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.PT5M47S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2rm9b 620 349 August 9, 2013
- Abbott takes the lead in latest poll
- Hartcher: Time to make our own luck
- Federal election full coverage
The honeymoon is over. If Kevin Rudd is to be returned as Prime Minister on September 7, he has to win this campaign and win it well, starting with Sunday's leaders' debate.
The first Fairfax-Nielsen poll since Rudd called the election is good news for Tony Abbott, but not a disaster for Labor. Rudd could retain power on these numbers - just - but only if they fell in all the right places. That is a very, very long shot indeed.
Illustration: Ron Tandberg
After the initial surge in Labor's primary vote after Rudd's return on June 26, all polls in the past two weeks have shown either a slight movement towards the Coalition, or no movement at all. This invites the conclusion that he erred in not calling an election this month.
Any notion that he can retain power on the back of Abbott's unpopularity, or the affection of voters towards himself, is now exposed as sheer fallacy. Not only are Abbott's poor approval ratings heading in the right direction but on the question Rudd posed when he announced the date - who do you trust? - Abbott has the ascendancy.
Week one of the campaign brought no great triumphs or disasters for either side, and not much to really engage the electorate. But no movement favours the Coalition, the side that has been expected to win almost since the last election ended in a hung parliament.
Labor reaped no real benefit from the cut in official interest rates and Abbott saw no big bounce from one of the big ticket promises of his campaign: his pledge to cut the company tax rate. The asylum seeker debate continued, with tentative signs that Rudd's hardline approach is beginning to deter desperate people from getting on boats.
Labor's primary vote is most healthy in NSW (39 per cent), where Abbott expects to pick up seats, and in Queensland (38 per cent), where Rudd must make significant gains to have any chance of winning. The equation is daunting for Labor because the Coalition effectively begins with 75 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, courtesy of the retirements of Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.
One caveat is that most of the 1400 respondents were canvassed before the biggest surprise of the week: Rudd's recruitment of Peter Beattie as a candidate for a Coalition-held seat in outer Brisbane. Will the return of the once popular premier lift the Labor vote across Queensland and elsewhere? Or will the headline in The Courier Mail, News Ltd's Brisbane tabloid, ''Send In The Clown'', be vindicated?
Rudd is still in better shape when it comes to net approval ratings and has an eight percentage-point lead as preferred prime minister, but Abbott has cut that margin by a third in the past four weeks.
Abbott is keeping things simple, by keeping the focus on the past and promising full costings of his policies later. ''Sure, the next four weeks are important in determining the outcome of this election, but not as important as the last six years,'' he says.
Rudd, who is inviting voters to focus on the future and embrace his ''new way'', has a much, much more complicated story to tell, and just four weeks to tell it.