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Poll date surprise

PM Julia Gillard has stunned politics watchers by throwing away any element of surprise in this year's election date. Will the move help her, or haunt her?

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As Julia Gillard recovered from a bruising year with a few weeks in Adelaide visiting family, her thoughts turned to the coming storm: the election this year.

She knew she was behind. Well behind. While the polls had charted a slow but steady recovery for her government through the second half of last year, she and her advisers knew the task remained a monumental one.

What was needed was a game changer.

<i>Illustration: Rocco Fazzari</i>

Illustration: Rocco Fazzari

Her answer was as lateral as it was courageous.

She reasoned that with Tony Abbott continuing a constant campaign anyway, she was being forced to play on his terms. And there was that ''other'' problem, too: Kevin Rudd, who although wounded was by no means dead.

Any mistake and he would be back. Abbott remained the main opponent but it was Rudd's supporters who presented her most immediate existential threat.

Between her agreement with the independents, and her oft-stated commitment to make it through a full term for an election in the spring of this year, there was limited room to move.

''I have always said that the Parliament would serve full term, always said it,'' she told the National Press Club on Wednesday. It was then she hit upon an idea. She would turn orthodoxy on its head, surrender the supposed advantage of incumbency, including the element of surprise, and reveal the date upfront.

And she would do it in her first major speech for the year.

She said on Wednesday that she had consulted with Wayne Swan ''and a few senior colleagues''.

But this was a tight circle indeed. That ''few'' was, in fact, one: her chief parliamentary strategist, the Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese.

''I discussed with them the decision I'd come to over summer and I'm announcing it today,'' she stated.

On Monday morning, she told her trusted media lieutenants John McTernan and Eamonn Fitzpatrick. She also consulted Labor's national secretary, George Wright.

But nobody else was to know and all were sworn to secrecy.

On Tuesday, she phoned the independent, Tony Windsor, just after 8.30pm.

Another call was made to Rob Oakeshott on Tuesday morning as both were signatories to the agreement to run full term.

With their acceptance of the date secured, it was just a matter of informing the Greens, which happened just before the National Press Club address around lunchtime on Wednesday.

A last precaution. The announcement was left off the official written version of the speech circulated to journalists.

They would have to hear it like everyone else.It was a dramatic start to what promises to be a dramatic year in national politics.

In the short term, it has wrong-footed both Abbott and the Rudd backers.

For now, anyway.

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