First campaign weeks aren’t particularly useful in telling us how elections will go. Former Labor leader Mark Latham had a good start in 2004. The Howard government hit the ground running in 2007 before it all fell apart. Former PM Julia Gillard had a strong first week in 2010 and looked set to blitz Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. In which case, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has had a reasonable first week, might want to be careful: it could be all downhill from this weekend.
Given my form in predictions, this is a risky venture, but I suspect given the lack of big moments this week, it’s unlikely next week’s polls will show much change: the Coalition will still be ahead, perhaps extending its lead a tad, though not out of Labor’s reach. But the national polls will hide the real story, which are the quite divergent state swings: Labor doing well in Queensland, WA and maybe SA, the Coalition doing well in NSW and Tasmania, probably well enough to clinch a win on September 7, especially given the Coalition has already three seats to the good via New England, Lyne and Fisher. Although, who knows, Liberal Sophie Mirabella might be a surprise loss in Indi, the sort of outcome that would dismay precisely no one in federal politics, particularly her colleagues.
Both sides this week displayed a sort of atavism, perhaps driven by the smell of electoral blood. Labor went for car manufacturing handouts, another $200 million to those transnational car makers who’ve stuck it out in Australia, kept here by a drip-feed of taxpayer dollars. Labor governments are like an ATM for Detroit and Tokyo: pick up the phone, suggest you might reluctantly have to pull out, and the cash flows. Would you like to print a receipt or view your balance on the screen?
And the Coalition went for company tax cuts — well, tax cuts for small and some medium-sized companies, because the rest will have to pay up for Abbott’s paid parental leave policy. One of the remarkable things about Abbott’s leadership has been the tremendous unity of Liberals behind him, and this has even applied to policy dissent: the Liberals and even the Nationals are united in hating the paid parental leave policy, along with business as well. Kudos to whoever noted during the week that if the Greens like your policy more than your fellow Liberals, you’re in strife.
Still, the corporate tax cut was neither here nor there — unlikely to spur any extra investment or create jobs, but certainly not harmful given Australia has a relatively high corporate tax rate — except that the Coalition couldn’t explain how it would be paid for, especially after Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop admitted that the particular savings that Abbott had identified as covering the corporate tax cut involved cuts that were no longer available.
Moreover, Abbott and shadow treasurer Joe Hockey claimed the tax cut would increase revenue over the medium term. This, to quote one of my favourite films, is voodoo bullshit: the Laffer Curve and “tax cuts generate more revenue” has been discredited so often and so thoroughly that it is remarkable that serious politicians still invoke it. As US economist Austan Goolsbee put it, “moon landing was real. Evolution exists. Tax cuts lose revenue. The research has shown this a thousand times. Enough already.”
Then Kevin Rudd wheeled out his first big campaign surprise in former Queensland premier Peter Beattie (is it the last big surprise? paging former Victorian premier Steve Bracks). The intensity of both News Corporation’s attacks and the Coalition’s attacks on Beattie suggest they’re concerned about his capacity to further strengthen Labor in Queensland. Curiously, for all the Coalition attacks, attempts to whip up leadership speculation, etc, etc, they missed the obvious point, and one that I expected would have been made well before now, that the Rudd frontbench will be painfully and perhaps worryingly thin in terms of ministerial experience after the election.
Then again, Mirabella and opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton. So, hmmm.
The Rudd story at the start of this campaign was that he’d made Labor competitive again, but not got it into a winning position. Nearly a week in, that remains the case. Abbott, albeit mildly flustered, remains on course for victory.