Barrie’s Tricky Statistics

Among the journalist class, Insiders Barrie Cassidy appears the most personally interested in the Labor leadership squabbles. Since Rudd’s demise back in 2010 Cassidy has crusaded against Kevin Rudd with a fervour that dwarfs even Stephen Conroy’s. In fact it’s harder to tell who would be more opposed to a Rudd comeback, Cassidy or Andrew Bolt. The tensions between Rudd and Cassidy are longstanding, as Prime Minister Rudd only once appeared on Cassidy’s Insiders program whilst in 2006 Cassidy briefed colleagues that they would need to “declare a war on Rudd”, whatever that means. Today, in response to Linday Tanner’s scintillating criticism of Rudd’s opponents, Cassidy has penned another article defending Rudd’s removal, this time by making the rather novel argument that in fact being voted in to office is an unconventional way to become Prime Minister.

The nucleus of Cassidy’s argument is that of the eleven Australian Prime Minister’s since 1966, only four of them successfully contested an election as Leader of the Opposition. Cassidy deserves credit for coming up with such a creative way to present statistics.  Barrie cheekily counts Malcolm Fraser in his seven non-elected Prime Ministers because Fraser was technically serving as caretaker Prime Minister for a month before he won the 1975 election by the greatest margin in political history. The fact that he had been an opposition leader, miles ahead in the polls who passed only two pieces of legislation as caretaker Prime Minister didn’t seem to matter to Cassidy.

In his eleven Prime Ministers Cassidy also includes John McEwen who  of course served as Prime Minister for a whole twenty three days whilst the Liberal Party sorted out its internal leadership problems. In fact if you remove Fraser from the list, Cassidy’s unelected Prime Minister’s served a total of 12 years between them and won the popular vote at an election just twice, once in 1993 and once in 1966. By contrast the five Prime Minister’s who were elected from opposition, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Howard and Rudd, served 32 years between them. So whilst Cassidy is correct that most of our Prime Minister’s have not come to office by winning an election from opposition, that is not the same as saying Australia traditionally does not have an elected Prime Minister, for the overwhelmingly majority of the time we have just that.

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