The politics of disability

by | Oct 27, 2023 | Ability News, Government, NDIS

The critical issue today is what’s going to happen to the findings of the NDIS Review.

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It was originally scheduled for release this month. The rumour now is that it will be taken to Cabinet and actually presented to the public in, possibly, mid-November. Your guess is as good as any other, so pick a date. 

The big question is, of course, is how much appetite there will be to introduce change before the election. While Bill Shorten is understood to be very keen to reform the system, the prospect of an impending electoral campaign is likely to act like a wet blanket on any options for change. Crucial to this equation will be Labor’s own political chances. 

The party is probably already nearly half-way through this term and, as any politics watcher in Canberra knows, the closer a politician gets to election day the more adverse they become to engaging in reform. Change almost always hurts someone. So while Labor’s for real when it says it wants to implement the Review, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will. The future of the reforms depends on the future of the government and that depends, in turn, on the date of the next election. 

 

Albo holding his jacket as he talks to someone off the camera

Albanese desperately needs to remain well connected in the West. (photo credit: AAP / Lukas Coch)

So let’s begin by working out when this might be, because everything falls into place once we know the date of the next election. At the moment it looks as if Australia will next head to the polls on either the 5th or 12th of April, 2025. 

Those dates aren’t locked in, obviously. The PM can call a normal, half Senate/House of Representatives election anytime between August 3 next year or as late as May 17, 2025 – but he probably won’t. The reasoning is simple. 

Picking the date 

The first issue constricting Albanese’s flexibility in setting a date is the need for a redistribution. This will see WA gain a seat and Victoria and NSW each lose one. These electoral changes and the need to keep the Senate in sync with the Reps make an election before August, 2024 virtually impossible. 

Then there are other conflicts. The two territories must hold their elections in late 2024 (the Northern Territory on August 24th; the ACT on October 19th). Swings to the conservatives are almost inevitable but this won’t alter the national political equation. What’s far more important is the Queensland poll on the 26th October. After Anastacia Palaszczuk’s decade-long run this will probably install a conservative government, reinforcing the political dynamic for change. 

This leaves a gap open for a November election. Working against this are concerns that this might look as if the government was going to the polls ‘early’. Doing this risks alienating the electorate and Albanese is particularly risk averse: he didn’t make it to the top by throwing caution to the wind. Unless there’s a very good reason to rush he’s not likely to seize this fleeting opportunity to go to the polls some six months before he needs to. 

But then he becomes squeezed from the other end. Although he must go to the polls by May the political ‘rulebook’ insists you don’t hold elections in summer (because everyone’s at the beach and nobody wants to think about politics). This pushes possible election dates out into 2025. But in February campaigning will overlap with the WA election on the 8th of March. Without popular premier Mark McGowan Labor might hold there but analysts expect a big swing against Labor. 

This will force Albanese to go to the polls sometime in early April (because Easter is on the 18th and Anzac Day on the 25th). The question is, what will happen when he does?

The pull of the tide

The only reason Labor is in majority government now is because it polled brilliantly in the West at the last election. Electors who never voted for the party before suddenly decided to vote Labor for the first time. Ever. If they’re tired of Labor at the state level but, because the party holds a huge majority, the party is returned in Perth they might just feel like taking out their resentment federally. 

Last election the West swung 10 percent to Labor, delivering the party majority government and four extra seats. The problem now is holding on, and this is where what electoral strategists refer to as ‘the swing of the tide’ comes into play. 

In a two-party system there is a simple pull, first one way, then the other. Having surged to push Labor across the line last time votes will, almost inevitably, drift back the other way. This undertow, back to the norm, is often felt most severely after a sudden change. 

Many first-term MP’s do often hold on the second time they face voters (this is referred to as the ‘sophomore surge’ which comes because politicians work so hard for constituents in their first term). The problem for Labor is this factor won’t help the party in the eastern states, where the tide is also pulling back. 

Labor needs to make-up these potential federal losses. But where? 

Policy or Personality? 

The only reason to go early is when you think you’ll win. The problem for this government is that despite the huge bumper boost it got in the polls in the months after it won the election, since then enthusiasm has drifted away from Labor. Never dramatically, perhaps, but inexorably nonetheless. 

And just because the headlines are kind to the government at the moment and it isn’t perceived to be in trouble doesn’t mean things are going well for it. Quite the opposite. Take this letter sent to supporters by Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor this week: 

“In the last 15 months: 

  •   The cost of food is up 8.2% 
  •   The cost of housing is up 10.4%.
  •   The cost of insurance is up 17.3%.  
  •   The cost of electricity is up 18.2%. 
  •   The cost of gas is up 28.0%.

Australia’s inflation is now higher than most advanced economies. Higher inflation means more pressure on interest rates. A family with a $750,000 mortgage is paying $22,000 more per year on their repayments. Renters are experiencing the highest increases since 2009. Australians are now working more hours for less. Workers are also paying 15% more income tax. 

Although you can quibble with the detail, the complaint captures the mood in the electorate. Against this background, pushing ahead with legislated tax cuts for the wealthiest in the community doesn’t look like a good play to keep the base happy. 

No Australian government’s ever been booted out of office after only one term since World War Two, but there’s always a first time. Julia Gillard lost her majority on the floor of the House on her first election. Peter Dutton is carrying a great deal of political baggage and still looks like an unlikely Prime Minister. 

But he – or the coalition anyway – are beginning to firm up in the betting markets. 

It’s not the sort of mood a party wants as it begins preparing for an election. 

And certainly not the environment in which to introduce radical changes to a big-spending program like the NDIS.