Bad news just keeps coming for the New South Wales opposition, with a Newspoll this morning showing Labor with the same lead it held at the last election, 56% to 44% two-party-preferred. Small consolation that that’s an improvement on the last one, which had showed a 3% swing in Labor’s favour.

Equally bad for Peter Debnam is this morning’s Daily Telegraph headline “Doomed Debnam disappears”, with a story saying that the Liberal leader’s image is so poor that his photo will not be appearing on the front of the party’s how-to-vote cards.

The Coalition has been reduced to arguing that people should vote for them not because they can win, but in order to avoid giving Labor too big a majority.

As Imre Salusinszky puts it in The Australian, the aim is to “appeal to a perception among voters that the election is already decided and ask them to ‘send a message’ to Labor”, since “a vote for the Coalition was an option even for those who did not seek a change of government.”

The comparison being made is with Steve Bracks’s win in Victoria in 1999, when – it’s alleged – a protest vote snowballed into an unlikely victory. But of course Debnam, like other state Liberal leaders, is using the Bracks analogy regardless of his actual strategy, since Bracks is the poster boy for apparently hopeless opposition leaders everywhere.

On closer examination, the analogy doesn’t hold much water. The Kennett government, like the Goss government in Queensland in 1995 (another frequent comparison), was clearly putting people off in a way that Morris Iemma is not. The swing was already showing up in the polls, although it turned out to be bigger than expected.

Debnam’s approach is much more reminiscent of Robert Doyle’s strategy against the Bracks government in 2002, when he appealed to voters not to give Labor unbridled power.

The government won the biggest majority in Victoria’s history, so it might seem that Doyle’s message was not very successful, but some observers thought that the Liberals were heading for an even worse result before Doyle’s last-minute efforts to shore up his base.

Perhaps avoiding outright disaster is now the best that Peter Debnam is hoping for.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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