PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has acknowledged a 6.5 per cent swing against his Government in the Gippsland by-election is a "setback" fuelled by voter anger at rising petrol prices and interest rates.
But a disastrous result for Labor in key blue-collar mining and power industry voting areas suggest his controversial proposals to implement a carbon trading scheme could be also affecting him electorally.
Voters in the traditionally safe Labor areas in the coal mining and power station towns of Morwell, Churchill and Traralgon deserted Mr Rudd on the weekend. The industries in these towns will bear the brunt of a proposed carbon trading scheme that will jack up the price of energy and, on one estimate, cost three million jobs. "It’s dangerous for Labor and it’s the sort of pattern observable in 1996 when safe Labor electorates turned against them and Labor lost in a landslide," senior lecturer in politics at Monash University Dr Nick Economou said.
Labor could be in a lot of trouble in blue-collar seats in NSW, Queensland and Tasmania if the results in the La Trobe Valley were replicated, he said.
Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday confirmed carbon trading would add to the cost of living woes of voters who vented their anger in the weekend by-election after interest rates rose and petrol prices leapt by 30c a litre this year. But he said the Government could not shirk the hard decisions. Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson has taken heart from the huge swing against the Government in the by-election, just seven months after Mr Rudd took office.
"Mr Rudd has now got to face up to the fact that you can’t go around the country promising people all kinds of things and not actually delivering," he said.
"As we know, Mr Rudd is all backswing, no follow-through," he told Channel 10’s Meet The Press. The result has buoyed Dr Nelson, whose poor poll ratings have forced some of his colleagues to think about replacing him.
"I’m determined that I will lead the Opposition to the next federal election, I am very resilient," he said. The National Party’s candidate Darren Chester won the seat, which has been held by the Nationals for 86 years, with 62 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. The campaign focused heavily on local issues, petrol prices and rising interest rates, with the alcohol industry running advertisements against the Government’s new alcopop tax. Twenty-four per cent of voters did not cast a ballot.
Mr Rudd said he had heard the voters’ message "loud and clear", but vowed to keep making tough decisions.
"If you avoid those challenges, the problem gets worse," he said.
Source: The Daily Telegraph