The extraordinary turnaround in Labor’s political fortunes since the change of leadership to Kevin Rudd has saved Labor from electoral annihilation.
Now Rudd seems determined to win the unwinnable election. Tony Abbott has a real fight on his hands, perhaps the toughest this ex-boxer has ever faced. Under pressure he looks an unlikely winner, a conclusion that many in the Coalition have probably drawn. Malcolm Turnbull looks the better match for Kevin Rudd but the Coalition has left that move too late. Kevin Rudd is everywhere, a master of presidential campaigning. No policy is sacred as he attempts to pull the political rug from underneath the feet of his opponents, making their ground his ground. Many longstanding supporters of Labor are likely to be stunned by the pragmatism, the willingness to brazenly reinvent the political position of your opponents and make it your own. Plenty will feel great despair about the PNG solution and move their vote to The Greens in protest. What Rudd is gambling on, is winning back those who through fear, ignorance, xenophobia and racism have punished Labor for past asylumseeker policies. Once again, asylum seekers are caught up an unedifying race to the bottom. This is the ugly face of modern Australian politics. The move to accelerate the transition to carbon trading is another example of the extraordinary pragmatism of the new Labor leadership. It effectively neutralises the Coalition’s relentless campaign against the carbon tax by introducing a measure that the Coalition would have almost certainly done had they been in government. So it looks like we might have a carbon neutral election ahead. The dumping of Kevin Rudd inflicted a mortal wound on the leadership of Julia Gillard, which the Rudd team forensically aggravated, undermining the stability of Gillard. In the wake of his ascension, Rudd has moved swiftly to make political spills much more diffi cult to achieve in the future, a change that will be welcomed by some but regarded with suspicion by others – making it more diffi cult to remove the leader runs the risk of rewarding megalomania. Despite this, Rudd’s decisiveness in introducing a higher bar for leadership spills is likely to win the support of those who believed he was harshly treated as Labor leader in the past. Having regained enormous lost political ground, Kevin Rudd is now within striking distance of Tony Abbott. If the outcome is linked to who is the better campaigner then Kevin Rudd has a real chance of making political history. He appears to be more determined than ever, fuelled by the frustrations of the past to want to win the unwinnable. Meanwhile Tony Abbott must run the campaign of his life, making the transition from negative campaigning to setting out an alternative vision. This will be hard for someone so used to defining themselves by what they oppose rather than what they believe in. In all the political noise great policy challenges fail to get the attention they deserve. Among these is simmering instability in the global economy and the prospect that unemployment will rise steadily over the next year in the face of depressed global demand and the need to boost public investment in infrastructure. While Australia has done well to escape recession, some sectors of the economy are in recession, particularly manufacturing. No doubt the future of Australian manufacturing will be forced onto the election agenda by the continued uncertainty surrounding the automotive industry in South Australia. On this issue there is a sharp between the Government and the Opposition, with the latter inclined not to provide financial assistance to secure the future of the industry. This is a policy gulf that might get narrower as the fight for seats in the northern suburbs of Adelaide intensifies. A fascinating election is in store. Kevin Rudd has cleared the decks to launch a major assault on the Coalition forcing Tony Abbott to rethink his negative campaign. Lets hope that it all of this rises above political point scoring on asylum seeker policy. We have had enough of that. Don’t hold your breath. Associate Professor John Spoehr is the Executive Director of the Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre at the University of Adelaide