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Oct 15, 2007

Day One, Election ’07: What the papers say

The view from the nation's papers this morning.

The view from the nation’s papers this morning:

  • Editorial, The Australian, ‘Political contest needs substance’: We would urge both parties to use the campaign to explain what they stand for and debate policy, because right now voters would have little idea. It would be disappointing if Labor attempted to surf home on the basis of its lead in the polls rather than state its case. Just as it would be disappointing if the Government attempted to once again spend its way back into office with a highly targeted pork-barrelling campaign in marginal seats.
  • Paul Kelly, The Australian, ‘Cornered crusader meets boy wonder’: It is Howard’s last crusade. Diminished by longevity, burdened by his retirement pledge and, facing defeat by a younger opponent, Howard’s final appeal is for Australians to stick by his leadership and values. Yet his election opening gave few insights into how he can save his 11-year-old Government…Howard offers more of the same – an extension of the prosperity cycle, a jobless rate falling to 3-plus per cent, a tough line on national security, higher family living standards, a better deal for those left behind, fresh policies on the environment and his “One Australia” philosophy based on common values and citizenship. The public endorses the essence of Howard’s agenda. But it is not apparent that it still wants Howard.
  • Michelle Grattan, The Age ‘Voters’ choice: short-term incumbent or the mystery package’: “Who is Kevin Rudd?” is the question the Government is trying to get up, not unreasonably, because we know very little about him except that he’s middle of the road to conservative in views, savvy to brilliant in tactics, and has a “whatever it takes” (within limits) approach to wresting the top job. We saw an example of the last this week when Rudd recalibrated Labor’s death penalty policy because foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland’s articulation of it caused a problem. So the choice for voters…will be between a short-term incumbent colleagues would have shrugged off, and a mystery package wrapped so tightly that it’s hard to be absolutely sure what’s inside. Take your pick, but it is not entirely satisfactory, from the voters’ point of view.
  • Dennis Shanahan, The Australian, ‘Bib and Bub prepare for battle’: The 2007 Bib and Bub election campaign has begun with hardly a difference between the policies on offer. Budget surpluses, climate change, national security, broadband rollout, education and public health – there’s hardly a cigarette paper between the Coalition and the Labor Party. So, in a drive to be different, Bib the elder and Bub the younger have started a fight. Who’s a risk? Who’s too old? Who’s too young? Who’s been around for too long? Who hasn’t been around long enough? …It’s Bib and Bub on a seesaw, and at the moment the younger Bub still has the weight on his side.
  • Malcolm Farr, Daily Telegraph, ‘Nation needs a leader – not a mate’: Rudd’s asset will be his newness, which is part of another plus for him – he’s not Howard. Rudd’s novelty value and his disciplined pre-campaign tactics have created the expectation that he would bring new approaches to problems which have become old under Howard. No amount of being chummy to voters will make up for an absence of policies, and Labor and the Coalition will be under pressure to supply new ideas on issues as broad as industry development and as shopping centre suburban as childcare. Howard might be older than your grandma and Rudd might look like a young insurance clerk on the make, but voters will want more – they will be looking for leadership that tackles the difficulties in their lives.
  • Piers Akerman, Daily Telegraph, ‘Kevin Rudd’s glib grab for power’: Kevin Rudd had the opportunity to make his case for a change of government yesterday and came off looking like he was auditioning for a role on Young Talent Time. Even given the chance to rehearse his lines, Rudd fell back on so many old favourites that his leadership call came off like a Play School re-run…He tried to make the case that everything about the future of this nation depended upon new government, ignoring the fact that the current Government, building upon the early reforms of the Hawke-Keating governments – which he intends to dump – has placed Australia in an internationally enviable position. He said he wants an education revolution. That would confound parents across the country who have seen the education systems in their states undermined by bloody-minded teachers who belong to one of the most reactionary trade union bodies in the nation…He said he wants to reform the health system. That would panic Queenslanders who remember his closure of hospitals during his career as a senior public servant…There’s really not much to the man, except whatever script is pushed into his hands by his trade union spin doctors.
  • Editorial, Herald Sun, ‘It’s Labor’s to lose’: Those looking for vision yesterday would have been disappointed. Instead we got the politics of fear. We can only hope things improve over the next 40 days.…When voters enter the polling booths on November 24 they will need to have a much better idea of what the Queenslander stands for and how a Rudd government would impact on their lives.  In turn, Mr Howard has to sell voters a renewed vision, and signal a willingness to again listen.
  • Editorial, Sydney Morning Herald, ‘A contest yes, but not yet of ideas’: The first challenge for both sides of politics will be to recapture the attention of an already election-weary public. Despite all the words from the Government and Labor in the so-called “phoney campaign”, there is still so much that needs to be said. The too-presidential campaign of the 10 months since Mr Rudd became Labor leader has been very much at the expense of policy. There has been neither the breadth of vision nor the depth of detail to be expected from those who would run the country until 2011. There have been promises aplenty from both sides, but they lack coherence. The coming weeks cannot be a mere denouement after the wearying months of the phoney campaign, but must establish a clear direction for the three years to come. The electorate must be re-energised. Despite the polls, the November election is still a contest – but not yet a contest of ideas.
  • John Warhurst, The Canberra Times, ‘A poll still there for the winning’: The election will be not just about issues, but, to the chagrin of purists, also about personalities. Leadership is one personality issue. Howard versus Rudd. The strength of the competing teams: Howard, Vaile, Downer and Costello against Rudd, Julia Gillard, Robert McClelland, and Wayne Swan. Will the leadership tensions and the recently promised succession from Howard to Costello in 2009 be a plus or a minus for the Coalition? Will voters warm to the most senior woman in the campaign, Gillard?

And the view being put across overseas:

  • Bernard Lagan, in Sydney, The Times: Mr Howard is banking on a long campaign to achieve what he has been unable to do all year – derail Mr Rudd and erase Labor’s lead in the polls. According to the latest opinion poll, published by The Sydney Morning Herald, Labor would win 59 per cent of the votes, enough to deliver the 16 seats it needs to win office. Electoral analysts have pointed out that it has been 30 years since an Australian opposition party entered an election campaign with such a lead in the polls. Mr Rudd has not relied on charm to build Labor’s healthy lead in the polls. The serious-minded, and at times dour, policy-obsessive has trampled over Labor traditionalists to starve Mr Howard of any issue that could be used to turn popular opinion against the party – a tactic the Prime Minister is a master of. Mr Howard clearly hopes that a lengthy, six-week campaign will produce at least one heavy stumble from his opponent. The formula has worked in the past – notably when he demolished Labor’s last great hope, the young firebrand Mark Latham, in the 2004 election. Mr Latham, crushed, quit Parliament and the party. Kevin Rudd, is unlikely to prove as large or soft a target.
  • BBC News: Younger voters are said to be angry with Mr Howard for introducing legislation that makes it easier to hire and fire workers. But Mr Howard will point to the enduring strength of the economy. The Australian stock market is hitting record highs, while unemployment is at a 33-year low. Mr Howard’s unflinching support for US President George W Bush has proven unpopular with many Australian voters, our correspondent says. The war and the refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change have found the Liberal Party leader on the wrong side of public opinion, he says. The PM is even behind in opinion polls in his own Sydney constituency of Bennelong, which he has represented since 1974.
  • The New York Times (Reuters): Howard, 68, in power for 11 years but lagging well behind youthful Labor leader Kevin Rudd in opinion surveys, said that only he was able to lead Australia into the future and continue the country’s current resource-driven economic boom. Howard has promised a national vote on recognition for Aborigines in the country’s constitution if he wins, a move dismissed by opponents as a last ditch effort to present a “vision” to lure back jaded former conservative supporters. But political analyst Nick Economou said Howard’s biggest error may have been his championing of unpopular labor laws. “The government has blundered its way into a policy that affects everyone, regardless of their social-economic standing,” Economou told Reuters. “It has made people really insecure in what should be a time of prosperity and stability.” “They’ve committed a big error of judgment. That’s what’s going to bring them down,” Economou said.
  • Barbara McMahon, in Sydney, The Guardian: Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, called a general election yesterday as polls showed him heading for a landslide defeat after nearly 11 years in office. Mr Rudd, a 50-year-old former diplomat who speaks Mandarin, has been on a roll. He took over as Labor leader in December and is seen as a serious, policy-driven politician and the first real challenger to Mr Howard’s authority. Analysts are predicting a bitterly fought campaign. Mr Rudd, who is regarded as clever but bland, has never fought an election as party leader before and is likely to find Mr Howard a fearsome opponent. The most recent poll indicated Labour could win more than 20 seats from the coalition government – four more than it needs to take power. However, Mr Howard snapped yesterday that he had “no intention of spending even a nanosecond” commenting on polls. He added: “I am facing my day of accountability as is the leader of the opposition. That is the nature of the democratic process.”

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