Canberra’s great communicators

montage of three pictures of Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott & Julia Gillard in Federal Parliament

Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott & Julia Gillard

I have found the last few weeks of relentless spin about Rudd’s perceived transition from last year’s alleged cynical spinmeister whose soundbites mesmerised a malleable public to this year’s alleged droning word-salad-tosser who can’t convey his vision to the voters to be the most tedious period of media non-analysis for years. As the weekly spin doctor segment on yesterday’s Morning with Deborah Cameron (ABC Sydney 702) guest experts commented, along comes Abbott with a few one-liners and suddenly Rudd’s entire skillset disappears? Laaaazzzzyyyyy.

There’s been much written at Larvatus Prodeo and Possum’s Pollytics about how the reporting of polls has changed to hype some metrics more than others, even though what used to be the gold standard, Preferred Prime Minister (PPM), still has Rudd ahead by 25 percentage points (even if the 15% of undecideds all went for Abbott, that still leaves him 10 points behind).

Sure, Rudd and Labor have lost points from the astonishing high polls of 2 years ago (who thought those figures could last anyway?), but on every measure polling shows that if a Federal election were held right now, Labor would not just retain government but would pick up quite a few more seats from the Libs. But that’s not what you’re hearing or reading from mainstream news reporters, is it?

Yesterday’s Question Time in Federal Parliament was thus a welcome relief from the predictable routine of the last few months.

The tactic by the ALP to allow Abbott to speak for 10 minutes in Parliamentary prime time was a a risky one, but they wagered it was worth it, because they wanted the issue of the day to be Health policy and not insulation or asylum seekers. They wanted the last day of Parliament to be on the topic that they wanted; they would not have dreamed that the Libs would let them make it the issue for next week as well.

The Libs have been well and truly outmaneuvred here. Labor are likely to lose some State seats in Tasmania and South Australia this weekend, and the Liberals must have hoped that they could run that as their major soundbite next week alongside insulation and asylum seekers, but now they have agreed to a debate on Health being the key political story this weekend before the debate takes place and through to next weekend after the debate has happened. This also neatly pre-empts predicted LibNat demands for debates between the leaders before the election – Rudd has agreed to have 3 debates and next Tuesday’s will be the first – months and months before the election is likely to happen. Watch Abbott get maneuvred into having the other two debates well before polling day as well, so that they are well below any voter’s horizon on the big day. Ha!

As several people have noted, Abbott’s punchy parliamentary debating style doesn’t work so well in outside venues, where he tends to come across as a (even more of a) blustering bully. Since the Libs don’t actually have any depth in health policy, he hardly has a leg to stand on. No doubt he’ll deliver a couple of effective soundbites that will be headlines, and while it’s likely that the polls showing that 79% of voters support the Labor plan for Federal government to have more control over State hospitals will not shift a jot in Abbott’s favour, that statistic won’t make the papers at all.

So what else will make the papers? Julia Gillard also had a cracking Question Time yesterday, deftly anticipating questions from the Opposition and turning the tables on them so effectively that Christopher Fletcher was ejected for reacting badly to her response. As Bernard Keane points out, her sparkling performance when contrasted to Rudd’s staid but comprehensive rebuttal of Abbott is likely to be spun as boring Rudd in danger of falling to a leadership challenge from exciting Gillard, but while many of us would love to see her as PM it’s simply not going to happen as long as the ALP maintains its Two Party Preferred (2PP) lead in the polls. They’re just not that silly, no matter how much the media pack would like it to happen. Besides, as Grog points out:

But what that media should also mention is that back in February when Newspoll asked who they preferred as PM – Abbott or Gillard, Gillard won 49% to 38%! The media can talk all they like about fantasies of Gillard taking over from Rudd. What they should mention is that the ALP have two people who quite convincingly can beat Abbott.

Will Gillard take over from Rudd one day? Quite possibly, even probably. But it’s not going to happen this year (or the next, most likely), and even if it did, Abbott still won’t win unless something truly drastic changes, like the Libs actually developing some in-depth policies that appeal to swinging voters. I doubt much will change in the fundamentals here before the election is finally called later this year, so I’ll probably just be referring back to this post at regular intervals as the theatre of the electoral cycle plays on.

Categories: language, media, parties and factions

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1 reply

  1. Your disparaging remarks about mainstream political commentators are very welcome. They are running either a biased or ignorant [or both!] line using Newspoll very selectively and in ways which also ignore polling history.
    Far from looking very vulnerable as Denis et al claim, Rudd at the 6-months out mark is still in a stronger Newspoll position on personal satisfaction ratings, as better PM and on 2-party preferred than ANY Prime Minister in the past 20 year at the same stage of the electoral cycle. In 2007 at the equivalent stage Rudd was at 47-38 as better PM and was at 68-16 on satisfaction/dissatisfaction. Rudd was ahead 60-40 on 2-party preferred. Compare that with now: Abbott trails 30-55 as Better PM is at 47-38 on satisfaction and at 48-52 2-party preferred.
    Moreover, at the 6-month out mark, Rudd is the ONLY PM in 20 years who wasn’t behind and had never been behind on Newspoll’s 2-party preferred. Here are the 6 month out personal Newspoll ratings for all PM’s 6 months out for all elections since 1993:
    1993: Better PM Keating 32-37; Keating satisfaction 29-61 [he won]
    1996: Better PM Keating 32-61; Keating satisfaction 32-61 [he lost]
    1998: Better PM Howard 36-35; Howard satisfaction 37-51 [he won…just]
    2001: Better PM Howard 35-39; Howard satisfaction 34-58 [he won]
    2004: Better PM Howard 43-42; Howard satisfaction 53-40 [he won]
    2007: Better PM Howard 38-47; Howard satisfaction 44-47 [he lost]
    2010: Better PM Rudd 55-30; Rudd satisfaction 48-41. [who looks like winning? Abbott? They must be joking].

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