Election diary 2010 — Week Five

Time to get down and dirty

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The screaming headline ‘Bloodbath’ in Brisbane’s Sunday Times notwithstanding, every day there’s not a negative news lead about Gillard or Labor, the election slips a little further from Abbott’s grasp.

There may be a poll in Queensland predicting a 5.7 per cent swing to the Coalition, but the poll on its own is more likely to galvanise traditional Labor voters to swing back to the party of habit rather than remember why they were in two minds about Gillard’s Labor.

It should also not be taken for granted that the swing towards the Coalition might be no more than a swing away from Labor based on media coverage of the leaders’ performance that occurred up to two weeks ago. In any case, as i said at the outset, every day Abbott does not have Gillard on the back foot is a day on which Gillard wins hearts and minds.

For Abbott, now is the time to seriously question Labor’s bona fides for having chosen a man so obviously devoid of integrity and substance as Rudd, and then to have replaced him with his faithful lieutenant, Gillard, who must have been intimately acquainted with Rudd’s shortcomings, and who has done nothing at all to distance herself from the Rudd legacy, in effect being his proxy as PM then as she is now. How quickly will they ditch Gillard if factional interests demand it? What kind of leadership stability and integrity can that possibly breed?

The substance to illustrate this story is there for the taking. It doesn’t have to be fabricated. The question is why Abbott’s election team hasn’t taken up the fight and run with it. Are they lost in the minutiae of an election campaign in which they have begun to believe their own bullshit and lost sight of the main game?
This is a well known phenomenon in the military, and aptly demonstrated by corporate trainers who show video footage in which the cabin crew of an airliner is so fixated on a blinking warning light that no one pays attention to an altimeter that tells them they are going to slam into the ground … and crash they do. The fixation on a side-issue has averted their attention, taken their eyes off the main game, long enough to kill them stone dead. This is not the time for the Coalition team to be diverted by side-issues in what is, after all, a choice between leaders rather than ideological or substantive policy differences.

From where I’m watching, Gillard has this election locked up unless Abbott can again bring to the foreground her credibility as a trustworthy leader of substance, qualities she’s struggled to demonstrate.

As an aside, I’ve been re-reading Kevin Rudd’s three essays published by The Monthly in 2006 and 2009, which is the closes to a manifesto as it gets for a leader. Nothing said in those essays has been repudiated by the post-Rudd Labor Party, and everything he said could be used as inflammatory ammunition by the Coalition. However, Abbott has himself been no stranger to editorial comment that could be used to challenge his sincerity and credibility.

For Gillard the game now should be on whatever pork she can roll out to tempt votes away from Abbott, and to hammer the Coalition on its internet policy, one of the few policy areas in which there is a difference between the parties, and which was botched by the Coalition from start to finish, with no clear vision being articulated where Australia should be headed, how it would get there, or what the rôle of the Commonwealth should be and why.

It was disappointing to watch Tony Smith choke up under questioning from an intellectual midget like Conroy. He should have either diverted the question (but he didn’t because he lacks experience) or answered in such detail that no one remembered the original question at the end of the answer (lack of experience again).
For Gillard this opens the door to hammer Abbott for having a weak and inexperienced front bench, and for lacking clear vision for the future. Abbott’s only comeback for that is to quarantine Smith until he actually knows what he’s talking about, or to absorb the necessary information himself so he can speak knowledgeably about it. That’s not going to happen overnight if neither of them already know the substance, missing only the detail.

It’s game time and there won’t be any prizes for lost opportunities now. Both Abbott and Gillard have to get down and dirty. There isn’t enough in the polls to allow either of them to flinch.

All other issues aside, this contest is going to be won or lost on the credibility of the leader, not individual policies or pork barrels.

The margin call:
Gillard by a handful of seats.

The last hurrah

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

My own silence these past three days reflects what appears to me to be a deafening silence in an election campaign that seems, at best, very remote, and, at worst, a contest by the proxy of television advertising and lackluster sound-bites.

It was evident from the beginning that there weren’t any real differences in principle or vision. It became evident that there would be no real difference in policy positions. It is becoming clear that there is no real difference in the relative hunger to govern. The winner will get there by default rather than through effort and exertion.

Inertia gives incumbents victory by default.

As I said at the outset, all else being even, Gillard was assured of victory by default because there is so little difference between the parties and their offerings. Inertia has proven to be the ‘ all else being even’.

If that sounds dreary, that’s because it is, not because I choose to slant it that way. If you doubt me, count on the fingers of one hand the differences between the two leaders that relate to evidenced substance, the differences in policies that aren’t just about shifting the same money around in slight variations on the same recipe for election pork, the credibility of either side that doesn’t rely on tired old claims we all know will be forgotten as soon as the election is over.
What’s left in it?

Gillard is right to attack Abbott on the badly mismanaged launch of the Coalition internet policy. She has every reason to persist in hammering a message of ineptitude and lack of vision. It’s just good politics to do so, regardless of the truth of it. In these closing days Gillard should be focusing on an inexperienced and accident-prone Coalition front-bench, citing Tony Smith’s woeful performance against even Conroy, the ALP’s embarrassing intellectual midget.

Debate is a last chance for Abbott

Abbott has only one more chance to shine. He must force Gillard into another debate, and he must deliver a sparkling performance. Not to do so in the hope of avoiding a backlash for a poor performance is a delusion. If he does nothing Gillard will win. He has nothing to lose, much as at the start of the campaign, because he has not been able to consolidate on any of the issues of trust and integrity that swung polls in his favour three weeks ago. And, from my perspective, he is the better public performer, with his animated and lively, engaging mien against Gillard’s almost somnolent and patronising school-marm style.

Abbott has to return to reminding people of the fickle nature of Labor leadership, prone to opinion polls and factional assassinations at the drop of a hat, and therefore being hostage to factional agenda that no one gets to vote for or against.

Right now I can’t see any silver linings in the clouds over Abbott’s head.

The margin call: Gillard with a workable majority.

Well I’ll be …

Saturday, 21 August 2010

It’s 22:50 in Brisbane and I’m sitting alone in a darkened house. No one else can be bothered to watch the almost certain hung parliament result solidify. I can’t blame them. We won’t know until next week exactly how the last few crucial seats have fallen.

Of all the combinations of outcomes, the hung parliament scenario was never one I seriously considered: the balance of power resting with people like Bob Katter! It’s a disgrace.

Right now it looks to me like the Coalition might make 74 seats (the ABC’s canny Antony Green says 73). If my instinct runs true, Abbott should be able to form a minority government with the support of independents Tony Windsor (seat of New England in NSW, former National Party member), Tony Oakeshott (seat of Lyne, former National Party member) and Bob Katter (seat of Kennedy in Queensland) [ugh!].

If Green is right, it will probably require some goodwill from the Greens member for Melbourne for Abbott to govern.

I don’t fancy Labor’s chances of forming a minority government at all. If that were to occur it would be a highly unstable affair that would not serve Australia well at all.

On that basis I hope Green and I are both wrong and the Coalition gains at least 75 seats, needing just one independent’s support to govern. The alternative to a minority government is a fresh election. A bloody disgrace for the nation, an indictment of the quality of leadership on both sides and a cheap sideshow distraction from far bigger problems facing the nation than who gets to polish ministerial leather.

Oddly enough, the unknown Greens factor might be a saving grace; if Adam Bandt, the first Greens MP in the House of Reps, takes his responsibility seriously, he will support a Coalition government to prevent another election being called. However, in different times he would have been a ‘Labor Lawyer’ and friend of the unions with obvious bias towards the ALP. I wonder whether he will consider the likelihood of losing his seat at another hastily-called election if he doesn’t come to the party on supporting a minority government.

What can I say. My gut instincts were wrong. Labor did get more of a caning than I imagined.

It’s 23:16. The ABC is calling it 70 ALP to 73 Coalition, but now predicting 71 to 74. I’m going to bed.

The last margin call:
Abbott with two independents for minority government.

Postscript

Against expectations, Three independents, formerly more likely to ally with right-of-centre causes, Tony Windsor (NSW), Rob Oakeshott (NSW), and Andrew Wilkie (TAS), decided to support the Labor Government under a deal including undisclosed conditions. With the support of these three independents, and the first Greens lower house member in history, Adam Bandt (VIC), Julia Gillard was able to form a government with only 72 ALP seats against the Coalition’s 72. Effectively she could call on 76 votes to 74 in the House of Representatives. That margin was extended in November when Speaker Harry Jenkins resigned and was replaced with Liberal MP Peter Slipper.

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