A week into the election and Labor’s strategy of sleepwalking to victory appears to be working. Even the recalcitrant Nielsen poll has swung in the ALP’s favour in today’s Fairfax papers.

Tony Abbott had a poor start. Eric Abetz ruined his attempt to shut down Workchoices – you certainly can’t say Abetz doesn’t generously share his incompetence with leaders progressive and conservative alike – and there was a strangely slow start for the Liberal HQ that Brian Loughnane will have to explain if he’s on the losing side again.

But even with those hurdles surmounted, there was an “is that it?” feel to Abbott’s campaign, which seems to lack a strategy beyond  trying to shut down Workchoices. A big ticket and potentially attractive campaign commitment on the education rebate came and went in the media cycle, with no follow-up from the Liberals and questions about its costings.

Labor’s campaign kicked off with a strong emphasis on population as Julia Gillard dog-whistled her way around Queensland regional centres and outer-suburban Sydney. The fact remains that if John Howard had made the sort of comments on population made by Julia Gillard – with her emphasis on protecting the Australian way of life from the pressures caused by immigration – progressive commentators would have screamed. By mid-week the opportunistic nature of Labor’s campaign had become apparent with both Gillard and Swan denying their emphasis on sustainability meant lower immigration, a bizarre claim that rightly came in for severe criticism, including from Australia’s most famous parliamentary pension holder, Mark Latham.

Labor’s most important task of the week was to finally fill the gaping hole in its climate change credibility where the CPRS used to be. Given Gillard had already ruled out a carbon price in the near-future, there was no chance the policy was ever going to offer a genuinely effective path to decarbonisation, but the breathtaking cynicism of the policy launched by Gillard yesterday had to be seen to be believed.  There was more today, with new vehicle emissions standards introduced – but with a generous four-year transition period so our car manufacturers, which are de facto government-owned industries given their level of protection, won’t complain too loudly.

Labor clearly regards climate change as a relatively minor political irritant unlikely to move votes in the outer-suburban and regional seats in Sydney and Queensland where it is concentrating its campaign pitch.

The campaign has been sufficiently boring that the media have been tempted to run with the idea of Kevin Rudd deliberately disrupting the Labor campaign, despite not a jot of evidence to support it.  The ABC was the most egregious offender in this regard, with its overhyped new 24 hour news channel kicking off with a nonsensical and, given later revelations by Rudd, almost malicious beat-up about his national security record.

The next major event is notionally Sunday evening’s debate, but the format is so ossified and the chances of interaction between the  leaders so minimal that it should more properly be regarded as a joint  press conference. Labor’s sleepwalking strategy – in this case, burying the debate on Sunday evening, ensuring the format is as boring as possible – isn’t merely intended to ensure that any unexpected outcomes, like a halfway-decent showing by Abbott, for example, or an unlikely gaffe from the frontrunner, isn’t seen by too many voters. Labor wants to ensure the whole campaign continues to fail to engage voters, preventing the Opposition from gaining any traction with voters.

At the end of first week, Crikey’s Election Commitment Scorecard shows Labor well ahead in its spending commitments, with the Opposition yet to make much of a dent in its savings measures which, while they don’t come within cooee of the proclaimed $47b, will yet provide it some room for some decent announcements.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey