View from The Hill

Day 31: Rudd and Abbott talk on to a diminishing audience

Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett at a Liberal Party fundraiser. AAP/Alan Porritt

For almost two million Australian voters, this election is over. They’ve marked their ballots. As of yesterday, 1.2 million of the 14.7 million on the roll had put in pre-poll votes and 750,000 postal votes had been received by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Then there are another 1.2 million people who have not bothered to enrol. One third of them (400,000) are aged 18-24.

As Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott try to make the most of these dying campaign days, there are a lot of people they can’t reach, including those yet to vote but with minds firmly made up.

Their target audience was quantified in this week’s Essential poll. Of those who indicated their voting intention, 15% said it was “quite possible” they would change their mind. This figure has narrowed significantly during the campaign and more recently: it was 21% on August 5, 17% on August 19 and 18% on August 26.

Only 9% of Coalition voters said it was quite possible they would change compared with 14% of ALP supporters, 17% of Green voters and 39% of people presently parked in the “other” category.

As the Labor camp increasingly accepts the apparent inevitability of defeat, its pessimism is reflected in the fact that Rudd’s travel is skewed to ALP seats rather than seeking out Coalition ones. But the face must be kept brave. “We’re going to secure the come-from-behind win,” Rudd told enthusiastic young fans.

But already there is some “what if” talk. Asked by the ABC’s Jon Faine whether he should have gone to the polls faster Rudd said: “I think there’s no point in having retrospectives about any of that, Jon. We had some things we had to attend to as a government.”

Rudd has honed down his messages for these last days. Labor will protect jobs, Abbott will cut. If you have doubts about Abbott, don’t vote for him. These are the lines strategists believe can maximise the ALP vote.

Labor today was still beating the drum about costings. Abbott again repeated his (untenable) claim that he couldn’t release all the numbers until the last policy had been announced. (He could have put out the figures ages ago with an amount for unannounced policy, as was done in the recent economic statement.) He produced the last policy today but the costings will come tomorrow, after tonight’s advertising blackout. Labor knows it has been outplayed in the costings cat-and-mouse game but intends to make the most of social media. A letter from “Kevin” emailed to supporters today, asking for donations, said: “We’re taking our message to millions of people online… During this blackout period, we can let millions of people know about Mr Abbott’s brutal cuts to the bone”. On the Liberal side an appeal for donations went out today under John Howard’s name.

All through this campaign Rudd has seethed about the role of Rupert Murdoch. Now, as it draws to an end, Labor is furious at the behaviour of Roger Corbett, the chairman of Fairfax, and a member of the Reserve Bank Board. In an extraordinarily strong attack, the more potent because of its timing, Corbett told yesterday’s ABC Lateline that “Kevin Rudd is a leader that has been really discredited by his own conduct. His colleagues sacked him because they judged him to be incapable as PM. He, it’s alleged, was active against the government during the [2010] elections - maybe true, may not be.

"The perception was that had a terrible effect upon Labor and probably put them into a position where they needed to enter into coalition with the Greens, which was a very limiting factor in their last three years and they were destabilised in that last three years.

"So here’s a man that really has done the Labor party enormous damage, destabilised it and is now wishing to present himself to the Australian people as a PM and as the incoming PM. I don’t think the Australian people will cop that, to be quite honest, and I think that’s very sad for the Labor party.”

One reason for the intensity of Labor’s anger is that neither the program nor Corbett said he was a member of the Liberal party. The program didn’t know.

Questioned about Corbett, Rudd got in a couple of barbs but was restrained. Parliamentary secretary Doug Cameron, however, let loose, saying it was “outrageous” that Corbett had not disclosed his party membership and should resign from the bank board.

The Corbett appearance was awkward, to say the least, for Fairfax, which has recently sought to take advantage of the furore surrounding the political antics of the Murdoch media by launching a campaign with the slogan “Independent. Always”. Corbett stressed he was at arms length from Fairfax’s editorial content, but to have its chairman suddenly in the middle of the political fray was not a good look.

There will be many narratives to look back on after this campaign. One of them will be all about the media.