Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

People reject Rudd’s competence on National Security

The press may be focused intently on the story of economics & climate change polling, but todays Newspoll has an even bigger surprise hidden:

The lead Howard developed over Labor shouldn’t be too surprising in 2006, only 5 years from the 9/11 attacks, 4 from Bali, 3 from the War in Iraq. National Security competence can’t be delivered in bite sized policy announcements, it comes through being competent when faced with issues major and minor.

However leaders can have an impact, when Kevin Rudd the Mandarin speaking diplomat and shadow foreign affairs minister became Opposition leader Howard’s numbers dropped 8 points and Labors rose 10*. Since then Labor has steadily gained, with only a wobble just before the election (with the Coalition doing their best to make security an issue given that economics wasn’t working so well). But take a look at the latest results, where Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop(Shadow Foreign Affairs), & David Johnston(Shadow Defence) have gained a 6 point lead over Labor. Amazing. It’s Labors highest showing (just), but clearly many have switched back to the coalition from uncommitted, meaning it’s a positive switch towards the coalition.

I’m not sure the reasons why. Fitzgibbon is long enough gone from Defence (save the odd newspaper scandal) to be replaced by the stately Faulkner. Smith is a competent foreign minister and Rudd has had a mixed but certainly highly competent record. Labor has pulled troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan/The War on Terror is at least no worse than last year, perhaps even better & the Defence White paper pretty run of the mill. While Johnson has a long standing interest in this area he is unknown to the public, and Bishop only took this job because she was dumped from shadow treasurer. The comparison is most stark at the leadership level where you’d assume attention is focused. Rudd’s main focus after the GFC was international/regional issues, while Abbott seems yet to have addressed the issues as Opposition leader and devotes only 5 pages out of his 200 page book on the issue.

So why the drop? And what is giving the coalition such a strong showing?

* That the public saw Kevin Rudd as more capable on National Security issues over Kim ‘the bomber’ Beazley does make you ponder slightly about the public’s judgement.

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  1. Matt C

     /  February 17, 2010

    I was going to simply comment “boat people” but apparently that is too short for wordpress

  2. Alex

     /  February 18, 2010

    Matt C: you have to repeat it for maximum impact, wordpress knows this. You should also throw in a 9 11 or two. Like this; boat people, boat people, 9 11, illegal immigration, boat people…

    Could the numbers be due to more conservative people being more worried about the national security issues? So those that support liberals/nationals are more likely to be concerned with national security, either due to party rhetoric or other factors, while those who support labour or are uncommitted are less focused on national security in the first place.
    Basically the number are not due to political actions by either party, though they would have some influence, but mainly due to the reasons people will support one party in the first place.

  3. I think you must be right Matt. I don’t think the public should see boat people as a security issue, given the low numbers, typically valid migrant credentials and unlikelyness of anyone with untoward intentions using such an approach. But in visual terms it isn’t as good a look (though even superficially the navy intercepted just about every boat, so the system is working security wise).

    But that seems the best suggestion why. Labor has and probably should be owning this issue, so it’s significant that Rudd has not been able to make it a strength, it’s certainly a hole he will want to fix, perhaps starting with todays Counter-terrorism white paper.

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