A little while ago I wrote a post on the absence of the policy speech/campaign launch from the current election battle. Well, suddenly we have had both the Coalition’s campaign launch and Mr Abbott’s policy speech, and those of Mr Palmer’s United Party. Mr Rudd will launch his campaign in a week, just a few days before voting day. What will be left for the Prime Minister to say? Mr Abbott had only three relatively minor promises to make — the rest of his basket is all out for inspection, save perhaps for the report of the Three Wise Men on the real cost of the Coalition’s policies.
There are lots of opinion polls, and they all point to a Coalition victory, but they disagree on the size of that outcome. Given that there are only twelve days to go, the real question is whether or not the fading Labor share of the polls can be arrested. My guess is that the fade will continue, unless the Coalition makes some almighty gaffe, or that there is an external crisis, like military intervention in Syria, which would probably cause a return to support for the current Government.
When the election was officially called, in two-party-preferred terms the Coalition led Labor 52:48, and that poll now gives the margin as 53:47. It is quite possible that the election-day outcome will be 54:46. The final 18 days of the campaign will be a repetition of the scares that each side has painted of the other. What I can pick up from people, most recently in Brisbane, is a profound boredom with the campaign, and a wish that it was over. There’s nothing new to say, and nothing new to hope for. My guess is that most voters made their minds up some time ago.
About 70 per cent of those interviewed expect the Coalition to win, and that suggests to me a comfortable Coalition victory. What about the betting people? They offer various odds, but in every case the Coalition is the short-priced favourite. Apparently someone has tried to place a large (mythical) bet on the Coalition, but in each case the betting agency stalled or showed great reluctance to accept a large bet. If that is the case, then one wonders where the odds come from.
As I expected, the fact that the election forces on us a choice between one major party and its rival has evened out what looked like a Labor disaster when Ms Gillard was PM. That would have occurred even had she remained as PM, so it is really quite difficult to assess what effect the change in Labor leadership has had. What Mr Rudd has done is to make the Government’s position on a number of major issues very similar to that of the Opposition, and by extension, to show that the real issue is a choice between him and Mr Abbott.
That strategy has two weaknesses. First, it deeply angers those, probably the better-off, better-educated and more ideological Labor supporters who did and still do care about ‘climate change’ and asylum-seekers. They have nowhere to go, really, but they are unlikely to help financially or with their presence and energy. Mr Rudd’s statement yesterday that Labor had no mandate to introduce a carbon tax, while true (and a slap at Ms Gillard) won’t endear him to that constituency, which believes that all right-thinking people will agree that the carbon tax was necessary, whatever Ms Gillard said.
Second, Mr Abbott’s status has improved, not declined. He seems to be the more ‘trusted’ leader, and is close to Mr Rudd as ‘preferred Prime Minister’. In short, the strategy just didn’t work. I expect that we will hear more and more about the likely cuts if the Coalition is elected, and that tactic also has weaknesses. As we all know, the Gillard and Rudd governments have been cutting programs and positions themselves, doing some of Mr Abbott’s work for him. And my guess (again) is that the electorate simply accepts that we are overspent, and that some trimming back has to happen. Yes, those who might find themselves part of the needed savings will be apprehensive, but I can see no likely concerted action to protect them, whoever they are.
In sum, the Australian electorate has had its longest election campaign since Federation. It is over-informed, over-deluged and over-badgered. It is pretty sick of it all. I don’t think any leader will announced an early election ever again, at least while any politician alive can remember this one. One poll suggests that if Labor’s share worsens Mr Rudd himself might go down the gurgler.
I can think of two recent prime ministers who would see that as a delicious outcome.