Campaign time: so what's new?
Illustration: David Rowe
This is not the election campaign. Right?
Yes, I'm confused too. First, it's bloody un-Australian* (whatever that means) to start an election campaign in late January, which is why few** Australian prime ministers do it. Second, we've already been in an election campaign since September 7, 2010 - the day Rob Oakeshott free-associated Gillard-Labor into minority government.
Regardless, here was Julia two whole days before the start of febfast - while we're still recovering from Australia Day and thinking about maybe, maybe, drifting back to work next week - announcing the election for September 14 while assuring us, mind, that she hadn't actually blown the start whistle on the longest election campaign in Christendom (some 223 days and counting down).
(A digression: recently in the US, where annual leave is confined to about two weeks, a bloke at a dinner party, mystified by Australia's summer languor, accused me on behalf of my nation: ''So your crazy-ass country must basically stop until mid-January?'' ''That's absolute rubbish,'' I said, defensively. ''Nothing at all usually happens until at least the second week of Feb.'')
Anyway, the PM didn't really need to do this in order to get our attention. That, she already well and truly had. Indeed, nearing that certain age myself, and having been convinced that a blood test would do the job just dandily, I now find myself strangely obsessed with thoughts of my doctor's hands, thanks to him indoors down at The Lodge.
Speculation that Tim is now confined to the shed out back of 5 Adelaide Avenue, Deakin, ACT, is, frankly, bollocks (pun intended), finding himself instead, suddenly, in inordinate demand as an ambassador for a diverse range of self-awareness campaigns ranging from erect … (never mind, that's not very funny at all either).
But it turns out Tim was just the warm-up guy for … for this, a day-and-a-half later: ''I do not do so to start the nation's longest election campaign. Quite the opposite - it should be clear to all which are the days of governing and which are the days of campaigning.''
On first listen, this struck me as something of a sweetness-and-light political reinterpretation of Pete Seeger's Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season) - a profoundly optimistic appeal to Tony Abbott's inner white angel to just hold off on all that nasty politics stuff until six weeks out from the footy finals.
When you consider this not-the-election campaign, it's important to do so in the context of the ''New Paradigm'' of the 43rd Parliament, which we'd been assured would usher in a fresh era of bipartisan policy-making. In fact, it gave us a re-energised Abbott, fluorescent-vested and hard-hatted, tirelessly running a parallel daily negative stump campaign while Gillard achieved some genuine reform, inelegantly stumbling through the untidy business of governing and warding off a vengeful Kevin Rudd.
A 227-day election campaign? It feels like we've just entered the home stretch of what's been a crazy 880-plus day campaign.
Of course, there's been plenty of hyperbole about how much has changed with the September 14 announcement.
Gillard's decision was hailed as audacious, brave and bold. Insofar as it sets a precedent it is all three, and reinforces the PM's tenacious image. Back in 2010 she told Parliament: ''It's my intention to approach this Parliament with a bold agenda. I've always believed fortune favours the brave, and I'll take that fight into this Parliament.''
Mostly, however, it is a coolly tactical attempt to reset the clock and restart the conversation on something other than Slipper and Ashby, Thomson and Dobell, Slater and Gordon. The electoral and Labor Party psychology seems potentially fraught. Caucus now has a finite time by which Labor's poll fortunes must improve, focusing Labor minds more clearly on contingencies should the party's primary vote drop back into the low 20s.
Abbott continues to run hard, sticking to a plan of belting Gillard-Labor at every opportunity, and intent on dribbling policies out when they'll receive least scrutiny.
The volume's been turned up. But nothing's really changed at the end of the New Paradigm.
*An old friend once branded his girlfriend ''un-Australian'' for insisting on the last bite of his meat pie. Does that count?
**Paul Keating chose January 27 to begin his campaign for the March 2, 1996, election. That campaign had some great moments, but on the whole it didn't go so well, really.