Tuesday, July 9, 2013


If I had to take a guess, I’d say Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, his trusty Chief of Staff Peta Credlin and her husband, Liberal Party President Brian Loughnane are holed up under a bed somewhere, rocking back and forth and sucking on their thumbs. The unthinkable has happened – again.

First time around in 2010, they lost the election they were supposed to win, because Mr Abbott was so desperate that he scared off the crucial independents and couldn’t form a minority government. Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

But the Liberals were not defeated. They simply chose to ignore reality and spend the duration of the 43rd Parliament calling for an election, calling the members of the Government names, and creating the most negative political environment in living memory. With assistance from a largely sympathetic media, the Coalition came into the last three months of the electoral cycle as the unbackable favourite for a landslide victory. All they had to do was not fuck up and victory was theirs. Mr Abbott could be drinking shandies in the Lodge.

Complacency is never a sensible strategy.

Ruddmentum arrived and less than two weeks later, the Coalition’s election winning lead in the polls has evaporated to literally nothing. On current numbers, the election of September 14 looks to be as close as the 2010 election. Having said that, Mr Rudd has momentum on his side right now, and Mr Abbott is struggling to find a media strategy that works in this strange, post-spill world. Mr Abbott is, and always has been, a very effective Opposition Leader. Now that the game has changed, what can he do to regain impetus?

It seems that his strategy has barely changed in the two weeks since Mr Rudd regained the Prime Ministership. Despite no longer being the clear frontrunner, Mr Abbott is still trying to control the game. He is trying to force an election, which he’s been trying to do for the past three years. He’s trying to convince us that he can ‘turn the boats around’, despite the Indonesian government rejecting the policy. He’s stating that he did nothing wrong in the promotion of his book Battlelines, and yet repaid nine thousand dollars that he had claimed for travel expenses while promoting the book. He’s blaming the Carbon Tax for everything and promising to repeal it, without repealing the compensation or reverting to previous taxation arrangements. He’s supporting his copper-wire broadband programme, even though it’s inferior by every measure. Just look at his wishy-washy performance on 7:30 last night:

But for the first time in about three years, not everything is going Mr Abbott’s way. He is being challenged for refusing to appear on the more serious current affairs programmes, and being mocked (yes, by me) for refusing to debate Prime Minister Rudd outside the structures of a political campaign.
Abbott is also being challenged regarding a matter of $9400 in travel expenses which he may or may not have claimed while promoting his book. He has repaid the money…but denies any wrongdoing, and today, tried to blame the ALP for reigniting the issue. In fact, it was journalist Margo Kingston who campaigned hard to bring this issue to the attention of the mainstream media. The ALP was nowhere near it.

Mr Abbott’s biggest challenge is that his strategy for winning the election in September was based on three mainstays:

His opponent would be Julia Gillard
The Coalition would have a comfortable lead in the polls
He – and the media sympathetic to his cause – controlled the national agenda

The re-emergence of Kevin Rudd has knocked those pillars to the ground, and the Coalition strategy with it. Most damaging is the inability of Tony Abbott to continue to campaign in sloganistic notions. Against Kevin Rudd, a re-energised Labor front bench and a less sympathetic media, vague slogans and references to the “glory days” of John Howard’s government will make him look insubstantial and unprepared.

On the other hand, if he continues to avoid real debates and searching interviews, he will be perceived as weak and cowardly.

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