And this is how the 2013 election began:
Sky News, perhaps taking its lead from a tweet that went round from Urban Melbourne, showed a screenshot of the flight tracker of the PM’s flight (EVY5) as it went from Brisbane, took a bit of a flyover Sydney and then turned towards Canberra. I’m going to assume it was done ironically. In which case, brilliant.
And of course it had to be 7 September because it said so in the newspapers (if you ignore that some also said it was going to be 31st August.)
Kevin Rudd began his press conference announcing that “The time has come for the Australian people to decide our nation's future” and that it was all about being positive (positive was a big theme). He noted that “Ours is a truly great county and no one should ever talk this country down”, and that we need to avoid, “A tight little ball of negativity”
He then wheeled out the line now common among both the ALP and Liberal Party: the “who does the Australian people trust” line. He followed this up with some negativity about negativity saying that “wall to wall negativity doesn’t create a single job”, and that “three word slogans don’t save complex problems, they never have and they never will”.
It’s all nice and on message and a sight better than “Moving forward”.
He then addressed the issue of debt. That he needs to do this is the hangover of 5 years of the ALP being absolutely useless at explaining deficits and surplus, and also 5 years of thinking the Costello narrative of the economy is the frame through which they have to tell their story. It might be too late to change that story now, but at least Rudd is making a better fist of it this time round.
He also said that he would be deeply honoured to serve us, and there was talk of a new way.
“A new way” is an interesting slogan for a government, but it undoubtedly flows on from the view that Rudd is different to Gillard (and Swan). Still it’s a tough line to sell, especially when the other side is essentially arguing for the same thing.
He finished with some pretty targeted words about what Campbell Newnan did after the last Queensland election. Expect to hear more of this. If the ALP is going to win, it needs to win big in QLD, and the best way to do that is to get voters to think Tony Abbott is just the federal version of Campbell Newman. And hope that works.
Looking back three years, one thing that strikes me is that Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party have pretty much the same strategy of last time. Here’s what Tony Abbott said on the day the 2010 election was called:
There is a better way. We’ll stand up for real action.
A Coalition government will respect the taxpayers’ dollar. We know that households and businesses have had to tighten their belts. We’ll make government tighten its belt too.
A government which is borrowing $100 million every single day is taking away $100 million that would otherwise be available to small business and that’s hurting every family’s budget.
We will respect people’s judgment too. The government trusts parents enough to help them buy school uniforms but not enough to let them decide the classrooms or halls or canteens that their schools need. We’ll give local communities a real say over the schools and hospitals that they so rely.
Had he said that this afternoon would anyone have really noticed?
This time round though the big difference was that he was all about being “fair dinkum”. After some mention (of course) of the faceless men, he said that the choice was clear – “A choice between the positive plan of the coalition and more of the same under he Australian Labor Party and Mr Rudd [no way is he going to call him Prime Minister from now on]”.
It seems “positive” is doing well in both party’s focus groups.
He then turned to his theme:
Now Mr Rudd talked about ‘who do you trust’, well it’s really about ‘who is more fair dinkum’. Who can you rely on to build abetter future? ... Who do you think is more fair dinkum, the people who actually stopped the boats in the past, or the person who started them up again in 2008. The people who delivered the surpluses, or the man who started the spendathon which has got us into the fiscal position we’re now in..”
I would go on, but no one who is not sure which way they’ll vote will have seen any more. The network news showed only small grabs of both, and fair enough, neither deserved any more.
Abbott ended with his nice line that “I know we are a great country, there is almost nothing wrong with this country that can’t be solved with a change of government”.
For the most part it sounded like the same speech he would have given were Julia Gillard still Prime Minister, and as with most of what the Liberal Party has been saying of late, it would have been much more effective were that still the case.
But while the speech was much the same as last time, the other similarity with 2010 is the backflip yesterday on the Schools Funding. Tony Abbott on Friday he announced that he was guaranteeing the same funding for the next four years as is the ALP:
“Under the Coalition, you'll get the funding but you won't get the strings attached so what I want to say today is that as far as school funding is concerned, Kevin Rudd and I are on a unity ticket.”
It was a bizarre statement, because he and Chris Pyne had for so long been branding the policy as a “Conski” and actually providing less funding. What is all the more bizarre is that since announcing he is on a unity ticket with Rudd on education, he has continued to criticise the policy!
It’s not surprising that the Liberals have attempted to jump on the government's school funding bus. There wasn’t really much else Abbott could do, given he and his education spokesperson have spent the past three years getting all giggly about points of order in Question Time and not giving one stuff about actually developing a policy other than “the current system isn’t broken”. I guess in all the time they were calling for an election they lost track of time.
But it was much the same as three years ago when Abbott also declared himself a unity ticket, this time on IR policy, stating that, “An incoming Coalition government will not seek to change the Fair Work Act for the three years of the next term of parliament”. Again it was an odd decision given he had spent the pervious couple of years criticising the Fair Work Act.
Nothing like bold policy I guess.
Kevin Rudd of course has done his own version of “me too”, only rather more subtly. Rudd hasn’t ever suggested he is at one with Abbott on asylum seekers – in fact he has gone to lengths to suggest his policy is markedly different, but he has adopted the same tone of rhetoric. His policy is about stopping the boats without having to say stop the boats. On carbon pricing, Rudd has moved to end the carbon tax (or fixed price if you want to get technical, but I guess we’re about 4 years past that), but again he hasn’t suggested that his and the Liberal Party’s policy is the same – just that one of the impacts of it will be – ie no more carbon tax.
All this can leave one suspecting that there will be no policy debate in this election – that it will be just about funding black holes and “the economy”. But a cursory look under the hood of any statements shows much more is going on than a case of both sides being on the same ticket.
Abbott on education is at pains to suggest his and the ALP’s funding of education is exactly the same, whereas in reality it is not at all. The big issue with the school’s funding package is not in the next 4 years, but the two years after that (and after that…). Abbott’s suggestion that he is on a unity ticket with the ALP on school’s funding and only committing to the next 4 years is like a teenage promising his mum he won’t drink beer at the party he’s going to and instead getting plastered on Bundy.
If you want to talk certainty for education funding as Abbott now seems to be all concerned about, 4 years is not much.
Not surprisingly today Victoria signed on to the Government's plan. This was always likely, and even more so once Abbott announced he was on the unity ticket. No doubt he had been given the word from the Victorian Libs, and clearly going to the election opposing education funding both NSW and Victoria have signed up for would’ve been stupid. It would’ve essentially meant Abbott was saying he would be able to convince those states to accept less funding should he win the election.
Not gonna happen.
On other policy areas differences do remain. No one has any idea what the Liberal Party’s health policy other than local boards which is what they were about last time, and which they haven’t explained just how that will be better than “Local Health Networks”. The Libs are also pretty fudgy on what they’ll do with Medicare Locals. Mostly this is because the opposition health spokesperson is the only person on the Opposition front bench who could make Pyne look like a policy heavyweight. I wouldn’t be surprised in Dutton is mostly out of the national media sight this campaign. He is a dreadful advocate for his side, and also he’ll be fairly busy defending his own seat, which now that Rudd is back is very much in play. So their Health policy is currently a bit of a “what we said last time” and a “wait we’ve got something really cool up our sleeve”, so at some stage they’ll come up with something. The best policy though would be to replace Dutton.
Differences remain on the NBN, but that race has largely been run and lost by the LNP. I can’t see it being a big ticket other than if there are some switches to flick in certain places over the next 5 weeks to signal the NBN going live. The current Communications Minister, Albanese will be more concerned about transport and other infrastructure, while Malcolm Turnbull will be more interested in getting ready to be Opposition leader, or trying to work out just how will he cope having to work with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.
On asylum seeker policy there are differences. But the interesting aspect is that given the moves by Rudd to go all the way with PNG, the ALP seems pretty happy to talk about the topic. Indeed given yesterday Rudd signed another deal with Nauru, they’re not just happy, they’re eager to talk about it. You only need to look at the way the Liberal Party has suddenly felt the need to update its policy from suggesting all that was required was to go back to the way Howard did it to suddenly needing a 3 Star General involved somehow, to see that this has caught the Libs on the hop. I suspect they were expecting Rudd to keep to his “not lurch to the right” call of 2010. They still haven’t recalibrated.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the election becomes almost like 6 state elections. A campaign that focuses on issues like the East-West Link in Melbourne, Sydney’s West-Connex, the Pacific Highway in NSW, the Bruce Highway in QLD, rail projects in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Lots of very targeted policies and programs for targeted areas, but not much of the big nation-wide stuff.
On that score all that will be really is talk about the economy – debt, deficit, surplus, employment, interest rates.
With this there’s a couple things to keep in mind. Firstly on Tuesday the RBA will very likely (about 90% likely) lower interest rates. There will also be an RBA meeting in the last week of the campaign. Now the reason they will lower rates is because the economy is slowing, but still, low interest rates is never a hard tale for a government to tell.
On Thursday however he next unemployment rate data come out. The government will be praying it is steady. But even if it is badish, the news gets out of the way in the first week, the next unemployment figures will come out the week after the election.
The other big one is on the Wednesday of the last week of the campaign when the June Quarter national accounts will be released. The GDP figures for June could be pretty poor – not so poor that it will be backwards, but it could prove a nasty final hurdle for the ALP to jump.
So they start pretty much 50:50, maybe the LNP up 51:49. It can go either way, and more than any election in times past national polling won’t matter anywhere near as much as state polling.
As usual watch to see where the leader campaigns.
The hardest thing for me in seeing an ALP win, is trying to find enough seats. Starting down the two from Windsor and Oakeshott, and probably Craig Thomson’s seat, means it’s a big ask. Either way I think it’s a big ask to see either side getting more than 80 seats. Importantly I don’t see the LNP getting control of the Senate – though that is tougher to predict, and they might not need if Xenophon has balance of power. It will be interesting though to see how hard Abbott goes on his “call a double dissolution” vow should the Greens and ALP block the changes to he carbon price.
Last time I pretty religiously did an election diary. I’ve got a few things on this time which might make it tricky – not the least is that I’m also writing three articles a week which always seem to take longer to write than I think they will. So I’ll see how I go doing it this time.
I’ll mostly keep away from the “who won the day” because really, who cares.
Anyhoo, enjoy the next 5 weeks.