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PM steals march but road is long

Date

The Canberra Times

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Only time will tell if Prime Minister Julia Gillard's decision to announce the federal election date as September 14, 7½ months away, is an astute political move or an improbable misjudgment. For an individual not noted for her political heterodoxy, it is certainly a surprising, even courageous, decision.

But then, with virtually every opinion poll indicating the Coalition will be returned to office by a comfortable margin, she and her party colleagues doubtless believe they have to make their own running (and luck) if they are to turn around present voter sentiment.

As justification for initiating such a long campaign, Ms Gillard has pointed to the need for "certainty'' and to enable "individuals and businesses, investors and consumers, to plan their year''.

She has cited her desire to create an environment in which voters can focus on matters of significance without being distracted by "petty politics'' - and by implication the attention-seeking antics of Tony Abbott, whose non-stop campaigning virtually since the day he narrowly ousted Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal Leader in December 2009 has been extraordinarily effective at undermining Labor's authority.

And to those who would argue that the government's instinct for self-preservation will likely distract it from governing effectively for most of the year, she has argued that "it should be clear to all which are the days of governing and which are the days of campaigning''.

The Coalition will be under increased pressure to flesh out policies that it has, until now, enunciated only in broad-brush terms - or so Labor hopes. But then Mr Abbott has already begun doing just that. With public sentiment firmly on his side, and aware of the dangers of having Treasury scrutinise Coalition's policy costings for howlers, Mr Abbott is unlikely to deviate from his strategy of attempting to set the political agenda at his own time and pace.

Labor has lost the element of surprise, but a long campaign will enable it to extract the maximum benefits of incumbency, particularly with the writs for the election being issued a month out from polling day.

In the event that the electorate remains undecided in the final weeks leading up to September 14, Labor's access to public resources officially denied the Coalition could prove decisive.

Against that, however, there is a real possibility that swinging voters may turn on Labor for its temerity in inflicting such a long campaign on them.

A site to behold

Professional sport has been played at night, under lights, for decades, but the novelty of Tuesday's day-night cricket match between the Prime Minister's XI and the West Indies at Manuka Oval would not have been lost on the 9600 cricket fans in attendance as the picturesque ground's newly installed lights were switched on for the first time in match conditions.

Manuka Oval, in the heart of the leafy inner-south, is one of the prettiest and most congenial of the ACT's major sports venues, and the judgment of many of those at the match was that it it looked even better under lights. That the towers are striking in appearance and employ the latest in lighting technology probably added to the experience.

Not everyone has welcomed this addition to Manuka Oval. Some nearby residents claim the height of the towers (47 metres) is a blot on a heritage area where tight planning controls on housing and commercial developments are the norm, while others have lamented the lack of public consultation involved in their design and construction. The lights will, however, dramatically increase the ground's utility, which dovetails precisely with the ACT government's stated desire to attract more national and international sporting contests to Canberra.

If Tuesday night lived up to expectations as a sporting spectacle, there were apparently some issues with public catering. In that regard it was more dress rehearsal than a premiere. Manuka Oval's real moment in the spotlight will be on February 6 when it hosts Canberra's first one-day cricket international, a match between the West Indies and Australia that is likely to be watched by a sell-out crowd of up to 16,000 spectators plus millions more tuned to the live coverage on television.

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