Oh dear, this campaign is a messy one isn’t it? Even a political junkie such as myself is finding it hard not to cringe at some of the ducking, weaving and swinging that’s gone on over the last week. Australia seems to have become a small place indeed – one minute John Howard and Kevin Rudd are in Queensland, then they’re on the TV an hour later in Western Australia, Tasmania or Canberra. I kept my eyes and ears shut all of yesterday just to escape the madness. I then decided I’d watch ABC News at 7pm with the faint hope that Howard may have finally called the election. But, as ever, this man is driven by polls and with word out early yesterday that the latest AC Nielson Poll still had Labor in front 56-44 on a two-party preferred basis, I exhaled and drearily thought “at least another week” as the top story was about the Wallabies losing. “Losing what?” I asked myself. The newsreader then told me “The World Cup”. “Oh”, I thought, and in my best West Wing Toby voice, I said out loud “I don’t care.”… I could almost hear the rest of the country sighing with me. Honesty. We’re over it – get on with it and call the election! Stop waiting for the polls to move!
With the pulp mill in Tasmania now given the go ahead, the Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull seems to be in real trouble in his seat of Wentworth. The government were really damned if they do and damned if they don’t on this one. With the Liberal candidate quitting on the weekend over the approval of the mill showing the touchy nature of the issue, the actual seat of Lyons will probably be retained by the sitting Labor member anyway. Indeed, the proposed mill itself is actually in the seat of Bass, which is where the real election contest in Tasmania will be fought.
As for the election date… Well, I’m still saying a 50/50 chance between the 17th and 24th of November. No date is looking good for Howard at the moment – particuarly with the chance of an interest rate rise in early November now looking increasingly likely.
Kevin Rudd is adept at this campaigning thing. I think Howard has accepted this finally and has decided that he will have to fight this election on actual policies. This is a nightmare come true for Howard. Why? Because he has never actually had any visionary policies for Australia in his 11 and half long years as PM, only ideology. It’s interesting that Howard has now decided that climate change exists when up until early this year he was stating that the link between human activity and climate change had not been established. Bang, six months later, Howard is talking about “aspirational targets” and the like, moving beyond his interim 3 month self-tagged “climate change realist” position. So, you can see (I’m stating the bleeding obvious here) that everything Howard does is driven by polling and not the future of this country. Climate Change is polling very strongly as an important issue at the moment, so we see a raft of on-the-run policy coming from the government in relation to it.
The wedge has also featured prominently this year from Howard, but it hasn’t worked as well as it has in the past. This is because Rudd has not only been keenly aware of it, but has anticpated it at every turn, until late last week. Whereas Rudd neutralised Howard’s attempted wedge on the federal intervention into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, Rudd wasn’t expecting Kevin Andrews assertion last week that Sudanese refugees are having trouble assimilating into Australian society and that Australia is going to cut it’s quota for African refugees from 70% to 30% next year. Ah, the race card… When all else fails, racism might succeed. Andrews implied that Sudanese refugees aren’t fitting in well in Australia and made the extraoridinary claim that Australia accepting refugees was “simply on the basis of whether or not people can settle in Australia.” Um, not it’s not – and the United Nations may have something more to say about that Mr. Andrews. So, why did Andrews and government bring this point up? Because they’re losing battles on all other fronts against Kevin Rudd at the moment. Karen Middleton put it perfectly (as she so often does) in The Canberra Times on Saturday:
“The Government knows there’s an undercurrent of animosity towards Sudanese migrants in certain corners of Australia and it’s tapping the vein… And why would he want to do that at this particular time? Because some Coalition MPs have been feeding back to the Government that their constituents are uneasy about Sudanese migrants in their electorates and are complaining about gangs of youths causing trouble. It’s not clear whether the youths are actually involved in crime, or just look scary to white constituents because they’re tall and black. The MPs say it’s a legitimate area of grievance and the Government is obliged to respond. Victoria Police Commissioner Christine Nixon says the statistics in her state show Sudanese are not involved in crime any more than any other group, but the perception in some quarters is quite different. And Andrews’ comments are reinforcing the sentiment. Starting a public debate about Sudanese migrants also puts pressure on Labor to take a position either with the Government, alienating its left flank, or against it, alienating those on the right. It’s a classic wedge… … … So, welcome to the Coalition’s defensive strategy – seat by seat, region by region, inflammatory issue by political powder-keg. What ever was it that Labor hard man Graham Richardson used to say? Whatever it takes.”
Whatever it takes, indeed. We didn’t hear much from Rudd on this one. He seems to have adopted the tactic of bait and switch on the few occasions that the government has caught him out with the wedge. He’ll keep plugging away with his policies I guess and Howard will keep plugging away with his. Once the election is called though, Howard knows it’s going to get even more tough, because I suspect (and I really hope) that Rudd will get back on THE issue – the one issue that started turning the polls against the government and the one and only issue that is going to roll the government – WORKCHOICES! If Rudd switches the focus onto this (and I suspect that’s what he’s going to do) then it will force Howard to play a defensive game on Rudd’s turf, and just like he has all year, Howard will find that turf slippery and laden with pitfalls.