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Rudd the Saviour?

It is difficult to believe the initial polling showing that Rudd’s acquisition of the Prime Ministership has lifted Labour’s polling to 49/51 on a two party preferred basis. One pollster, Graham Young (at Online Opinion), has described this is “a vote of hope”. But unless Rudd performs much better than last time it seems likely that this will drop – subject of course to how Abbott handles the situation.

Here Rudd has highlighted the lack of detail in most policy announcements by Abbott by challenging him to debate, which Abbott has rejected by saying “you first” need to tell us your policies. Such exchanges cannot continue for long and Rudd (and some of his new Ministry) appear already to be making or about to make adjustments to Gillard’s policies. Here again it seems unlikely that sticking with Labor’s underlying policies on refugees, climate change, education, industrial relations and so on will retain the upward shift in polling. But policy adjustments by Rudd, such as moving to a lower tax climate change policy, may provide a challenge to Abbott to start announcing more detail in the Coalition policies. That will pose electoral risks that, in my view, should have been taken some time ago by giving more guidance on the substance of such policies. 

Last night’s interview with Rudd on the 7.30 Report, and since, indicate that he has given considerable forethought to how he will handle his Prime Ministership. While he confirmed earlier statements that any major policy changes will have to be approved by Cabinet, the reality is that he is in an even more powerful position within the party than he was when first elected: there can be no replacement or threat of replacement of him before the election. 

In his 7.30 interview Rudd talked about bringing forth “some new policies” and about “the election at the end of the year” (see transcript). This raises the question of the timing of the election, which has to be by November but which could be some time after the September 14 date predicted by Gillard.

My guess is that Rudd will aim for an election considerably later than September 14 (he has already said it won’t be much different) and that he will likely aim for only a short formal debating period before the election (this would limit the time to debate the Treasury/Finance budget assessment). I base this on my belief that Rudd’s ego will tell him that he needs to display his virtues and capacities (as he sees them) by exposing himself to public viewing at every opportunity. He has already started down this track with a visit to Indonesia (a one-up on Abbott who has said that if elected Indonesia would be his first international visit) and indicated he is likely to go to the G20 meeting early in September. There are other international meetings in Asia in coming months and he will want to attend football finals, such as the AFL one on 28 September. He has also been very TV active on domestic issues, such as the Disability scheme.

Rudd could hold an election considerably later than 14 September  without instituting another session of Parliament: the Constitution provides that Parliament only has to sit once a year. Of course, an avoidance of exposure to Parliamentary debate for, say, more than a month after September 14 would give rise to much criticism and have the potential to have adverse effects on polling.

It might also cause a loss of voting support from independents, although, by the same token, as Parliament would not be sitting it would avoid a possible no confidence motion (the Governor General could in such circumstances require its recall, but this seems unlikely).       

Rudd could justify a postponement of the election well into October on the argument that, as a new PM, he needs time to develop new policies and confirm them with Cabinet. Whether he does so will be influenced by polling, although that seems unlikely to be a determinant: if the polling remains close that will provide an excuse for delaying but even if support dwindles Rudd is capable of developing one.

I sum, I fear we will be subjected to another three months or so of Rudd.

Des Moore
4 July 2013

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