard’s at­tempts to ig­nore cli­mate change for the past 11 years have come back to haunt him.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.