The electoral gods have a wicked sense of humour, don’t they? They seem to have thoroughly embraced a version of Marx’s maxim that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce.

Has there been a single theme of the Howard Government that hasn’t made a reappearance in this campaign? Each one of its spectacularly successful political tactics from the last eleven years has returned to the spotlight in the last couple of months. And each one has either failed miserably or, worse, blown up in the Government’s face.

Count ’em. The incompetent prosecutions of Mohammed Haneef and Izhar Ul-Haque wrecked Islamic terrorism as a wedge tactic. Interest rates went up in defiance of the Government’s 2004 election promise. Massive handouts to voters were damned as economically irresponsible. Private schools objected to a tax rebate for school fees. The Government’s disdain for FOI requirements meant WorkChoices dominated the last week of the campaign. Even the Kirribilli Casuist’s word games over “sorry” got another go.

So who can be surprised that yesterday a sinking boat of asylum seekers made its way into Australian waters and some kids ended up in the drink? It was inevitable, really, even if they left their run almost too late. And, true to form, it was no help to the Government at all. Were they Iraqis? Sudanese? Muslims of any kind? Anyone at all who could be exploited for political gain? Alas, they were Indonesians, who were jack of trying to illegally fish inside Australian waters. And they appear to have been knocked into the water during the rescue operation, rather than chucking their kids in. Not like last time at all.

Nothing to see there. The only thing it did was remind people of the original certain maritime incident, which was presumably not high in the Coalition’s priorities for the last week.

But not content with ransacking the history of the Howard Government for elaborate pranks to play, the gods are reaching even further back, to the Ralph Willis letter in the 1996 campaign. Admittedly, the “Islamic Australia Federation” letter in Jackie Kelly’s seat is a far grubbier one than the effort Willis fell for. Kelly reckons it was just a prank. Presumably that sort of thing is what passes for entertainment in the Kelly-Clark household. Even the Daily Telegraph was mortified, and they don’t mortify easily at Holt St. Nevertheless, Kelly’s status as a future political trivia night question is assured.

Sadly, these uncanny coincidences are about the only thing keeping anyone interested in the campaign. Saturday can’t come quick enough, and there’s a definite sense of ennui in the coverage. Even the right-wing warriors at The Australian seem to be over it. The week started with the sense that Labor had peaked and that the Government could run them down. Now, only Kevin Rudd remains full of running. The man is almost inhuman in his capacity to stay focussed.

Wonder if he’ll govern the way he’s campaigned?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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