From the deep north, we report that the government in is diabolical trouble.

Not only do they not like Kevin Rudd’s Great Big New Tax (54%, according to the Galaxy poll) they don’t understand it (68% say the government has explained in badly)  and they don’t want to (anecdotal evidence). As a result the coalition is now clearly in front — 52 to 48 on two-party preferred.

But the truly grim news is that Tony Abbott has caught up with Rudd in the preferred Prime Minister stakes, trailing by a single point — 44 to 45. Labor’s fallback position has always been that their guy might be pretty much on the nose, but the other guy is unelectable — too crazy to take seriously in the top job.

The theory, now revealed as little more than wishful thinking, has been that while the voters might find the idea of the Mad Monk a bit of a distraction, something to brighten up the daily spin-driven tedium that politics has become, when it came to actually casting a vote they would draw back; caution and discretion would take over. It now appears that in Queensland — Rudd’s home state — the punters are preparing to forget about the parachute and jump out of the plane.

Admittedly this is Queensland, the state that gave Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Russ Hinze, Clive Palmer and the cane toad. But where Queensland goes, can Western Australia be far behind? And if the dominoes start to fall, suddenly we will wake up to find Abbott in the Lodge, Joe Hockey in the Treasury, Julie Bishop running foreign policy, Phillip Ruddock, Bronwyn Bishop and Kevin Andrews running ministries and Barnaby Joyce — the shadow finance minister who had to take off his trousers to count up to 21 — naming his own price for keeping the Nationals in the coalition.

The prospect, once the stuff of febrile nightmare, is rapidly turning real. And the truly bad news is that no one in the Labor camp seems to have a clue what to do about it.

In the circumstances the workers should be very grateful to Fair Work Australia and the $26 a week catch-up award for the lowest paid, which came through last week.

Under a coalition government there would not be too many like it. Abbott, in his Mr Nice Guy mode, assured the honest toilers that he was never one to begrudge them a rise — but he only hoped it would not be a case of one man’s rise being another man’s job, the usual code for the employers’ line that it is never actually the right time for a wage rise — in good times they cause inflation, in bad times they add to unemployment.

With the unions stepping up their own campaigning against the miners and the coalition, it is likely that industrial relations will play more a part in the forthcoming election than either side had anticipated. Labor was always going to use the line about Abbott planning to bring back WorkChoices as part of its scare campaign. But it now looks as though the unions, realising that a change of government is suddenly a real possibility, are going to get back on the airwaves in a big way.

Frankly it’s just as well; so far the government’s advertising campaign extolling the RSPT has been even more boring and unconvincing than the miners’ campaign against it — and given that all the facts and logic are on the government’s side, that is condemnation indeed.

At least the backlash against Rudd’s broken promise on this aspect of the campaign has been less severe than might have been expected; Abbott and his colleagues have had a bit of fun with the apparent invocation of a national emergency, but by and large the public seems to have shrugged it off.

As Rudd and other have pointed out, Howard did much worse and much more of it and in the current mood of disillusionment and despair at the whole process, that is all that needs to be said. All politicians are bastards, a politician is an a-se upon which everything has sat except a man, and whoever you vote for a politician always gets in, so why bother?

This public reversion to cynicism about politics and its place in society is perhaps the very worst legacy Rudd could leave Australia, but seems highly likely he will do so. His election campaign and the first year if his government did a lot to restore the hope and trust that Howard had so badly eroded; but in the past few months he has p-ssed it all away in favour of timidity, indecision and, of course, a sack full of broken promises.

Part of the problem is the group of time-servers, mercenaries and mug lairs he has collected around him; mainly refugees from the New South Wales right, they are ignorant of the past (it’s irrelevant), uninformed about the present (they only talk to each other) and uninterested in the future (it doesn’t go past the next Newspoll.) But it is Rudd himself who has been the most crashing disappointment: Kevin 07 has melted in to Kevin Zilch.

What a pity Barack Obama again has been forced to cancel his visit; it would have been nice to see a real politician, if only from a distance.

Peter Fray

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