Chasing the Norm

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

Tag: Nationals

The rise of the seniors party

All political parties like to try and appeal to specific demographic groups, the Greens especially target the young, ALP its younger, outer suburbs ‘working families’. The Coalition is however making a pitch for the biggest of them all: Seniors

No more dole, Tony Abbott warns the under-30s
EXCLUSIVE: Andrew Burrell From: The Australian April 21, 2010 12:00AM
TONY Abbott has proposed banning the dole for people under 30 in a bid to entice the unemployed to head west and fill massive skill shortages in the booming resources sector.
The Opposition Leader made the controversial remarks during a two-hour meeting with about 15 senior resources industry leaders in Perth on Monday night.
Mr Abbott told the roundtable briefing he believed stopping dole payments to able-bodied young people would take pressure off the welfare system and reduce the need to bring in large numbers of skilled migrants to staff mining projects.
Six of the attendees confirmed yesterday that Mr Abbott had raised the idea of banning welfare payments for young people to encourage them to fill the thousands of jobs emerging in states such as Western Australia and Queensland.
“He said he was thinking more and more about it, with a view to formulating something on it,” said one of the participants, who asked not to be named. Another recalled: “He definitely said it was something he was considering as a policy.”
A third executive said: “It certainly wasn’t a throwaway line. He brought up the issue twice during the meeting.”

This is partially overbearing paternalism of the sort Abbott first championed with his work for the dole scheme back in 1999/2000, and partly a desperate (and unworkable) attempt to find a local solution to the skills shortage given his party’s desire to cut back on migration, but it should also be seen as a bold pitch to position the Liberal Party as The Seniors Party. And why wouldn’t you:

From the Treasury Dept:
In 1970-71, 31 per cent of the population was aged 15 years or younger, while by 2001-02 this proportion had dropped to 22 per cent. The proportion of Australia’s population aged over 65 years has grown from 8 per cent in 1970-71 to 13 per cent in 2001-02. The IGR projects that over the next 40 years, the proportion of the population over 65 years will almost double to around 25 per cent. At the same time, growth in the population of traditional workforce age is expected to slow to almost zero. This is a permanent change. Barring an unprecedented change in fertility rates, the age structure of the population is likely to stabilise with a far higher proportion of older Australians.

Via Pollytic’s Demographics bar we can see the Coalition already captures 53% of the vote of those 55+, but with that group doubling in size (and there being no tests for mental competency before voting for the elderly) locking them in now ensures long term political gain.

One of the virtues of having two major parties (and part of the reason I still strongly defend the system) is that it forces both parties to govern ‘for all of us’ to use the Coalitions 1996 slogan. But as one age group bulges in relative size, there comes the temptation to focus on that group first and foremost. It probably won’t change its name, but this policy to me signals a sign the Liberal Party is aiming to become The Seniors Party. Done clumsily this could rebound (as I think Abbott’s paternalism here will), but in the hands of a skillful operator it could prove a significant shift in the image and appeals of our parties, even if both have already been lavashing seniors for a fair while (trying to rise house prices, increased pensions, one off election time handouts etc). This may be the future of the Conservative side of politics. Having flirted with economic rationalism from 1977 to 2007 (no-coincidence the period John Howard was a major influence in the party), it seems now to be retreating to protectionist, primary industry focused insular economics and social policy. They will be the party of the closed Australia. In attitude, economics & border.

Then again the leaders in this may well have been The Nationals, just check out their latest advertisement (Below the Fold). Their is a token minority in the add, but their pitch is aimed almost entirely to the elderly & white.

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The Firing List

Many many years ago, a newly elected young MP walked for the first time into the chamber of parliament and took his seat. He had been placed along side an elder party statesman, and as he sat down for the first time he looked across to the other side of the chamber and whispered ‘Ahh there’s the enemy’. The party elder smiled, then replied ‘no thats the opposition, the enemy’s on these benches’.

Such is the life of politics, and particularly for oppositions. As you may have heard, big business doners (with the ear of the press) are wanting a party blood letting to encourage new talent into the Liberal Party. Whilst I claim no special insight into Liberal party internal machinations, many of the figures wont be household names, so it’s useful to identify and run through who’s who & their likely chances:

ruddockPhillip Ruddock MP: Elected in 1973, Ruddock is the longest serving member of the Parliament. Nominally of the ‘wet’, moderate faction, he famously led the Liberal charge over asylum seekers in 2001 to great internal party applause. Whilst a former Cabinet official, his age works against him, with the feeling his best days are now well behind him. Tough to kick out (what else does he have to go to), but if not this term will be gone in the next. Ruddock seems to have a bit of a mission to prove that he isn’t the demonised figure he seemed in 2001, (when even his daughter publicly criticised him), he seems a relic of the past and with enough connections that if he wants to stay, he will. Then again the Liberals tend to be much more brutal towards ex significant figures than labor, and so he will have to fight each and every term to keep his seat one thinks. Probably a good voice for the liberals internally, 36 years in parliament, and witnessing both the Fraser & Howard Governments, and rise and fall of the post 1980’s New Right, Ruddock could be a good voice for helping the Party find its place.

heffernan1Bill Heffernan Senator : The only Senator on the list (why?) Heffernan is one of the most idiosyncratic parliamentarians. A favorite of Howards, he caused the party regular grief, from his calls for the Liberals to abandon their coalition partners (Heffernan is more of a dirt-encrusted farmer than any of the Nationals pretty boys), and his intemperate tongue. His 2007 comments that Gillard was “Deliberately barren” not only drove women to Labor and reinforced the view this was an old & crusty government, it played serious havoc with the Coalitions planned changes to work choices. As Peter Hartcher reveals in ‘To the Bitter End’, the coalition began to see some clear sky after Labor fumbled its first IR policy launch, and the Coalition set about scaling back Work Choices, before looking to the budget to spend its way back into Australian hearts. Heffernan’s comments distracted & delayed that effort, and the budget was received with little applause. That all said, the Liberals will lose a serious and worthy voice if they kick out Bill. He’s genuinely interested in the well being of rural voters, and the only politician (that I know of) to talk out about the supermarket du-opoloy that hurts farmers and consumers. It would be a shame to lose him, but given age, reputation and Howard’s departure, he will struggle to keep his place on the ticket.

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