Much ado about debating
The Age political editor Michael Gordon says the second leaders' debate had more sound fury than round 1, but there's little evidence that punters are listening.PT6M44S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2sd90 620 349 August 22, 2013
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If Kevin Rudd could simply wipe away what's gone before and make the 2013 election a two-and-a-half week dash to polling day, it's a fair bet he would take it.
For Team Rudd, the real campaign effectively starts now, or more accurately, it began on Wednesday night at Brisbane's second leaders' debate peoples' forum.
Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott square off at the Broncos Leagues Club.
And not before time.
Rudd's performance at the Broncos Leagues Club finally unearthed the feisty energetic persona he needs to project to have any hope of building excitement in what has been, until now, a surprisingly dull affair.
That Rudd knew what was required was obvious from the moment he opened his mouth in the debate - a format with far fewer restrictions than the first rigid debate, which more or less demanded woody performances.
And there was another key difference between the two debates. Where in the first one both leaders went in with the main aim of not losing, Rudd entered the second debate clearly trailing, and with his campaign showing the telltale signs of drift.
Low morale, breeding discontent, and ultimately transmitting that outwardly.
In short Rudd knew he could not win the election in Brisbane but he could easily have cemented a loss, if he bombed out.
It was a real possibility.
Observers of the campaign have noted a curious lack of focus from Labor and a powerful sense of its leader appearing flat, light on for detail and frequently distracted.
After the methodical way he went about things when he replaced Julia Gillard, ticking off in rapid succession longstanding problems such as the faceless men, the carbon price, and asylum seekers, the absence of a discernible program of announcements and the articulation of vision since calling the election, has left supporters mystified.
But that may have just changed.
Call it mojo, or chutzpah or simple desperation, but the Rudd who turned up in Brisbane looked like he was finally seized of the scale of his task and of the closing window on his premiership.
Was it enough?
Of course not. Not on its own anyway. But the Prime Minister who left the Leagues club post-debate and addressed workers in Geelong the next morning was a noticeably changed man.
"This is the fight of our lives," he told the Labor-friendly crowd.
"People have written me off before. I have a habit of coming back.
"I have been written off more times than I can remember.
"You know something? I am made of sterner stuff than that, we're made of sterner stuff than that, you're made of sterner stuff than that."
You could almost hear the theme from Rocky, remarked one observer.
Both sides are spinning their leader's performance in the debate and both have cases to make.
Abbott's "does this guy ever shut up" interjection, was a colourful moment but electoral import is open to interpretation.
If it wasn't a brain-snap as Team Abbott insists, then it was a premeditated case of preaching to the choir, cracking an in-joke among Liberals about the prolix PM. If so, it was even more ill-advised. Abbott needs to hold on to the undecideds leaning towards him, not frighten them away, while warming the hearts of those barrackers already rusted on.
Tellingly, the outburst came as he defended his costings broadly and his paid parental leave scheme in particular. He struggles with these because his pitch is unsustainable. His refusal to detail the PPL costings with the policy already on the table and then citing the Parliamentary Budget Office as a character witness, again without showing the PBO numbers, is politically demented.
That is Rudd's main chance, and thanks to his renewed confidence, he may now have rediscovered the grit needed to prosecute the case.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the task before the trailing Labor leader is certainly not easy but it's simple.