Illustration: Pat Campbell
Normally, the articles on this page of the newspaper contain commentary, opinion, or analysis, but everything's topsy-turvy at the moment. Front-page political news can only be described as comedy. Question time has become a sitcom with cardboard cut-outs for characters. The government seems to be performing a tragedy while the opposition has decided to play a long-running farce.
So as part of an effort to conform to this reality, this column will henceforth consist simply of news. And, because this is probably the last sitting week before the election, we'll begin with the political news.
1. For most of the past year polling has consistently shown Labor's primary vote in the 30s. Lately it's sunk further. Even if the party managed to pull in an enormous number of second preferences, this is demonstrably not enough to win an election. Unless something entirely unpredictable occurs, Tony Abbott will coast to victory.
2. With the possible exception of the misogyny speech, whenever Julia Gillard has become the focus of the news cycle she has further alienated voters. Consider her sledging ''men wearing blue ties'' while playing the gender and abortion cards. Labor's support plunged.
3. Voters tell pollsters they'd be more likely to vote Labor if Kevin Rudd led the party. They don't say why and the statistic is rubbish. We have no idea how they'd feel if there was a bitter dispute before he regained the leadership or if the cabinet resigned. How would they feel after they see the Liberal Party adds targeting Rudd? These are, apparently, doozies, designed to shred any lingering credibility he retains. Despite the polls, changing to Rudd would be a leap into the dark.
4. Rudd remains utterly convinced of himself and his ability to turn everything around. He believes the voters' love for him overwhelms everything. He proclaims he's learnt from his mistakes. He needs caucus to admit their mistake in dumping him and beg him to return on his own terms despite having hung Simon Crean (and others) out to dry the last time the leadership was in play.
Every time Rudd has challenged it's been a shocking blunder. He brought the first challenge on too early (before the Queensland election), didn't engage in the second one, and now expects everyone to welcome the messiah. For a former PM, Rudd has atrocious political instincts and no sense of timing. Is it any wonder his colleagues baulk at his return? Is he serious?
5. He can't get on with people. He's at his warmest when we're watching him on television. In the flesh he's a (very) disappointing imitation of the man he wants to be. (Whoops - is this really a fact? Many would argue it is, but I'd better admit that, having written three books about the man, it's only my opinion.) Perhaps it is more accurate to assert that many in Labor would consider his return only because they know he would be PM only until the election. The difference is that under Rudd a loss would be manageable; under Gillard it would be a disaster.
6. Alternative candidates are thin on the ground. Bill Shorten's mother-in-law is Governor-General. If he shared the sort of rocky relationship I have with my mother-in-law, this could rapidly evolve into a constitutional nightmare. In the current situation of a hung parliament it would create pandemonium. She would have to step down at once, but I don't think she's that sort of person. Besides, the party will need a new leader once it's lost the election.
Greg Combet was recently reported to be going out with an ABC newsreader. A relationship such as theirs would be unlikely to have legal ramifications. It appears other leadership candidates with real potential, such as Chris Bowen, are ruling themselves out of contention. Some say the only person silly enough to take the poisoned chalice is Rudd.
7. None of the forgoing should be considered or relied upon in law as any sort of endorsement of the Coalition. No detailed product testing of this merchandise (viz MPs describing themselves as the ''alternative government'') has been undertaken and, in areas where tests have been performed, the goods as represented have failed to adequately live up to their description as advertised.
This statement should be taken to offer the columnist complete indemnity should, at any stage in the future (as indeed appears entirely probable), major malfunctions be discovered with any replacement government.
8. Nobody has any idea about the exact manner in which the current crisis will resolve itself. Caucus meets on Tuesday but the word is the challenge will occur on Wednesday night. Of course there's nothing to stop Gillard, as incumbent PM, announcing the election campaign and trying to dissolve Parliament first. Who knows how it will - or won't - happen? Events will create their own momentum.
Malcolm Fraser was anointed PM simply to take the nation to an election; Abbott may yet be commissioned to do the same thing, allowing the people to break the deadlock that's consuming Labor. But is this really the best our politicians can do? Has our polity sunk to this? What about ideals and governance, doing the right thing for the country, debating policy rather than personal grievances?
The media has a great time focusing on leadership. It's an easy story to write. But it's not real. And now we're back to the back to the beginning again. It's hard to believe that speculation about the government's future has become little more a joke. In fact, it's disgusting. But that's just my opinion.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.