In which our intrepid hero reschedules his blog workload, and speculates on election dates.

My humblest apologies to you, Dear Reader: I’m going to have to shuffle Opinion Month back by a few weeks. August is going to be far busier than I anticipated:

  • Mim K/W begins a new job soon;
  • We’ll be flying to the Gold Coast for a weekend to visit my relatives (imagine a cross between visiting the hyena enclosure at the zoo and visiting a small, fortified village from the late 15th Century);
  • I need to organise my annual birthday drinks at The Porterhouse (although it’s usually just a matter of emailing a bunch of people, then rocking up on the day, hoping that the place will be open);
  • I need a to get a haircut before my long-time friend and hairdresser, Cheryl, goes off on maternity leave;
  • I’d like to make a concerted effort to put something together for Chaosium’s Halloween Adventure Contest; and
  • Potterthon looks like it’s going to be on not this weekend, but the one after.

“Potterthon?” I hear you ask.

Mim K/W and I haven’t seen the fourth movie yet, so we picked it up on DVD and plan to watch it before we catch the latest installment—but we want to watch the first three beforehand. We’ve invited our friends Leo and Connie over to join us to see the first four movies back-to-back, and the day will look something like this:

06:40-06:58—Leo and Connie arrive and we all settle in.

06:58-09:25—Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

09:25-09:40—Break for breakfast, to stretch our legs, destroy lungs, etc.

09:40-12:15—Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

12:15-12:45—Break for lunch.

12:45-15:00—Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

15:00-15:15—Another quick break, this time to ensure that we don’t end up with bedsores from sitting through five Harry Potter movies.

15:15-17:45—Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

17:45-20:00—Get our crap together, drive to the city, park, get tickets and find somewhere to have dinner.

20:00 onwards—Watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the awesome tri-dimensionality of IMAX (well, the last 20 minutes, anyway—the first 118 minutes or so will be in the not-quite-so-awesome duo-dimensionality of regular cinema), then home to bed.

It’s going to be one hell of a day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend the following few nights dreaming of bizarre Potter bisociations. By the end of it, I’ll probably end up with enough to material to write Fear and Potter in Las Vegas, should the mood so take me…

Now that the seventh book is finally out, in a year’s time, I might start trawling bookshops for seven-book boxed sets. There’s sure to be some overstock by that stage, and I can finally get around to reading them, and all in one hit at that.

Dragging myself back on-topic, I figure that even in the extremely unlikely event that John Howard calls a federal election today, I’ll probably still have at least four-and-a-half weeks leadtime to do Opinion Month before polling day hits.

Kevin Rudd seems to think that Howard will call the election in about six weeks—and it appears that the Prime Minister has already started porkbarrelling—but he still needs to bury the Haneef debacle before he goes to the polls.

One of the wonderful features—I use the term ironically—of the Australian federal electoral system is that whilst elections must occur within a certain timeframe, the actual polling date isn’t set, and the length of the official campaign an last anywhere from 33 to 68 days.

In effect, this means that the Prime Minister can call an election when he can derive most advantage from it. Say what you will about his virtues as a person or as a Prime Minister, he’s undoubtedly one of the most capable and shrewd politicians in Australia’s history, and he only rarely forgoes the opportunity to press whatever advantage he can from a given situation.

The first theoretical date for polling day is this coming Saturday, but of course, there’s that 33-day leadtime to contend with. The last possible election date is January 19 next year; then again, we’ve never had a January election, as people are (probably rightly) assumed to resent having political campaigns blanket them during Yuletide.

Pundits such as Gerard Henderson and Paul Bongiorno have tipped a mid-October election, possibly on October 13 (or, more likely, October 20); they suggest that Howard will call the election shortly after APEC.

I’m inclined to agree with them, as Howard will probably want to get this over and done with as quickly as possible.

Haneef and WorkChoices continue to hang about his neck like twin rotting albatrosses. For the first time in years, Labor has a credible frontman, and the Unions are champing at the bit to launch a major media campaign against Howard’s changes to the country’s industrial relations system.

At 68, rumours that he might finally pass the helm to now-Treasurer Peter Costello after the election aren’t exactly getting any scarcer. Although he’s seen as a capable Treasurer, Costello isn’t that popular with the electorate, so any speculation as to Howard’s retirement tends to reflect badly on the Liberals in Parliament.

(By the time Costello gets his hands on it, though, the leadership could well be a poisoned chalice. His brother Tim (CEO of World Vision Australia) likens the prime-ministership to the One Ring. Maybe Peter Costello should just give up and spend the rest of his life doing something useful.)

It wouldn’t surprise me greatly if Howard actually called the election for October 13, though. This won’t be an election that he can fight by attrition, but if he marshalls his resources quickly enough, then he can push the election through before Rudd can air all of his policies.

Howard has traditionally been strong on national security and economic issues; if he can weather the WorkChoices storm brewing on the horizon, then he can make full use of his economic credentials once more.

Education and health—mostly state (rather than federal) issues—have traditionally been Labor’s strong points, along with welfare, the environment and workers’ rights.

Howard’s gotten in early with health, and the welfare lobby has been relatively content of late. He put $AUD10 billion into water conservation in the last Budget, and if he pushes that hard enough, then he can suck some of the wind from Labor’s (and the Greens’) sails.

But the Liberals have only really pushed their contributions to the private education sector—not to Government schools (which are mostly state-funded)—and this upsets the working-class “Howard battlers” who got him elected in the first place, a group already unsettled by WorkChoices.

Things aren’t looking to good for Howard, not at all, but if anyone can snatch a last-minute victory for the Liberals, it’s Little Johnny.

Personally, I think I’ll sit this one out. From memory, I’ve only missed one local government election since October 1996, and I’ve worked on every New South Wales state election, one each in Queensland and South Australia, and every federal election since then—as well as a number of by-elections.

I love electioneering, but this is going to be a very hard slog, and I could do without the stress at the moment. I’m not as young as I used to be, and I want to catch up on a life that I’d put on hold for over a decade to explore the workings of Australian politics. Unless one of my close friends decides to run, I should probably take it easy.