The thesis of ANOP’s Rod Cameron, mentioned in Crikey last week, that playing the man is turning voters off the Howard Government, looks even more plausible after this morning’s Newspoll. So in Parliament this week we can expect a little less of Tony Abbott’s aggro and rather more discussion by Ministers of matters of substance.

Prime Minister John Howard will be much better served by the major speech he plans on the future of Iraq and Australia’s involvement in that country than sniping at who Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has spent his time meeting.

And that is despite the general unpopularity of Australia’s involvement in the Middle East. A Prime Minister who keeps plugging away at the disastrous consequences of a collapse or Iraq in to total anarchy might not convince a majority that he is right but he might gain a grudging respect for being a man with the courage of his convictions. So too with his industrial relations changes. Keep describing the Labor and trade union criticisms as scare tactics and hope that by polling day the critics have not turned out to be correct.

Above all Mr Howard and his Treasurer need to keep talking about the need for careful custodianship of the economy. Voters must be persuaded that it is not inevitable that growth continues and that Labor presents a risk to continuing low unemployment.

The time is right for an early start to a “where’s the money coming from” examination of all Labor Party proposals. The six months until the election give ample opportunity to engender some fear that Labor would need to become the high tax party to pay for its promises.

While the opinion polls suggest that the task of recovering the lead is a difficult one, the Crikey Election Indicator says differently. Based on the prices offered by the leading bookmakers and betting exchange, the Indicator has Labor only slightly favoured as a 51.5% chance of forming a government with the Coalition at 48.5%. That is only marginally different to the reading a month ago before this latest surge by Labor in the polls.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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