All election wonks know Bryan Palmer’s website, and a particularly popular part is the election calculator. You put in a two-party-preferred vote and it gives you the likely outcome.

Enter today’s Newspoll and it gives Labor 95 seats, compared with just 55 for the Coalition. Put in the ACNielsen and Labor has more than two-thirds of the House of Representatives – 103 seats, compared with just 47 for the Coalition.

If both of today’s polls were ballots, they’d represent a thumping for the Government.

That’s simple. The reporting isn’t. It’s Alice in Wonderland stuff.

Nielsen and Newspoll would both see the Labor Party swept into office with a very comfortable majority. Somehow, this has been translated into stories that say the polls are good news for the government.

Labor will be glad to grab some underdog status from the reporting. Not that shadow treasurer Wayne Swan sounded like an underdog when he said this morning, “The Howard Government has thrown the kitchen sink at the Labor Party in the last month, but it appears the mood for change, the desire for a fresh start, the desire for strong leadership when it comes to putting in place economic prosperity beyond the mining boom, are all seeing Labor out there with a reasonable lead.”

Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty would have been a good poll reader. “When I use a word,” he says in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” But let’s look deeper.

The Greens’ primary vote appears to have climbed. This suggests that Labor’s clear messages on climate change have been blurred by Howard’s latter day conversion — and that Peter Garrett needs better advice and a better message.

Indeed, he may need to move soon to broaden the Labor MPs’ support for his causes before he becomes irreparably damaged. He has already taken some hits and worse, from his perspective, the focus for change is seen to be the Greens (which will make his already tough internal battles even harder).

Labor’s tactics this last sitting week will be critical. Last week was largely wasted, although it reinforced the “John Howard is arrogant and out of touch” theme.

Leaders “who won’t get out of bed in the morning unless they’ve had a focus group report to tell them which side of bed to get out of” tend to take a while to get the pluck to act — then go in too hard for too long.

Last week, Rudd looked liked an opposition leader. Labor needs him to appear like an alternative PM. The ALP needs Rudd to go out hard, solidly selling the vision thing.

He should learn from the PM. He can keep some attack dogs that bark and nip (but don’t hit the front page) to worry his opponents. Rudd, however, needs be above the fray.

Rudd has rattled Howard with his silence and aloofness from the hullabaloo of the parliamentary theatre.

The Labor leader needs to appear to be above it all. Particularly dodgily interpreted opinion polls.

Peter Fray

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