In little more than a day we will be free of the election ads on television, and in just five we can all go to the polling booths and make our individual decisions that will, I expect, produce the first Coalition government since 2007. It has been a strange eight months, with a constant election campaign that was ‘unofficial’ but ever-present.
It produced another Labor leadership challenge, which saw Kevin Rudd reinstated as Leader and Prime Minister, and the displaced Julia Gillard, who had been on television every night, if memory serves, disappeared from the scene in a day or two, and has not been seen since. She did not join Bob Hawke and Paul Keating at the Labor ‘launch’ — six days before voting begins! — apparently thinking that her presence might be a distraction.
Kevin Rudd embarked on a busy and fundamental change in Labor’s policies and positions, travelled everywhere, and began to issue new promises that caught some of his Ministers by surprise. In the beginning the Labor share of the vote in opinion polls took a great leap upwards, but within a couple of days it began to drift back down.
Where is it now? Well, there are so many polls that one can’t be sure, if only because some are private, some are local, some are regional and none, I tend to believe, use the same methodology. But one of the ‘leading’ polls puts Labor’s share of the primary vote at 33 per cent, just up four per cent from its lowest point (29 per cent ) just before Julia Gillard was dumped. Is that all the leadership change has produced? It was supposed to be, at least on some commentators’ views, the sign of a remarkable comeback that would see Labor win a third term.
And that prospect had to be what caused so many of the Rudd-doubters and the Rudd-haters to support his return to the leadership. It seems that Mr Rudd can’t quite believe what has happened. The polls must have got it wrong, and the media have missed the point — don’t they realise just how bad an Abbott Government will be, for everyone? Apparently not. And nor does the electorate, on the face of it.
Mr Abbott is now ahead of the Prime Minister in the ‘preferred prime minister’ stakes, the first time that has been the case. And dissatisfaction with the way Mr Rudd is doing his job is way up. When he returned to the top job Mr Rudd’s ‘satisfaction’ rating was 53 per cent to Mr Abbott’s 31 per cent. When the latest poll was taken, Mr Abbott had moved up to 43 per cent, and Mr Rudd to down to 41 per cent.
Nothing much else has happened, so it is reasonable to suppose that Mr Rudd’s aggressive, barnstorming strategy has simply failed — or, if you like, it has been counter-productive. The more visible he is, the worse his standing.
One other movement is worth noting: the Greens have steadied at around ten per cent, and ‘Others’ have jumped four per cent to total 11 per cent. My reading of this shift is that finally, at last, we have seen some campaigning by the ‘Others’, and their candidates have begun to swim into the consciousness of the electorate. I have no real idea how successful any of them is likely to be, but I think it is plain that some former Labor supporters are looking for somewhere else to go.
And that makes the distribution of preferences very important. With Labor on 33 per cent and the Coalition on 46 per cent, that leaves 21 per cent of intending voters preferring some other candidate or group. It is supremely unlikely that Labor could secure the 16 or 17 per cent that would be needed to win power. If you assume that the ALP would get about 80 per cent of the Greens’ vote, and divide the others up about 6 per cent to the Coalition and five per cent to the ALP, you get the 54:46 two-party-preferred outcome that the polls report.
What does that mean in terms of seats? The Coalition only needs to win six in order to have a majority, and that won’t be at all hard. The consensus seems to be that the new Parliament will have something like 93 Coalition MPs and 55 in the Labor Opposition. The Coalition might get to nearly 100 MPs if some more of the marginals go.
The Senate is going to be almost impossible to predict because of the large number of splinter parties and the deals they have been trying to arrange with each other. It is even possible that the Coalition could lose seats in the Senate. It seems most likely to me that however large the Abbott Government’s majority in the House, it will still have to negotiate its legislation through the Senate. But that has been the case for all Government for nearly thirty years. Only John Howard’s final Government actually had a majority in the Senate, and it didn’t do him any good!
And if all this happens, what of Mr Rudd? He will want to hang on to the leadership, if only because he sees it as his natural place. He will want to tell them all that it is only a question of time before the Abbott Government implodes and they will be back in office. I hope somebody tells him on the night that it is isn’t going to happen. Labor needs a lot of rethinking, and some real rebuilding. He isn’t the one to do it. Kevin Rudd is part of the problem, not the solution.