Newspoll today has the ALP on 52% with the Coalition languishing on 34%. The two party preferred vote splits 61/39 in Labor’s favour. How should we react?

It’s time to wheel out three of the greatest clichés of Australian politics. The only poll that matters is on election day; oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them and when a swing’s on, a swing’s on.

This sitting fortnight will be overshadowed by the NSW election. Parliament then rises until the second week of May.

That’s Budget time – the best opportunity governments ever have, but particularly in election years, to reposition themselves.

There’ll be more election popularity pointers in the polls at the end of May than now.

Still, governments do lose elections. As we said last week – and as Ipsos Mackay  research has found, there’s a tiredness with the Government and his policies. Kevin Rudd has “piqued people’s interest”.

Tony Abbott tried to qualify his boot boy job on Rudd in the Sydney Morning Herald last week with these lines:

[T]he Government’s main task is not to blast away at Rudd’s credibility but to keep delivering better outcomes (such as the new deal on Murray-Darling water and the security arrangements with Japan). For ministers, using Parliament and the media to hold the Opposition to account is, at most, a part-time job… To be credible, an opposition has to have policies of its own… Rudd’s real test won’t be how he handles consorting allegations. It will be explaining how it’s possible to tear up workplace agreements and halve greenhouse gas emissions without sabotaging the economy.

Abbott’s clearly forgotten the lessons from his time with John Hewson – that it was this sort of detail that did poor old Hewie in.

Rudd might be another technocrat, but he knows all about governments losing elections rather than oppositions winning them. He learned that the hard way in Queensland.

That’s why it’s still way too early to put too much emphasis on the polls. We’ll have to wait for the Budget and the polls that follow it before we can decide if our final cliché can be deployed – when a swing’s on, a swing’s on.

Mind you, the state of the Senate after a vote on today’s primary figures would be pretty interesting.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey