Canberra Times editorial dinkus
Kevin Rudd, now on the stump in South Australia, had slightly the better of the second week of the federal election campaign, or so most pundits reckon. He matched the Coalition's commitment to developing northern Australia, made suitable mischief over Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's description of a Liberal candidate as young, feisty and having "sex appeal'', and - importantly - committed no gaffes himself. After much goading by Labor, Mr Abbott conceded Treasury's estimate in its pre-election fiscal and economic outlook statement were "the best, most reliable figures'', and his declaration the Coalition would not release its full costings until the final week of the campaign underlined, again, his furtiveness when it comes to providing policy details.
Despite all this, Mr Rudd's campaign does not seem to be widening its audience share or building valuable momentum. Indeed, there are unmistakable signs of distress from within. The first was Labor's decision to begin broadcasting attack advertisements on television this week, a tactic traditionally reserved for the last week of a campaign, when wisdom has it that voters are more susceptible to such messages. There was a sense of desperation, too, in Mr Rudd's proposal to cut company tax for businesses that relocate to the Top End. Senior members of his cabinet, including Bill Shorten, appear to have been unaware the announcement was coming, and their embarrassment is likely to be compounded by the savagery with which Labor ridiculed the Coalition's June proposal to commission a white paper to examine tax incentives as a means of kick-starting economic development in the Top End.
Mr Rudd returned to the prime ministership promising a clean break from the negativity and divisiveness that had characterised federal politics since 2010, and his campaign slogan "A New Way'' was an attempt to underline that - and to emphasise the supposed ideological differences that set him apart from Mr Abbott and from his predecessor, Julia Gillard. The slogan was intended also to signal to the electorate that Mr Rudd had learnt from his mistakes and was be a more consultative and inclusive leader.
But for all the apparent sincerity with which he has talked of ''a new way'', Mr Rudd's actions have spoken louder.
The promise to reform party governance and to allow branch members a say in who leads the parliamentary Labor Party was well received in certain quarters. However, a subsequent decision to parachute a preferred nominee, Peter Beattie, in over the head of a pre-selected candidate cast immediate doubt on Mr Rudd's preparedness to follow through on his promise of greater participation in party affairs by the rank and file. Worse, it made him look like a hypocrite.
That Mr Rudd might be a politician whose first and overriding concern is the accumulation of power for himself is, of course, of no particular moment; all voters suspect it of their political leaders. What drew them to Mr Rudd in 2007 was that after 11 years of conservative government voters were ready for a change, and he promised them that. Mr Rudd duly delivered on expectations by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, dismantling the Pacific Solution and apologising to the Stolen Generations. But the broad and sunlit uplands hinted at by Mr Rudd in June when he was returned as PM by his Labor colleagues have failed to materialise.
Instead, Mr Rudd has engaged in what many see as an unseemly rush to match (and even exceed) Coalition policies, the most egregious being the decision to banish asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea with no chance of resettlement in Australia. The centrepiece of Labor's climate change mitigation policy, the carbon tax, was another casualty. Mr Rudd's increasing resort now to negativity suggests that the strategy has not worked.
By stressing Labor's ideological differences with the Coalition rather than seeking to diminish them altogether, Mr Rudd could make up some ground - as he probably did when he pledged to push for the legalisation of same-sex marriage if re-elected. However, time is short, perhaps too short. Having demonstrated his readiness to abandon all that he stood for in his first term, it's hard to see how he might regain the electorate's trust in the time left to him.