Australia votes: PM faces defeat as Abbott waits in the wingsBy Asian Correspondent Sep 06, 2013 11:14AM UTC
By Henry Belot, Melbourne
Australia heads to the polls tomorrow with both the opinion polls and opinion pages indicating that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be replaced by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
It was always going to be tough fight for Labor to be competitive at this election. With the 2010 election producing a hung Parliament, the Labor Party relied upon the support of key independents and The Greens to form government.
But with two of these independents set to retire at this election and their seats (Lyne and New England) likely to fall to Coalition, the Labor Party would need to claim additional seats from the Liberal Party or The Greens to have any chance at claiming victory this Saturday.
The latest opinion polls indicate that this is extremely unlikely, even when factoring in the usual 2-3 percent margin of error. Newspoll (used by The Australian) reports that the Coalition now enjoy a 54 percent approval rating on two-party preferred polling with Labor slumping to 46 percent, while the Neilson polls (used by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald) have the Coalition at 53 percent and Labor at 47 percent.
This margin is informed by electoral swings to The Coalition in Western Sydney, which is traditionally a Labor heartland, along with at least three seats at play in Victoria (Corangamite, Deakin and La Trobe) and a number of seats lining the coast of New South Wales.
With such dire predictions, the Labor Party is placing its hopes on retaining control of the Senate, which may limit the potential of an Abbott government to pass signature legislation given its expected control in the House of Representatives. Yet with an unprecedented number of newly emerged political parties contesting the Senate this year, including the WikiLeaks Party headed by Senate candidate Julian Assange, the preferencing system is convoluted and hard to predict.
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But back in July, fears of such a landslide led Labor MPs to reinstall Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister as an internal coup ousted Julia Gillard, who led the party to the polls in 2010. Despite enjoying a temporary boost in the polls following his reinstallation (Morgan Polling predicted a 2.4 percent swing to Labor in July), Mr Rudd has failed to undermine one of the most effective Opposition Leaders in Australian political history.
So where has it gone wrong for Kevin Rudd and the Labor party?
The internal divisions within the party that led to the ousting of Julia Gillard and the political resignation of several front-bench politicians have provided the Liberals with plenty of political ammunition. Tony Abbott continues to ask the Australian public; “Do you really want another three years like the last six?”
That is in essence, the crux of this election. By framing this election around trust, Mr Abbott has highlighted divisions within Labor at a time when Mr Rudd is desperate to rebrand himself. And while the Australian public are not flocking to Mr Abbott given his controversial and gaffe-prone history, the Labor Party has struggled to sell their own case for re-election.
The Labor Party have sought to create uncertainty among swing voters by pointing to the cuts to essential services proposed by a Coalition government. But this strategy has focused on the refusal of the Coalition to release their full policy costings until yesterday’s ban on advertising, despite the Labor Party releasing theirs at 5pm the night before the 2010 election.
Mr Abbott has also drawn attention to the influence of Australia’s political media on the election, with Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids like Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Brisbane’s The Courier Mail running a style of partisan reporting that is relatively uncommon in Australia. The influence of this reporting is of course difficult to measure, although it has remained a feature of the campaign.
But when it comes to policy and substance, commentators on both sides of politics have noted that little separates the two major parties who are increasingly seeking to occupy the same political territory. Because of this, the campaign has been marked by three-word slogans and often shallow rhetoric.
When the Rudd Government toughened its stance on asylum seekers in late July, the Opposition simply responded with an even tougher proposal. The Greens, largely sidelined in this election campaign, remain the only party campaigning for a truly alternate policy on asylum seekers.
And with both parties campaigning to improve Australia’s broadband connectivity, the point of difference remains the cost of proposed policies and whether to connect fibre-to-the-node or to the home. It’s a similar story with paid parental leave schemes; both parties are proposing a scheme with the point of difference being on the allocation of funds and the cost of the policy.
The future of gay-marriage has proved a contaversial issue, with Mr Rudd using the popular television program “Q&A” to make a passionate support of reform. Mr Abbott however, remains opposed to reform and even entered a debate on the issue with US Pop Star Katy Perry on national radio.
But whatever the outcome of the election this Saturday, it is beyond question that Australia’s economy and quality of life remain the envy of many nations around the world. With a AAA credit rating, relatively low rates of public-debt, and four major cities consistently ranking in the top 10 liveable cities, this country has plenty to be positive about.