UK United Kingdom

Grattan on Friday: Labor finds targets but still struggle for votes

In almost three weeks of campaigning both voters and Labor have had a sharp reality check: there can be no return to Kevin ‘07. Six years on, Rudd was never going to be full of fresh promise, as he was…

Kevin Rudd is now leading a primarily negative campaign against the Coalition. AAP/ Lyndon Mechielsen

In almost three weeks of campaigning both voters and Labor have had a sharp reality check: there can be no return to Kevin ‘07.

Six years on, Rudd was never going to be full of fresh promise, as he was then.

But that’s how people thought of him when in the polls they supported his return to the leadership, airbrushing out later problems. Now they see the man as he is, with the opposition pointing to large warts. And, it is clear, the man with the warts has to campaign in a very different way from his earlier self.

A well-placed Liberal describes how opinion shifted. He says that initially after Rudd’s return Liberals in marginal seats reported people were saying “Rudd’s great, we love him”. Then about seven to ten days ago, there was a change; voters started saying “we think Kevin’s a fake”. It was bizarre, he says, because the message came about the same time from all over the place and there seemed no specific trigger.

Obviously about then, Rudd’s “new way” push fizzled so he’s had to transform into Mr Negativity.

After a shocker of a start, Labor’s campaign has stabilised in this middle week, and the negative assault has put a few dents in the opposition.

But Labor’s research is finding the swing is 4.5-5% per cent against the government, which is looking at bad losses in NSW, without compensating gains in Queensland.

Meanwhile internal efforts go on to perk Rudd up, even if 07 can’t be recaptured. The advisers have worked to get him more relaxed, and doing less. The effort paid off in Wednesday’s Brisbane debate, when he put in a good performance.

With Labor’s campaign now relentlessly negative, Rudd endlessly repeats that the Coalition has a $70 billion funding problem, and will cut health and education. Abbott denies the $70 billion, and has said there will not be an overall cut in those two areas – not that the denials will stop the claims.

The Coalition’s soft underbelly this week was Abbott’s favourite policy – the paid parental leave scheme. The plan’s cost has his colleagues worried but he was always insistent on generosity.

He could, however, have limited the argument over how it will be paid for if the detail had been released with the policy. Some Liberals shake their heads at why this wasn’t done. It was either hubris (part of the “we’ll tell you costings when we’re ready” mindset) or foolishness.

Liberal sources report that self-funded retirees, part of the Coalition’s base, are alarmed by the debate over the levy on 3000 companies to part fund the scheme not attracting franking credits. Some (totally wrongly) take it as a more general threat to franking.

Shadow assistant treasurer Mathias Cormann was out yesterday talking more detail, but it was too late and still too imprecise.

The debate about the scheme (also vulnerable on fairness grounds) is taking up far too much of the attention when the Liberals want to emphasise economic management and the record of the past six years.

But most Liberals are now confident of victory, and thought is turning to government. Abbott’s announcement that he would create a trade and investment portfolio flagged that he was breaking out of the straitjacket of his earlier commitment to keep his frontbench in their present areas. This week’s wording was that “my team can expect to do more or less the same job in government”.

The trade and investment announcement signalled that deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop would retain foreign affairs in government but lose trade, which was always going to happen. There has been speculation finance spokesman Andrew Robb could get the trade job, opening the possibility of the well-regarded Arthur Sinodinos going to finance. But the Nationals' wishes would be a major factor here – trade is a portfolio they like to hold.

Portfolio talk is a reminder that while Abbott wants to keep mum about ministerial arrangements (not wishing to be seen getting ahead of himself), behind the scenes transition-to-power preparations are being made.

This week brought another sort of reminder – how leaders need to “sweat the small stuff”.

Especially in this age of social media, be nice to the people you mightn’t think matter. A make up woman who takes to Facebook can cause you grief. And, unless there is a very good excuse, do what you say you’ll do. Don’t over-commit. It was a bad look when Rudd pulled out of a debate in his seat of Griffith with Liberal candidate Bill Glasson, who by all accounts is running a very strong campaign there.

It looked even worse when a Guardian Lonergan poll had Rudd trailing in what is considered a safe seat. The ALP is doing its own quick check.

On the set piece calendars both parties have their launches in Brisbane, the Liberals on Sunday and Labor a week on. Labor’s choice of Brisbane reflected early optimism about that state, Rudd’s home turf. Anyway Sydney, which was the alternative, is inherently toxic for Labor.

On next week’s calendar is the third debate, which Rudd has agreed to, on the condition that the format is the same as Wednesday, both on the stage together, rather than one candidate after the other (Abbott has accepted that).

It’s generally agreed the debates won’t sway votes. But it is significant that Abbott dictated the terms and conditions for them. All three are moderated by Sky’s David Speers and Sky hosted this week’s and will do the same next week. The free-to-air commercial channels, which Rudd wanted as host stations, have been completely marginalised.

Yet it was Rudd who started his new prime ministership by demanding Abbott debate him, and tried to set the terms.

In this campaign generally, Rudd has had to respond and, rather than being able to fight on his agenda and battlegrounds.

Join the conversation

18 Comments sorted by

  1. Ronald Ostrowski

    logged in via Facebook

    "In this campaign generally, Rudd has had to respond and defend, rather than being able to fight on his agenda and battlegrounds, as in 2007". Michelle, allow me to imitate Pauline Hanson, "Please explain" I would have thought that the LNP are frantically defending, and very poorly at that, their coyness to release their costings and explaining the economic impacts of their massive and half funded rich mums PPL. As for the polls it depends on which ones you read. I prefer the Morgan Gallup rather than Murdoch's Newspoll. I do agree that Rudd is not, at this time, seriously defending the NBN, Fair Work, Gonski, NDIS and health. Hopefully he will do so before the election. I also hope that the Labor will raise AshbyGate following Clive Palmer's press conference regarding Brough's approach to him months back to smear and destroy Slipper.

    1. Brett Bailey

      Self Employed

      In reply to Ronald Ostrowski

      I think Ronald as was the case in 2010 when Gillard only wanted one debate and when Abbott ran rings around her she wnated more debates. Rudd wanted to have debates his way - the first one knid of was as he wanted it - but he didn;t land any significant blows on Abbott so it was a draw - Rudd has wanted more debates and the point Grattan is making is that when Abbott says town hall or nothing Rudd takes town hall. Rudd is not able to call the shots - he is the one needing every opportunity he can get to try and get back into the race - although I would think he lost that in the first week and consolidated in the second. A new PM is on the way and we shall see how he goes. Nothing is going to be worse than what we have had the past 6 years so if there is a chnace of something better the voters will take the opportunity.

    2. Ronald Ostrowski

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Brett Bailey

      What? Abbott runs from debates and the old media let's him. Rudd has to take every chance he gets to debate this Abbott fellow who prefers to remain a small target. As to who wins the debates that is a subjective judgement call. Personally, I thought Rudd had more substance.

      In terms of the past six years I have no complaints. I have been doing very well thank you very much. Now this Abbott fellow will demolish the NBN, go against the global trend and kill of the price on carbon and slug everybody big time to pay rich mums a massive maternity leave scheme. I know who I will be voting for.

  2. Comment removed by moderator.

  3. Janeen Harris


    It's a bad look when public debate occurs on pay TV and so many members of the public can't watch it. What are they thinking? I hope the public leave the major parties in droves. They both deserve a good foot in the backside. Roll on hung parliament.

  4. Hardy Gosch


    If Murdoch gets his dying wish and installs a regressive conservative government we are in deep trouble.
    It amazes me how many OZ journalists and ordinary punters out there are blissfully unaware that this watershed election will to a large extent decide our country’s future direction.
    Does the progressive side of politics have all the answers? Not by a long shot, but relying on failed and outdated dogma as well as handing over the reigns holus bolus to business grab and run “short-termers” is a recipe for disaster.
    Wake up guys, get your act together. Rely on facts not fantasy! Nothing the “tea party” tells us adds up so far and I am afraid it never will!
    Enjoy a good weekend while you can!

  5. John Pollard

    Casual Observer

    Well done Michelle. What a thought provoking and balanced article! Thank you for your peerless journalism. May the evil Rudd get what he deserves. And may all your dreams come true!

  6. John Pollard

    Casual Observer

    Does anyone dare to suggest that Michelle's piece stinks? Now I get it!

  7. John Pollard

    Casual Observer

    So much for free speech on the Conversation!

    1. Thomas Liszt

      Systems analyst

      In reply to John Pollard

      Hi John,
      The Conversation is extremely protective as far as M. Grattan is concerned. It does not matter if criticism is warranted. My last post was censored because I forgot to put my comments in "question" or "opinion" format. I efffectively said (rephrased to meet TC standards):
      Great to read Grattan's weekly opinions.
      As far as I understand it, her major talking points were:
      Labor struggles for votes, Rudd has large warts, a well placed Liberal says Kevin is a fake and polls are still against the government.
      I also complemented her on the nice touch by putting some mild coalition ctriticism into her article.
      Don't give up yet. TC provides a wide spectrum of great articles by well qualified writers.

    2. John Pollard

      Casual Observer

      In reply to Thomas Liszt

      Hi Thomas. I guess we must learn the ropes if we want to be heard. Lesson one....keep your lid on! Not happy but point taken. Thanks.

  8. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    Wall to Wall Liberals seems to be the objective of media reporting in this election.
    Whereas in past elections voters have conspicuously exercised the checks and balance s of our federal system of government.
    Voters keep the bastards honest by setting one part as a watch dog against the other at the state and federal levels.

  9. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    So beyond all this tiresome preoccupation with trivia and gossip, can we expect an article on the public distaste for electing the same party to the state and federal levels that an Abbott government would establish?
    Or will the silence on this noted Australian election phenomenon persist right up till voting day?

  10. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    Liberal administrations have come to power in The NT, WA, Queensland, NSW and Victoria since John Howard lost his seat at the hands of Rudd and Labor in 2007.
    For a short time it was Wall to Wall Labor but voters quickly reset the balance when the opportunity arose.
    Why should voters now boot out Labor at the Federal level to install Wall to Wall Liberals?
    Can six years of Labor be compared to eleven years of Liberals, as far as accumulated voter discontent is concerned?
    Not really, despite all…

    Read more
  11. Lee Emmett

    Guest House Manager

    Funny how the media has gone quiet on Clive Palmer's revelations about Mal Brough's role in 'Ashbygate'.
    Also funny how Peter Slipper is recycling his posters from better times.

    1. Brett Bailey

      Self Employed

      In reply to Lee Emmett

      not really surprising at all Lee when you read that Palmer originally said that Hockey was present but later would not confirm this was the case at all makes for a question of is what he is saying actually reflective of what occured - perhaps the media are a little more savvy to the manipulations of PAmer and the propensity to guild the lilly. None of us will ever knwo the truth because Palmer thus far has two versions on the go.

    2. Brett Bailey

      Self Employed

      In reply to Brett Bailey

      Perhaps Slipper is trying the sex appeal thing himslef? - They do look funny though. We were all younger once and probably better looking than we are now - there again self praise is no recommendation