Richard Angell is the deputy director of Progress and on secondment to NSW Labor Party in Australia
Lyndon Crosby looms large over British politics at the moment but David Cameron’s experience seems to have had some effect on Australian Liberal Leader Tony Abbott. He fears falling short of a Parliamentary majority when all the Murdoch press are behind him.
The change of leader to Kevin Rudd means Abbott has little to no chance of winning control of the senate and that the lower house election, which Abbott thought was sown up back in February, is still not a done deal.
In Tony Abbott’s opinion the biggest injustice of the last three years was that he was denied government in 2010 and that Julia Gilard was able to cobble together a coalition. This means there is no limit to what he will do to win the election. This has three elements: hug close to the bits of Labor’s record the public like, tack hard right on immigration in general and ‘boat people’ in particular, and provide reassurance that the cuts they have promised won’t affect anyone at all (didn’t David Cameron promise no cuts to frontline services before the last election?).
Paradoxically he talks down every day of the last three to six years of Labor government while embracing its most significant achievements. They might have been forced kicking and screaming by the voters (through opinion polls and its state Premiers), but the Liberals now support 100 per cent of Labor’s DisabilityCare Australia, 80 per cent of its Better Schools programme and 60 per cent of its National Broadband Network. As Tony Abbott jumps at every opportunity to close down issues that might force him off track it looks like nation building social democracy is the winner either way of this coming election. The devil is always in the detail and is not to be downplayed but this is a big coup for Julia Gillard who just months ago faced the prospect of the Liberals undoing her every reform with a thumping majority in both the upper and lower house.
Secondly, to show a point of continual difference there is no limit to where Abbott will go on immigration and ‘boat people’. His signature policy to ‘stop the boats’ was last week joined by a ridiculous idea to ‘buy the boats’. So while there would be a huge contraction in the Australian economy as cuts bite there will be a boom in the Indonesian economy. The Coalition has proposed buying up leaking fishing boats in Indonesia before people smugglers can fill them with refugees and point them towards Christmas Island. Surprisingly there is no price tag on this maverick idea.
Finally, this week Abbott has been on a reassurance drive. Labor are right to point out that Liberal plans to suck huge resources out of the economy if they make up the next government (Left Foot Forward voters know how successful that can be). Liberal strategists are clearly hearing this back in their focus groups as Labor’s message hits home with voters. This week Abbott was forced to say ‘no cuts to education, health and no change to the pension and GST’. These are big areas of attack by Labor that Abbott still needs to close down. He needs to do this so badly because it is not just the Liberal brand that they don’t trust with their schools, hospitals, pension, GST contribution and penalty rates, but Abbott in particular. The effort he is doing to provide reassurance may well backfire as he protests just a little too much.
The polls suggest victory is slipping away from the ALP but in seats that will decide this election the polls are too close to call. In many places, largely due to personnel decisions of the Liberal party, Labor candidates will defy the odds and wins seats for Rudd. On the ground Labor’s campaign is as good as ever. Volunteers have now called over 1 million voters since the start of this campaign and are calling back every undecided voter in the remaining days of the campaign.
Kevin Rudd started the contest as the come back kid. He might still surprise everyone this Saturday and deny Abbott the majority only he believes he deserves.