It seems that Kevin Rudd is a clever politician, too. His seizure of the power to choose ministers neutralised fears that Julia Gillard might take the Treasury. Of course this internal coup d’état won’t last; caucus will of course cancel it, but not before the election.

And if appointments are to be made without factional involvement, why weren’t first rate performers with appeal across the spectrum, such as Stephen Smith, put in the front rank? Of the three declared members of the politburo, only Wayne Swan has performed reasonably well, even if he is overshadowed by one of the nation’s most formidable Treasurers.

Julia Gillard’s ultra left background terrifies the undecided, and her surprising ignorance of elementary constitutional principle in designing her Work Choices replacement suggests she was about to do to IR what she had done to Medicare in 2004. As for Lindsay Tanner, he is best remembered for rushing to join the witch hunt against Peter Hollingworth. His action removed the legal protection a court had provided for the clearly disturbed Rosemary “Annie” Jarmyn, with unpredictable but disastrous consequences.

In the meantime Sol Lebovic has stressed that the polls are telling us no more about the result than the scores do early in a football game, that 30% of voters don’t make up their minds until the last week, and that 12% of these do so only on the day of the election. Common sense, supported by the Morgan poll, suggests that most of these late deciders are fluttering nervously around Kevin Rudd.

The later the election the more chance the government has to attract them away. So Parliament will probably sit again –and a good thing too. Question time hasn’t been more entertaining – or more revealing – for years, with Speaker Hawker rivalling the very best referees on the rugby field.

The Sydney Morning Herald predictably called for this “uncertainty” to be replaced with the boredom of fixed four year terms. How can anyone still repeat the tired old cliché that this produces quality government? The evidence is precisely the opposite. Instead of fewer elections, what we need is a right of recall.

The voters’ traditional preference, especially in NSW, for another party in Canberra has not yet manifested itself. But that could have changed when an extremely upset young man, telephoned Alan Jones last Wednesday about his wife Jana being forced to miscarry in a toilet after being left in agony for hours in the waiting room of Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital.

It was not only the callous lack of concern, but also that later a bed was found in an otherwise empty ward. So much for a lack of resources. Since then, there has been what the ABC says is a “torrent” of complaints about the most appalling incompetence in the NSW public hospital system. Nor is this failure limited to hospitals; it is typical of too many aspects of NSW public administration. The AMA says the problem in hospitals has spread across the country.

There was a time when, without the GST, Labor and Coalition state governments actually did what they were elected to do. Children were superbly educated in public schools, law and order prevailed, public transport was frequent and reliable, new dams and electricity stations were built, hospitals were clean and well run each under their own accountable local board, not grotesque area super bureaucracies. (Full marks to Tony Abbott for making future federal funding dependent on this.)

There were visionaries in government too. Jack Beale long ago planned to revive the Darling Murray basin with a bold plan rivalling Chifley’s Snowy River scheme, the investigation of which was so unwisely killed off by the Hawke government. And it was only due to Joe Cahill, a humble man, that the world has the Sydney Opera House. Now every problem is answered through the spin doctors, with useless reviews and re-organizations, more bureaucracy and of course, the inevitable, a name change. Yet this seems to be the path chosen for a Rudd government.

A crucial question for the voters will be whether this gross maladministration is because the federation has become dysfunctional, or because of who is governing. When Tony Abbott dared to say it was those who were in government, and that putting the same party into office federally would only worsen the situation, the near beatified one feigned moral outrage. In calling for an end to negative campaigning, Mr Rudd demonstrated once again what a very clever politician he is. Some naive people may actually believe that a campaign without negatives is possible, or even that Mr Rudd does not delegate his negative campaigning to others.

The real campaign is yet to begin.

Peter Fray

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