28 March, 2012

It’s not time

Following Labor’s devastating loss in the Queensland election, it was probably inevitable that some people would eventually blame the “It’s time” factor.  After all, Labor had been in government in Queensland for nearly fourteen years and it was just time for a change.

What utter rubbish.

The ALP’s “It’s time” campaign of 1972 is probably the most memorable in Australian history, if only for the jingle.  Then, on the night of the 1996 election, Kim Beazley attributed part of Labor’s loss to the “It’s time” factor and in doing so, took the name of one of Labor’s greatest triumphs and used it as a sad excuse for a humiliating loss. 

Today, “It’s time,” is used as a kind of no-fault divorce.  It’s not that Queensland Labor did anything wrong as such, it’s just that Queenslanders aren’t that into them any more and wanted to see other people.

I’ve always held that most elections are lost, not won.  That is, the result is usually a rejection of the loser rather than an endorsement of the winner.  Having said that, it is an open question to what extent the Queensland result is a ringing endorsement of the LNP or a resounding rejection of the ALP.  It has to be one or the other though.  Nobody in their right mind (and I know that’s a pretty big caveat when talking about politics on any level) votes against a government they are satisfied with just because they’re bored.

If you believe in the “It’s time” factor, then you have to believe that “It’s time” in 1972 simply meant, “It’s time we had a go.”  You also have to believe that in 2007, nobody had any problem with WorkChoices or the Howard government; they just wanted someone else to look at.  You have to believe that there wasn’t actually anything wrong with the New South Wales Labor government in 2011, it’s just that after sixteen years, people were curious about what a Liberal government might be like.

This is not to say that longevity in government does not have its pitfalls.  Most governments have enacted their agenda by the end of the second term and after that, it’s just a case of navigating the odd crisis and making sure the other mob don’t get in to wreck it all.  Ministers get used to having departments, new MPs think that government is the natural state of their career and they all begin to start believing their own bullshit.  That’s not the “It’s time” factor though.  That’s the “We’ve become complacent and out of touch” factor.  It’s also fair to say that familiarity breeds contempt, especially in politics.  That’s why smart governments have succession plans.

The brilliant John Birmingham came up with the best explanation of why longevity in government can come to be a liability when he wrote:
If you govern for long enough, you will eventually make enough mistakes and tell enough lies that you'll be run out of office. Even if it takes 20 years.
- Great expectations ... but of what?

All governments make mistakes, break promises and tell lies.  Count them from the time they take office and they’re going to keep building up.  Count them across any random ten year period, and they’ll probably be the same no matter who is in office.

I’m not across all the issues that led to Labor’s annihilation in Queensland, but here’s what I don’t think happened.  I’m pretty sure the people of Queensland did not, en masse, think to themselves, “I’m tired of fair representation, sound policy and good leadership.  Let’s vote in some idiots and see if that’s more interesting.”


  1. Based on what you think people in Queensland did not think to themselves, you have never seriously looked into government in the "banana republic" that is the US State, Louisiana. That is exactly how people here think when going to the polls, "I don't want fair representation, sound policy, and good leadership. I want to vote for the idiots that will be the most entertaining while they are in office."

    1. I have heard the saying that Louisianans don't want to be governed, they want to be entertained, and based on Queensland's political history, you may have a point.

  2. From what I can gather many people tend to make revenge votes. They're pissed off with something one party did or didn't do and so vote for the other mob just to get back at them. I'm betting the next federal election will see LNP win by a landslide, not because voters necessarily give a stuff about policies, (most people don't, they just go along with media hype), but because of all the bad publicity Labor has been getting. Look at what happened in the NSW State election. They kicked out Keneally, gave the job to O'Farrell and now everyone's whining about him. I think voters should be careful not to shoot themselves in the foot when they vote. No government is perfect and I think we need to ask ourselves 3 questions when we're going to vote....are we voting against a party to get back at them, are the policies that are getting negative media really going to negatively affect us personally and do we genuinely think the party we're voting for will do the better job?
    Just a thought!! :)

    1. Many elections ago, it may even have been as far back as the 1992 Victorian election, HG Nelson described it as the choice between proven failure and potential disaster. That's often the choice we face.

      I agree with you. You can't get rid of one government without endorsing another by default. Some governments really need to be removed and the incoming government usually slips in offering nothing other than not being the mob being slung out.

      In the end, you have to choose who you think will do the least damage, and sometimes it's the incompetents who are less dangerous than clever ones.

      I do have to question whether the NSW and Qld elections would have been forgone conclusions had we not been told for over a year that they were foregone conclusions.