MacCallum dances around the key issue
Poll Dancing: The Story of the 2007 Election
By Mungo MacCallum
Black Inc, 2007
Years ago, I enjoyed reading Mungo MacCallum's newspaper commentaries on parliamentary sittings. He cut to the chase of the shenanigans, using a no-nonsense style and an acid wit.
In his book Poll Dancing: The Story of the 2007 Election, he has brought the same skills to bear on the 2007 federal election. This puts the reader in a can't-put-down situation
But still the result is less satisfying. One reason for this is editorial. For example, at least a couple of small anecdotes are repeated. That's something you could probably get away with in articles that would have been published weeks or months apart, but not within a few hours of book reading.
One factual error also struck this reader: the claim that "the days of pattern bargaining … had gone out with Paul Keating". (Workers in construction, parts of manufacturing and the universities, for example, pursued attempts at pattern bargaining until at least the Howard government's introduction of Work Choices).
MacCallum takes about one-third of his book to rise to a substantial discussion. Before then we are treated to several choice epithets, certainly, but these are not thoroughly explained, so that the significance they might have is hard to fathom.
This is a pity, since MacCallum's analysis, once it is offered, has a few eye-openers. Among the best is his discussion of the Howard government's intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities: "a virtual invasion, an all-guns-blazing attack on a list of settlements chosen apparently more for their location — close to townships from which the invaders could access infrastructure and material — than for their actual problems".
Overall, however, the analysis is weak. This problem hinges on the relative weight MacCallum grants the issues of industrial relations and interest rates.
MacCallum may be right that the opposition to Work Choices among workers was not sufficient alone to cause voters to cast out Howard. What particularly influenced people's vote on November 24 can't, feasibly, be proven.
The book spends many more pages asserting the political significance of interest rate rises and what Howard had said about these, though. This is really speculation. No public activity I know of demonstrated what people were willing to do about this.
Work Choices was opposed by a campaign in which hundreds of thousands of people were involved, even if direct mass popular participation was substantially wound back during 2007. In Cairns, in the electorate of Leichhardt, where one of the largest swings in the country was recorded, the impact of the Your Rights at Work campaign was in your face.
MacCallum is perhaps too familiar with politics inside the gilded circle of parliament and the bureaucracy. I am left wondering if he does not understand a campaign that is not fundamentally an election campaign at all, but one at least potentially in the interests of the great mass of the population.