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Rudd Mark II's moving too fast for Abbott to snipe at

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Nicholas Stuart

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Rudd's asylum recovery

New poll numbers suggest Kevin Rudd's PNG plan has dramatically change views on Labor's ability to manage the asylum problem, but may not have won over many voters.

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A couple of years ago I was sitting in a recreation room at Tarin Kowt when (then) prime minister Julia Gillard came on the telly. It was as if a freezing draft had suddenly swept in from the Hindu Kush. The reaction from the soldiers was both visceral and casual. There was silence as she began talking about a defence issue and flanked by others nodding enthusiastically at her words.

Then, about 20 seconds in, came the first comment - a simple, four-letter swear word. Someone else asked, rhetorically ''what would she know?'' A couple of others quickly volunteered their opinions but the audience had gone back to doing other things.

At some point previously these soldiers had already made up their minds about Gillard. More information wasn't going to change anything. They had a ready-made framework that they were using to decode the new information. Extra facts were simply pushed around to see if they fitted. If they could be incorporated without too much difficulty, the established border simply became stronger.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his wife Therese Rein on a surprise visit to Australian troops in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his wife Therese Rein on a surprise visit to Australian troops in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. Photo: Gary Ramage

The military's often thought of as a conservative institution, but that doesn't mean everyone in it votes Liberal. Aside from former military lawyer Mike Kelly, over in WA a former SAS officer (who was with the force that boarded the Tampa in 2001) sits as a Labor parliamentarian, and there are many others dotted around the country.

The battalion that was serving in Afghanistan that day is based in Townsville, your archetypical swinging seat. Until 2007, the votes for one party or another had ebbed and flowed with the change of government. It's the sort of electorate Labor pretends it has in its sights now Kevin Rudd is PM again.

Those soldiers in Tarin Kowt had already made their assessment of Gillard long before she appeared on the TV, but now Rudd's completed his flying visit it seems worth considering if he's changed the equation. That's what Labor's desperately hoping. At the coming election Labor will ask the electorate to do just one thing: ''Give Kevin a chance to finish the job''. As a campaign strategy it's brilliant.

It harnesses all the residual anger that's been directed at Labor by emphasising that Rudd didn't make those mistakes while, at the same moment, he's wrapped himself in all the trappings of incumbency. He's the one travelling the world stage as PM while concurrently conducting an insurgency against the last three years of government. Rudd's trump card? Tony Abbott's unpopularity and negativity. And it appears to be working.

The people who will actually decide the election are what the parties describe as ''low information voters''.

Labor appointed Rudd Mark II because it believed he might be able to swing enough of these people to prevent a wipe-out. Rudd believes with more time he can convince enough of them to switch back to win. At this point, of course, it's tempting to insert the line, ''we're not dealing with reality here''. That's because it appears as if Labor's deficit is so great it's not going to be able to catch up. Doing this would be a massive mistake.

Nevertheless, the Coalition still doesn't appear to have grasped the nature of this new challenge to the orthodoxy that it's ahead. The people who will decide this election may think they've made up their minds - but they haven't. Not quite.

Polling by Galaxy over the weekend demonstrates the enormous degree of volatility in the electorate. Forget those 50:50 polls; in fact, ignore them all. The polls are accurate because they tell us exactly what is going on, and this is that we don't know what's happening. So, if we ignore the irrelevant predictions about ''who would you vote for if an election was called today'', what can we determine about the political scene.

Let's begin with Labor. The first point is that the ''bounce'' coming from the leadership change is (according to brilliant reasoning by marktheballot) exactly 5.6 per cent. That's not enough to deliver victory. But it will save a lot of Labor seats and that's why backbenchers want to rush to an election now, next week, within a fortnight … just before voters remember what Rudd's really like.

Rudd, however, is focused on winning. And if he can't do that then he wants to attend another G20 meeting and chair the UN Security Council. So stuff them! He'll call the election when he's good and ready. Besides which, he still believes he can win. And there's good reason to believe he can. The message that comes through from that rushed visit to Tarin Kowt has nothing to do with the reality of our deployment in Afghanistan. That's a failure.

But it has everything to do with impressions and framing. What do the images that stick in our memory say? Well, that Rudd ''gets'' national security. He's fighting on ground the Coalition had previously claimed as its own.

That's why Rudd's got away with blatantly ignoring Labor's rule changes that were less than a week old. He was meant to accept caucus' recommendation for the ministry, remember? Well that's out. Rudd will keep doing whatever he wants because it's keeping the Coalition unbalanced with Abbott seemingly without answers.

Abbott needs to turn positive and fight fire with fire; otherwise he'll get burned. The swinging voters want an upbeat reason to get behind one side or the other. But he's not presenting it.

Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.

221 comments

  • I agree with most of this article but the author seems to regard all Australian voters as vacuous twits who need to see Abbott as "doing something". Actually quite a lot of us disregard Labors propaganda about 3 word slogans and the like..we know about the Coalitions policies, we know Rudd was the PM who opened the floodgates for people smugglers, we know Rudd has a dire history with economic management, we know about the dreadful consequences of his policies on the run, we know he is a manic angry leader who will eventually destroy his cabinet...we know all that and even though Labor is redesigning itself as the Liberal Party you have when you don't have the Liberal Party..we know the difference and are quietly waiting, without polling, without tweeting, without selfies, to vote in the real thing.

    Commenter
    thereisnoyouinLabor
    Location
    brisbane
    Date and time
    July 30, 2013, 7:25AM
    • Most of the current Liberal voters vacuous twits? Well, I read your mail and thought "quod erat demonstrandum". The refuge issue was always more complex than Abbott's propaganda implied. The working of the Howard solution is very much questioned by experts as times change, smugglers learn and the 'solution' had immense flaws as we know. Nevertheless, Rudd did open the floodgate - if 20 000-30 000 boat people each year can be called a flood (Germany takes +500 000). Sure, there are lives lost - but it is outrages to say that refugees have to be saved from themselves. They know the danger but still judge it better to go. Should tell us something, shouldnt it? Is PNG the way? - I have my doubts. But it is still better than turning around the boats.

      Commenter
      Gerwin
      Location
      gerwin1871@gmail.com
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 8:37AM
    • to vote in the real thing. And that would be???
      You say LAbor is picking on Abbott's 3 word slogans? Maybe because that's all he has.What's his latest "I'm tougher" announcement... a tent city in Nauru yet he derides Labor's Manus Island.
      As for economic management you spout the usual LNP rant forgetting about that little hurdle called the GFC but as the Nobel Laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz said of the labor stimulus package..
      "lucky to have probably the best designed stimulus package of any of the countries, advanced industrial countries, both in size and in design, timing and how it was spent, and I think it served Australia well."
      The LNP has been left flat footed and have policies that they are afraid to have scrutinised. Rudd, at this stage, is playing them perfectly.

      Commenter
      Mark C
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 8:54AM
    • Rudd and Labors many, many failings aside, you claim that loads of people know the Coalitions policies. Apart from 'ditch the tax' & maternity leave, most of the rest of us have no clue about the rest of their policies as they are "holding off until and election is called".

      Maybe you can enlighten us? The LNP certainly haven't.

      Commenter
      Sambo
      Location
      All over the place
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 9:05AM
    • If you know about Coalition policies please share your knowledge with the rest of us or are they still secret policies.

      Commenter
      Peter Stanton
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 9:09AM
    • Gerwin, all abbott has are his 3 and 4 word bogan slogans, he is too scared to debate anyone on policies, let alone Rudd, he would be annihilated, and he knows it. His Far right agenda is carefully hidden, massive cuts to health and education, social services, mass sackings. He dares not got on Q and A, and has not been on 7-30 report for ages. He is running scared of proper scrutiny, as he will be exposed as the fraud he is, the man who truly thinks climate change is total crap, the man who said hed nearly sell his arse to get into the Lodge. That comment alone, says it all about Tony.

      Commenter
      Piesnchess
      Location
      Mt Evelyn
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 9:33AM
    • Laughed so hard...... Oh my sides ache. "Labor's 3 word slogans"..... Wow. Comic genius.

      Either that, or you are completely ignorant of the world around you. It is the Libs who, for the past 6 years, have had NOTHING but 3 word slogans, and most dreamt up by their spin-team leaders, Jones and Bolt.

      Commenter
      TommyP
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 11:20AM
    • thereisnoyouinLabor

      Mate, a few people have asked you to list down the LNP's policies.... We are still waiting!!!!

      The least you can do is write back and say it was a spelling error....

      Commenter
      Sam
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 12:40PM
    • Tony will continually struggle with Kevin's superior skills until the Coalition loses the election and retires him, hurt.

      Commenter
      Hacka
      Location
      Canberrra
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 1:09PM
    • Whether of not Rudd "opened the floodgates for people smugglers" is highly debatable and completely ignores overseas conflicts driving an increased number of refugees since 2007/8.

      Regardless, it is worth remembering that Rudd's AS policy was taken to the 2007 election, was endorsed by a substantial majority of the electorate, and was subsequently supported by the Coalition when it was put into law. So if he's to blame, then everyone else deserves a serve as well.

      Commenter
      Andy
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 30, 2013, 1:10PM

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