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Tony Abbott: 'no more games'

Tony Abbott says the Australian public is "sick of playing parliamentary games" and he expects Kevin Rudd to call an election soon.

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The most disappointed person in Parliament House last night other than Julia Gillard was Tony Abbott.

Suddenly, Abbott faces an opponent far more popular than himself. The Opposition Leader's assured run to election victory has been radically disrupted. 

The fears of both were realised when Labor chose to give itself a fighting chance by restoring Kevin Rudd as leader.

Will Kevin Rudd lead Labor to the election?

Ready to lead: Kevin Rudd. Photo: Andrew Meares

Suddenly, Abbott faces an opponent far more popular than himself. The Opposition Leader's assured run to election victory has been radically disrupted.

Labor chose Rudd only with the utmost reluctance - on the third look, at the very last moment.

This is only partly due to his famous unpopularity among most of his colleagues. Gillard was installed three years ago as the candidate of the right-wing trade unions and they defended her to the last. But, ultimately, the Labor caucus chose the people's candidate over the unions' candidate.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Popularity contest: Tony Abbott. Photo: Ken Robertson

The Gillard experiment failed not because she is a woman. Remember that when she was first made leader she enjoyed a serious surge in the polls; she was a woman then, too. She proved unable to carry the early rush of goodwill into any sort of relationship of trust or credibility with the people.

Rudd now faces a similar task. Opinion polls consistently indicated that he could increase Labor's primary vote by a third or more. But part of that public support was mere sympathy for him as a martyr and he is no longer a martyr. He is now leader. Can he carry his second honeymoon into a more enduring bond of trust with the people? He has already given an early glimpse of how he will seek to position himself against Abbott.

Rudd is portraying himself as the face of reassurance and Abbott as the risk.

In his press conference before going to the caucus ballot, he said that ''what literally thousands of Australians have said to me over the last year or so is that they are genuinely fearful of what Mr Abbott could do to them if he's elected''. He set up Abbott as a danger to workers, a danger to pensioners, a danger to the environment, and, above all, a danger to the economy.

Abbott showed himself to be the master of the scare campaign with his relentless attacks on Labor over the carbon tax.

Now Rudd is turning the fear campaign against Abbott: ''It is time for proven national economic leadership … Mr Abbott's alternative economic policy is to copy the British Conservatives - launch a national slash and burn, austerity drive and drive the economy into recession as happened in Britain. A double dip and almost a triple dip recession in the United Kingdom.''

Against this, the Liberals will portray Rudd as the candidate of chaos and incompetence.

They have already produced the TV ads featuring a line-up of Gillard, Swan and other leading Labor lights assassinating Rudd's character. But three years of near-continuous character assassination by Labor made no dent whatsoever in the public esteem for Rudd.

Rudd's return begins with the enormous advantage over Abbott and all his other critics of the people's goodwill. And he has something Gillard lost long ago - at least for a while, he has the people's attention.

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