Time running out for Rudd in bid to retain power in Australian election

Polls indicate prime minister’s Labor party will lose eight seats in general election

Australian prime minister Kevin Ruddgreets students after visiting the facilities of Macquarie University in Sydney as part of his election campaign. Photograph: Daniel Munoz/Reuters

Australian prime minister Kevin Ruddgreets students after visiting the facilities of Macquarie University in Sydney as part of his election campaign. Photograph: Daniel Munoz/Reuters

 

With three weeks to go before the Australian election, the minority Labor government is fast running out of time to improve its poll standing and retain power.

When Kevin Rudd deposed Julia Gillard as Labor leader and prime minister in June, Labor’s polling numbers improved dramatically, to the point where it was neck and neck with the Liberal-National Coalition. But since the election date was announced two weeks ago, Labor has slid back to the point where analysis by the Australian Financial Review newspaper suggests it will lose eight seats, rather than gain the five it needs to win a majority.  


Dull draw
Prior to the election announcement Rudd demanded that Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott debate him. Abbott prevaricated and Rudd said he was running scared. But when the debate finally happened, it was a dull draw, not the knockout blow Rudd needed.  

Looking to get back on track while campaigning in the Northern Territory this week, Rudd announced his plan to make the region a special economic zone, with a company tax rate one-third lower than the rest of the country.   This might help win back a Territory seat it lost in 2010, but the case isn’t helped by Labor’s response earlier this year to a similar plan advanced by the Coalition.

“These are absolutely wacky ideas,” said assistant treasurer David Bradbury at the time.  

One of the great anomalies of the Australian election is that its highest profile candidate is not even in Australia; he’s in the Ecuador embassy in London. Julian Assange is the lead senate candidate for the WikiLeaks Party in his home state of Victoria, but has not been getting much of a look in due to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind factor.

His chances of being elected are slim, but there’s a slight possibility he could win a seat at the expense of the Greens. It would certainly make for  some very interesting Australia-UK-Ecuador-Sweden-US diplomatic relations if he did.  

Back in the main game, Abbott has again this week been forced to fight against what is perceived by some as his “woman problem”.

Since Gillard labelled him a misogynist in a parliamentary speech last year, Abbott has rarely been seen in public without a woman beside him. Often it is two of his three daughters (the third stays out of the spotlight) or his wife by his side. If they are not around, they are replaced by his female chief of staff or a female Liberal MP.    

Labor spotted an opportunity this week when Abbott referred to Liberal candidate Fiona Scott as having “sex appeal”. Scott looked mortified, but later passed it off as a joke. Rudd said it was appalling behaviour, but another former Labor leader, Mark Latham stole the negative headlines when asked for his view. “It showed very bad judgment and it shows he has low standards,” said Latham. “I had a good look at Fiona Scott . . . and she doesn’t have sex appeal at all . . . Tony had the beer goggles on and in politics they say it’s showbiz for ugly people and I don’t think she’ll be out of place.”  


Asylum seekers
Labor is, however, looking to capitalise, and monetise, after Abbott described same-sex marriage as the “fashion of the moment”, by selling T-shirts saying “It’s time for marriage equality” for $30 (€20.60).   Abbott was back on safer ground yesterday afternoon, echoing former Liberal prime minister John Howard when talking about asylum seekers.  

Labor has already announced that people arriving on boats from last month onwards will never be settled in Australia. Abbott trumped this by announcing that the 32,000 asylum seekers who have already arrived in Australia by boat will never get permanent settlement, and will have no right of appeal.   “The essential point is, this is our country and we determine who comes here,” said Abbott.      

In 2001, Howard, in the wake of the Tampa affair – in which a Norwegian boat carrying 438 rescued refugees was refused permission to enter Australian waters – said: “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”   Howard retained power in the subsequent election held a few weeks later.   In three weeks Abbott is likely to see his party return to power.