Movement at the station

I have just awoken to a barrage of “Turnbull and Downer deny calling for PM to quit” headlines, capped by Andrew Bolt‘s sensational assertion that Peter Costello will be Prime Minister tomorrow. No time to absorb any of this, but a new thread is clearly in order.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

647 comments on “Movement at the station”

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  1. Ok, so: what actually happened yesterday?

    Let’s hear your best theories.


    1. Various members of the front bench discussed on a one-to-one basis the leadership issue over the last week or so and a number indicated to one another privately that they thought a change was the best outcome for the party

    2. By yesterday, Downer, Turnbull and Abbott were of the view, possibly mistaken but more likely not, that a majority of the front bench were anti-Howard that something was going to have to give. Downer and Turnbull therefore went to speak to Howard to give him this news, perhaps not so much to threaten him but in the hopes of a smooth transition.

    3. Howard rejected their suggestion that he consider stepping down.

    4. Someone leaked the story about the meetings to the press, which gave the anti-Howard push a life of its own and created a chance for a coup.

    5. Howard came out publicly saying he was ready for a fight in order to fragment and frighten his already disorganised internal detractors.

    6. After some hours of uncertainty the views expressed in private were not repeated when the various members of cabinet were challenged by Howard and his supporters, although for a while Downer, Turnbull and Abbott were hedging their bets (hence their non-committal remarks in the press).

    7. Everyone realised that an organised coup was not going to take place and the key players therefore went to ground and reaffirmed their support for Howard.

    8. Costello stayed silent throughout, in the hopes of having the leadership handed to him but with the expectation that what has happened would happen.

  2. No way Bungs. They will want this to die down. Don’t expect the election to be called until the last moment. I’m tipping an early December eleection.

  3. I’m not. I’d love him to call an election. I just don’t see it happening for a while now. The Liberal Party is full of blind-faithers who believe that with just a little bit more time people will ‘come to their senses’ and see the error of their ways.

    They will also want to wait for the local council pleb’s so they can spruik the results of that… talk about it in the media for a few more days etc.

    Practically, I just don’t think the election is going to be for a while yet.

  4. “This” won’t die down. It will keep going. Newspoll will kick it along on Tuesday. Voters will simply see a rabble. Rudd will say: “If you can’t govern yourselves ,you can’t govern the country.” For that reason, Howard needs a circut breaker – an election date announcement and a focus on the campaigns and opposing teams. I think he’ll call on the GG this Sunday.

  5. An uneasy calm seems to have settled over this affair, but there has been no resolution. Why hasn’t Howard called the election? That would be a resolution. Is he trying to draw Costello out? We now know that all the talk of staying as long as the party wanted him was just lies. Only a fight will get him out. But a fight will damage the party and Howard. So why doesn’t he call the election? What crucial legislation has to be passed before parliament is wound up? Theories anyone?

  6. He’s already said that they will sit for this whole fortnight. The polls are not going to get any worse, they’re already bad. Any movement towards the government will stop a leadership challenge from happening. This was their last chance…

    I have to say they’ve completely lost any momentum they may have gathered a few months ago… nothing’s going right for them.

  7. Howard needs to buy a good poll, a poll taken from the ‘right’ places to give the ‘right’ answers to calm the nervous nanny-goats on the front and back stalls.

    Can you imagine if the next poll showed 58/42?

    Time for Rudd and Co to get his face in the camera again talking business in contrast to the Govt’s angina attack.

  8. What’s more important is the public perception of all this.
    What do they think? Of course the Libs will want to bed this down as quickly as possible and pretend it never happened. I really doubt if they will risk going beyond Nov 3rd. It’s a huge risk. They would like to put space between this and the election but it’s quite limited.

    What we can expect now is some big announcement on a new initiative from John Howard to prove he is still in charge and to distract the media and public. Maybe he will match Kevin Rudd’s hospital takeover or something equally big.
    He may announce reducing company tax.
    It’ll be something big enough to cause a buzz in the media.
    And of course we will all fall for it.

  9. Yep, at the moment Labor looks more like a govt than the govt itself. When the opposition looks more like the govt than the govt, it has the making of a huge bloodbath.

  10. Reducing company tax would be a huge dud in the electorate. He won’t want to be seen to be cosying up to business any more.

    My bet is a leaked ‘scandal’ on a union official. Another video tape.

  11. 600
    Patrick Bateman Says:
    September 12th, 2007 at 11:19 am
    Ok, so: what actually happened yesterday?

    Let’s hear your best theories.

    Sky News are still reporting a majority of the cabinet (apparently not willing to say so publically) do NOT support Howard to lead onto the election. What that tells me is that they don’t have the numbers *yet* so can’t move. Thus they are forced in public to say that they are behind him.

  12. Has Costello personally come out to the media as being behind Howard? I know Abbott has said it but that’s not really Costello saying it. I want to see him squirm.

  13. Nice summary Patrick. However you omitted the bit where Howard started the whole ball rolling himself by asking Downer to talk to the front bench about leadership. Talk about spooking your own horses. And yesterday’s mess was incredible. If there was no neat organised putsch on, how was it allowed to drag on all day? Why didn’t Downer pledge support as soon as Howard made it clear he wasn’t stepping aside? And if Costello didn’t want it, why not say so? It was all so inept.

    I can’t decide if Howard is now trailing blood all the way to the ballot box, or looking like the sort of tough old bird you’d want running the country. Both, I suppose.

  14. Re (609)

    What crucial legislation has to be passed before parliament is wound up? Theories anyone?

    They voted on an education bill this morning about 11am. Also on the agenda today, votes or discussion on tax bills and National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting bill. More along those lines, nothing I can see that is essential ….. no idea why he doesn’t call it, polls will only get worse

  15. Julie,

    There’s the legislation relating to plebiscites (manufacturing a wedge in QLD on council amalgamations) plus the horse racing industry rescue package.

  16. In 2001 he was headed for certain defeat until saved by 9/11 and Tampa.

    I absolutely agree with your subbstantive analysis, but I have always thought that it was Howard’s embrace of old-style Fraserian election buying in the form of the petrol excise backflip that was arguably more significant as it allowed the Libs to turn the corner.

    If they were as far behind in September as they were in MArch even 9/11 and Tampa wouldn’t have saved them.

    What’s more important is the public perception of all this.

    I can’t imagine yestrdays frivolities will shift too many disengaged voters. On the other hand, if there is much truth at all to the “soft ALP support” thesis (which I doubt) then a lot of them just firmed up.

  17. One certainty: Bolt has either been hung out to dry by Downer/Turnbull or shown to be an amateur for swallowing whispers of a “sounding out” as a certain transition.

  18. The govts next scare campaign will be on GST increase as per ramblings in the Senate today. But is easy to counter – introduce bill making it harder to change GST rate – like a majority vote of the joint house sitting plus all the States.

  19. Is it possible that Howard meant for Downer to test the water one on one and report to him in back door diplomatic sort of way.Downer instead calls a round table in a Sydney hotel room with invited guests and inadvertently sets the hares flying and looses control of the whole enterprise.

  20. Martin, yes I agree that the petrol excise backdown helped a lot in 2001. The equivalent now would be a major backdown on WorkChoices, but that is a core policy for both Howard and Costello, and it won’t happen. In fact as we know a re-elected Howard-Costello government will give us WorkChoices II.

  21. Adam #627
    …re-elected Howard-Costello government…

    That sounds to me like the ultimate impossibility.. A re-elected Howard government? unlikely, but possible… re-elected Costello government? even more unlikely, but barely possible. But those two working in Harness? it defeats my imagination

  22. [Any movement towards the government will stop a leadership challenge from happening.]

    Howard is hoping to be saved by a margin of error movement 😛

  23. Now that Adolf Howard has emerged victorious from his bunker, any ideas on the likely election date? Sooner or later? the earliest date Oct 27th. My favourite date, the rationale being my birthday and what better double present could a bloke have than AH losing his seat and government! Thank you Australia! Thank you Bennelong.

  24. If next Tuesday’s Newspoll is a shocker for the Libs (ALP 58+), and the House is still sitting, this will all happen all over again. Howard should dissolve tomorrow, as soon as he gets his plebiscite and horse flu bills through (although with Beattie gone the Qld councils issue is a dead parrot).

  25. Howard telling backbench that polling from Crosby-Textor says that the government is in front.

    Strange, given ALP internal polling revealed yesterday showed it in front after a 6.9 p/c swing.

    It’s the battle of the internal polls….

  26. SJP,

    Seems it must be 27 October now. He won’t go Saturday of Melbourne Cup weekend as any votes he still holds in VIC at that point will be gone if he does. Folks who are gearing up for that multi day race-a-thon will be furious if they have to stop to go to the polls. He will want to have it though before the Reserve Board meets again. If he doesn’t and delays it beyond that Reserve Board meeting, that will be the final nail in his coffin. As it is, his coffin is 95% nailed shut anyways ;-D

  27. it seems the punters haven’t access to “secret polling ” in Bendigo.. ALP in from $1.25 overnight, to $1.10 on Portland.

    overall, Govt out from $2.85 this time yesterday, to 2.95 overnight, and 3.15 now.

  28. Scotty said:
    “What a load of cowards they are. Annabel Crabb in the SMH was right – the libs are like a bunch of 7-year olds poking a tiger snake and then running away. ”

    This is beautifully put. I am so relieved. My nightmare is that JH resigns or is deposed before the election and doesnt’t get to be thrown out by the people as he so thoroughly deserves.

    Now I may yet get to see what, on those oh so dark nights of the soul in 2001 and 2004, I dared not dream of.

  29. So we’ve seen a government in crisis in the past 24 hours, and arguably the heaviest leadership speculation on that side of the house in 13 years. So what will it take to really blow it up on Tuesday morning? Will 58-42 be enough? How about 62-38? We’ve had a 61-39 Newspoll earlier in the year, so anything is possible.

  30. So Coota they’re hanging their hopes on polling for Eden-Monaro? You’d have to wonder how reliable their polling is… given the seat was one of a few to swing towards the ALP in the recent state election.

    By the way i’m tipping a late November/early December election still. They’ll risk the RBA meeting because it’s unlikely rates will rise anyhow, and the impact will be minimal in any case.

  31. Poll numbers in addition to the BetFair numbers (1.40/3.35) posted earlier:

    1. Sportsbet – still closed
    2. Portland Bet – 1.33/3.15
    3. Sports Acumen (ACT) – 1.39/2.95
    4. Canbet (UK) – 1.38/3.00
    5. Sportingbet Oz (NT) – 1.35/3.05
    6. Centrebet – still closed
    7. IAS – 1.38/3.00

  32. I assume Peter Costello’s press conference is going to be a yawn-inducing “I’m behind John” conference.

    I’m crossing my fingers it’s him announcing his retirement from politics.

  33. CTEP: A rate rise would just cement the loss, no rise will allow them to get a bit of cred for ‘managing the economy so well’ but do nothing for their position. So I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re not worried about the RBA now. It’s do or die. They have Buckly’s chance at winning, so they may as well go out with a bang.

  34. One factor to look out for here is rising panic from Coalition backbenchers just before parliament rises the week after next.

    A former ALP senator during the Hawke-Keating years I know makes the observation that whenever a government is going badly in the polls in an election year and parliament is due to rise, then it’s almost bankable that some backbenchers, usually out on the drink, get panicky and start talking to press gallery journos. This inevitably results in further destabilisation of the government’s position.

  35. Last State elections, for the first time since I moved to Gippsland, I got an ALP member representing me in Parliament, Matt Viney MLC. I’ve even had to vote for an independent to keep the Nats out. Now, I think we’re in with a chance in Gippsland, so in hope I’m going to take the “disenfranchised” out of my name.

  36. Howard has pulled it off again, at leasy for the moment and at least with his own party-room……by not calling the election, he is giving out the message that he will not be panicked and by asserting himslef over Costello and the party, he may have found a temporary “cheer-raiser”, at least among his die-hard supporters.

    But as my 21 year old daughter said to me this morning, the Liberals look quite crippled now.

    The Liberal succession dilemma has not been resolved, just perpetuated. It is hard to see how the public will elect a party to government when its leadership is inherently unstable. As well, it is hard to see now how this PM/Treasurer double-act can be sustained for long. It has to collapse soon, you would think…..

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