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Week 1: Rudd vs. Abbott

The campaign's first week has had its usual suspects - schools, high-viz, bluff and counterbluff - and a few standout policy attacks. Mark Kenny on the state of political play.

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is playing up his bookish credentials and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is positioning himself as a man with the compassion to handle the difficult terrain of indigenous affairs as the two leaders jostled on the eve of a nationally televised debate.

White Australians and black Australians need to ''open their hearts to one another'' to usher in a new era of engagement with indigenous culture and the entrenched social problems of Aboriginal people, Mr Abbott said on Saturday in a visit to the Garma Festival in Nhulunbuy, Arnhem Land.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares

In a passionate, personal speech, delivered without notes and clearly intended to set the tone for an Abbott prime ministership, he asked permission from the crowd to spend a week governing from Arnhem Land if elected.

''It's very, very important that white folks and black folks open their hearts to one another,'' he said. ''What that requires is a new engagement between black and white people so that we can walk forward arm in arm as brothers and sisters.''

Mr Rudd, visiting Tasmania, was preparing to push the focus to education, with the government set to announce a $35 million three-year package aimed at getting disadvantaged young people ready for work.

The government views education initiatives as a vote winner, with a Fairfax-Nielsen survey published on Saturday showing Labor still has a convincing 20-point lead on the key indicator of education.

Mr Rudd, who said he was looking forward to debating Mr Abbott on Sunday at the National Press Club in Canberra, will release the new Step into Skills program before the debate.

The government is claiming it will give core skills to more than 8900 disadvantaged young people aged between 16 to 24 years, to be delivered primarily through TAFE colleges.

The focus on the Rudd government's education track record was maintained when Labor royalty and former prime minister Bob Hawke was unleashed in the Sydney electorate of Kingsford Smith to help launch the campaign of Matt Thistlethwaite, who is stepping down from the Senate to contest the House of Representatives seat vacated by Peter Garrett.

Mr Hawke talked up Labor's education credentials, while Foreign Minister Bob Carr also used the campaign launch to insist Labor was far more progressive on education policy.

However, with the most recent Fairfax-Nielsen poll showing the Coalition leading Labor by 52 per cent to 48 per cent on a two-party preferred basis, Mr Rudd maintained his claim to underdog status.

''We are just through week one of a five-week election campaign and that remains the case,'' Mr Rudd said. ''I don't gild the lily about any of that, so we remain the underdog.''

Mr Abbott was in Arnhem Land to announce he would appoint Warren Mundine, former national president of the Labor party, as his special adviser on indigenous affairs, if he were to win government.

Mr Abbott also said Aboriginal people needed to use their land as a ''economic asset'' as well as a spiritual one, and pledged that within 12 months of taking government, the Coalition would put forward a draft amendment to the constitution acknowledging Aboriginal people as the first Australians.

Mr Mundine would head a Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, which would meet three times a year and would report directly to the Prime Minister once a month.

''It's my hope that I could be not just the Prime Minister but the Prime Minister for Aboriginal affairs. The first one that we have ever had,'' Mr Abbott said.

Governing from a remote community for one week would allow Mr Abbott to send ''something of the heart and soul of people who live in places like this''.

Mr Abbott is expected to compete in the City2Surf on Sunday before heading to Canberra for the debate.

The Greens hope marriage equality will form part of the debate. Sarah Hanson-Young to says the party will seek tri-partisan gay marriage legislation right after the election.

Senator Hanson-Young said the only way a bill would succeed is if it were jointly sponsored by Labor, the Liberals and the Greens. She wants a bill introduced to Parliament by November and voted on by February.

''It will be the first thing I do after the election,'' she said.

Round one: the hair flicks, lunatic laughs ... and what they will say

RUDD

STRATEGY Rudd will try to paint Tony Abbott as evasive on policy detail and harbouring hidden plans. He'll attack Abbott and his frontbench team as not fit to govern, nor to prepare the nation for the economic challenges ahead as the mining boom ends. Rudd will also continue to attack Abbott for overconfidence. ''We're the underdogs, [Abbott] is writing his victory speech,'' he said on Saturday. ''There's a long way to go.''

Specifically, he will suggest Abbott has a hidden plan to increase the GST and claim he has a $70 billion budget black hole (deemed false by Fairfax Fact Checker).

ACHILLES HEEL The memories of a turbulent, chaotic and at times dysfunctional Labor government over the past six years.

BEST LINE ''Three-word slogans don't solve problems. They never have and they never will.''

MOST TIRESOME LINE ''I'm Kevin, I'm from Queensland, I'm here to help.''

BIGGEST RISK If Rudd gets uncomfortable, he might start talking too much. When he talks too much, his sentences turn into convoluted baloney. Think detailed programmatic specificity.

MOST IRRITATING HABIT Flicking his fringe away. Though being indoors and out of the breeze will hopefully cure that.

THE EXPERT'S VIEW Nick Rowley, a former adviser to former British PM Tony Blair, now at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at Sydney University, says Rudd needs to take risks and hit sixes. ''If Rudd goes out there and plays like Geoff Boycott, he will have failed,'' he says, referring to the ultra-cautious former English batsman. Rather, Rudd needs to play like the dashing all-rounder Ian Botham. ''He's either going to go out and hit sixes and fours or he'll get himself out. But he needs to push it far more than Abbott.''

ABBOTT

Strategy: Insiders say Tony Abbott will try to balance evenly between promoting his own vision, particularly on the economy, and continuing his well-rehearsed attacks on the government on the economy, the carbon price and border protection. His vision will feature a pledge to create 2 million jobs in a decade (deemed mostly false by Fairfax Fact Checker).

He will seek to paint Kevin Rudd as ''not fair dinkum''. As a Liberal source put it: ''A big fake - good at PR but terrible at governing.''

While Labor insiders point out that Abbott is a seasoned and proficient debater, a Liberal source with knowledge of the preparation says ''Tony's very much the underdog''.

Achilles heel: The perceptions of extreme negativity, which have kept his personal popularity at low levels that would normally bar his becoming prime minister. Abbott's rousing campaign television ad feels like the opening credits of The West Wing. If that is anything to go by, expect more positivity from the Opposition Leader tonight.

Best line: ''Do you really want three more years like the last six?''

Most predictable line: ''We will stop the boats.''

Biggest risk: Abbott can come across as flat and lacking in warmth. He needs to connect with the viewers. But, as a big picture thinker, he also risks making a blunder on some policy detail in an area such as climate change.

Most irritating habit: Laughing like a lunatic hyena. Even Abbott's staff are hoping nothing much funny happens tonight.

The expert's view: Rowley says Abbott will want to play ''as safe as he can''.

''Making a clanger is a much greater risk than the reward of performing like Bobby Kennedy in his prime. Neither of these guys is Bobby Kennedy in his prime - they're just not that good. The great risk for Abbott will be that he totally screws up some detail of his own policy or just makes an error of fact in relation to economic policy, like interest rates.''

David Wroe