LOVERS of test cricket know the best thing about the five day game is its potential to ebb and flow. One team can look to be winning but then the character of the match changes - sometimes dramatically and other times in a cumulative, almost imperceptible way.

The importance of small things - a dropped catch for example - becomes obvious only in hindsight. Politics can be strikingly similar in this regard. In this longest of games, there is a general assumption that Kevin Rudd is a shoe-in at the next election.

Polls confirm this on a fortnightly basis and it would be a brave correspondent who predicted otherwise. But equally, the result cannot simply be assumed.

The advent of Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader presents a new dynamic. His choice of controversial former Howard government figures on his frontbench, and the possibility - admittedly detected more in the nostril hairs than anywhere else - that public sentiment is on the move regarding climate change, are other important new factors.

Fundamentally, the game has changed. From this point on, how well the newly configured Opposition performs and what this provokes from the Government will decide the result.

There’s no doubt Tony Abbott has crafted a frontbench in his own style and image. It fairly bristles with punchy right-wing contrarians particularly on climate change.  Those elevated are the same people who put Mr Abbott in the job.

With a few notable exceptions such as in the retention of Joe Hockey and Christopher Pyne, and the promotion of Scott Morrison, Marise Payne, and Simon Birmingham, progressives have been mothballed.

The experienced Helen Coonan was convinced to step down in favour of new blood, some of which turned out to be Kevin Andrews, Bronwyn Bishop, and even Philip Ruddock - the latter being the only sitting MP who was there during the Whitlam years.

Nonetheless, 2010 promises a tantalising contest.

Where Kevin Rudd is risk averse, Tony Abbott is edgy. For him, his team and his policies, decisions are seen through one lens only, the fight. He knows he has just one shot at this and that `business as usual’ will inevitably leave him short of the mark.

His alternative? To play swashbuckling 20 / 20 to Kevin Rudd’s test-match dourness.

To pick attack dogs and zealots in the place of dull but worthy plodders. Policy development is out, criticism of the Government, in. He wants people who will take it up to the Government. People fired by a burning resentment of Labor. People unafraid of stepping on toes and bloodying a few noses even if sometimes it will be their own.

He wants them to fan out across the nation and hit the enemy hard in local communities and importantly, on talkback radio. It is a political strategy designed for the short-course - a kind of head-long dash for the line.

It is this aspect which may in the end, be most influential on Labor thinking about election timing. Government strategists are now actively debating this point. Their early conclusion is that Tony Abbott will get a honeymoon but the longer he has to run, the greater the chance he will make mistakes and overcook it.

Already, with less than a fortnight on the clock, there are signs they are right. For a man who knifed his former leader citing strong convictions on the climate change issue, Mr Abbott has shown a light grip on the detail.

He botched his explanation of the bi-partisan commitment to emissions cuts at his first door-stop press conference requiring his office to issue a clarification later that day. This week, he was caught wildly exaggerating the cost impacts of deeper emissions cuts even though the figures had been published by Treasury more than a year ago.

It’s the kind of seat-of-the-pants politics that might work in the short term but if voters detect a pattern of errors, of being fast and loose, doubts will surface. And doubt is fatal to the chances of aspiring national leaders.

This, in the final analysis, is Kevin Rudd’s ace in the hole.

To counteract it, Tony Abbott is trying to leverage the silent mainstream, what he calls ``Abbott’s Army’‘. This is his version of the Howard battlers. It’s a characteristically bold play effectively claiming the centre-point of Australian politics is to the right of where everyone else has historically agreed it is.

But he of all people should know this is unlikely to work because it is basically the same error Howard made with WorkChoices.

The biggest risk in the Abbott strategy however, is the selection of the voluble Nationals senator, Barnaby Joyce. This self-styled maverick, whom Mr Abbott calls ``the best retail politician in the country’’ has been remarkably effective as a one-man wrecking ball.

Few contest his role in cracking the docile popular consensus on emissions trading and by implication, on climate change. But using him as a frontbencher, especially on sober matters of economic policy, makes about as much sense as hiring the best surgeon you can find to manage a hospital. 

He is colourful but he is also the quintessential loose cannon. His undisciplined utterances on Queensland defaulting on debt, banning Chinese investment in resources, and breaking up the big four banks, point to a wild ride. 

There is a genuine question as to whether he will last the distance or blow up - maybe even quitting himself in frustration at being muzzled by shadow cabinet discipline.

For all these reasons, Kevin Rudd is being urged to wait.

At the end of this match, one leader will be not just defeated but humiliated - his tactics judged to have been all wrong. Or to put in Mr Abbott’s own cut-through language, seen either as a genius or political road-kill.

Most commented

17 comments

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    • John A Neve says:

      05:44am | 12/12/09

      Mark,

      If there is any truth at all in your article?  Australia is faceing a very bleak future.

    • persephone says:

      07:53am | 12/12/09

      The media conveniently ignores that the Abbott team is not the stuff that energetic grassroots movements are made of.
      The reason that they’re mouthy and aggressive is because they’re basically lazy. Too lazy to put in the hard yards on policy; too lazy to read the papers, attends the talks, ask the intelligent questions; too lazy to work their own electorates, let alone others.
      Dull and plodding gets the work done, listens to advice, reads the required information, conscientiously works the electorate and makes decisions based on the evidence.
      And the electorate knows this: given the choice between fireworks and the status quo, they’ve always gone for the latter.
      The intellectual laziness of the Opposition is already evident. It’s already doing damage, severe enough for even Abbott to recognise.
      To extend your cricket metaphor: the electorate will always plump for the safe pair of hands.

    • John of Money says:

      09:05am | 12/12/09

      Since Tony took over the Liberals,I had the best laughs in long time.
      When Malcolm was in it was sooo boring.
      Those guys are running like headless chicken.
      To compare them to cricket game is an insult to those who can play cricket.
      Come on Joyce one more joke please.
      Cant wait for Bronwyn to start her comedy act.

    • Han says:

      11:34am | 12/12/09

      Hey John, the moment we elected ruddy it was the the beginning of the end. Sad when people fail to see the forest for the trees…........

    • ABBOTT'S THE MAN says:

      11:59am | 12/12/09

      ABBOTT’S on par with Turnbull as the academic barometer goes, however Abbott’s loose tongue, insofar as, the ‘that’s bullshit’ thing goes, makes him the perfect apponant for Rudd.
      Tony, you are the man for the job.  Tony the fellow contestant as Kevin’s political opponent can get the tongue going!  Antagonist, combatant, contender, challenger; yes SIR, you are THE MAN….
      It is all there for the taking boys. IT IS HIGH TIME FOR GOO-OOD TONGUE LASHING TO START HAPPENING!
      The position belongs to Kev and Tone…..It will happen… Come Tone, come Kev….It’s all for the business…the business of politics…..the business of the media…..the messenger…....

    • ARGUMENTS ARE GUTSY says:

      12:18pm | 12/12/09

      John

      Old Mal was a boring F@#$%,  but Tony( IF,) as leader of the opposition MAY just give Kevin a run for his money.  It’s all in the gutsy arguments between them both.  I smell of of media business happening.  Now think about that!

    • Bruce says:

      12:40pm | 12/12/09

      Actually I am glad to see a some fundamental differentation between the two major parties. Over the past 2 years the Liberal party became boring and predictable, almost a “me to” party. I believe Tony Abbott knows he will not win the next election, however, he needs to try to get back some of the past Liberal supporters to reduce the Labor parties majority. Australia can only benefit from a robust parliament.

    • Terry Wright says:

      01:17pm | 12/12/09

      I’m with you, John of Money (10:05am | 12/12/09). Abbott and his new[old]  team are fascinating to watch and certainly bring some much needed fun to politics. What thrills me most is that they take themselves so seriously which is especially evident from Sophie Mirabella’s rant in The Punch yesterday. Wasn’t that a cracker of a read!  And talking of hard-headed, arrogant, self righteous women in politics, Bronwyn Bishop is due for her debut on the Abbott front bench. What a collection of nasty, tired old hacks this front bench is now. The upside is that political cartoonists will be guaranteed ample material to work with and the public get to watch the spectacle.

      I can’t wait for the new[old], reinvigorated Liberal Party to kick off. Old Brony and Sophie arguing for tougher drug policies with a new idea of theirs called the “War on Drugs”. Kev Andrews wanting an Australian Patriot Act where foreigners(Non-caucasian Australian residents/citizens for less than 50 years) can be detained for thinking about a crime. Phil Ruddock will push for pollies over the age of 60 to be able to write their Xmas cards during question time. And the leader, Tony Abbott making it simple for voters by introducing an abortion ban, compulsory teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes, 6pm closing time for pubs that service workers earning less than $68K per year, abstinence based sex education in schools, removal of needle exchanges and condom vending machines, Workchoices 3.0, more research into coal technology, outlawing all prostitution with 10 mandatory jail for hookers and clients(earning less than $68K per year), a ban on stem cell research, a ban on homosexual magazines/videos etc.

      Just imagine a boring, drawn out fuddy-duddy-Ruddy Labor on one side and the Mod God Squad on the other. There’s going to be some good times ahead.

    • Jane says:

      01:53pm | 12/12/09

      Rudd…“middle of the road” ?????? What the? What drugs are you on Kenny?...it’s not working anymore..the jig is up.

      Get a grip…the media are becoming more ridiculous and desperate to paint Rudd as the ‘moderate’ the obvious it gets that Rudd is losing his gloss. Rudd the megalomaniac is mondo risk for Australia, don’t woryy about that - it’s just he pretends otherwise with the help of sycophantic left media.

    • Mother says:

      03:10pm | 12/12/09

      Never compare Tony and his Mad Team to a Cricket.
      It is degrading to Real Cricket Players.

    • Darren says:

      03:47pm | 12/12/09

      Clowns and Bronwyn scare me. But hey, TV is dull so bring it on! Yes Mr Money this is a warming up to be a freakshow with some giggles. (Is it me or is Federal politics starting to take on a bizarre been-there-before NSW-type politics flavour?)

    • Alfred Deakin says:

      11:35am | 13/12/09

      Barnaby Joyce will almost certainly win the election - for Labor.

    • watto says:

      11:54am | 13/12/09

      It’s not cricket! More like Fawlty Towers with the funny ripped out of it.  Spin again Mark.

    • Jacquie Butterfield says:

      12:23pm | 13/12/09

      Games and Fun.  Fun with Finance.  Fun with Front Benchers.

      I voted Coalition but was relieved when Labour got in.  There is an inertia, a pulling back which was felt before last election.  And now the very people who’ve wrecked the Coalition are on the Front Bench.  So it will be very easy, with such clear policy differentiation now, to allow voters to choose cleanly. 

      And anyone who was able to listen to the Senate debating the ETS over several days can see that you give Barnaby Sludge enough rope…...same with Abbott…...whom I used to revere…...used to…...rev…....ere????? – to the stunned silence of 100% of my friends and acquaintances. But now we are one.  I emailed Penny Wong and Kevin07 to bring on an election.  I revel in the fact that these cocooned and lulled politicians now have to apply their minds to something as complex as the Climate Change issue.  We are waiting, My Friends…....

    • thatmosis says:

      07:32pm | 13/12/09

      I love reading the comments by the Labor Faithful, full of bile and criticsms of anybody that has the temerity to attack their fearless leader whilst allowing said leader to sell Australia and Australians down the gurgler for decades to come. As far as their concerned its okay to invent a new tax that does nothing for the environment but increases the prices of everything we buy and then some and then hand China and India our hard earned money to combat the fictional Climate Change genie. The sooner these people realise that we are being conned the better but I wont be holding my breath as I know that the brain dead will only do what they are told by the clowns running this country as thinking for oneself is on the list of things not to do if you support Labor.

    • Wayne Chapman says:

      10:24pm | 13/12/09

      Perhaps now that many of the above posters have written off the Oposition you will have the time to look a little bit more closely at what Rudderless and his team are getting us into. The Global Neighborhood would be a good main to start with a side of climate science which doesn’t depend on a multimillion dollar handout from the Australian taxpayer with a stiff little desert of realisation that a change of 0.0004% of global carbon emmissions is NOT going to save anything except maybe Rudderless and Turncoats merchant banking mates. For a nightcap may I suggest a look at the actual temperatures for 16 northern Australian sites vs the IPCC published data. Sleep well.

    • DaS Energy says:

      04:02am | 15/12/09

      Barnaby could be right on one score QLD debt. Asset sale for debt rebemption where convined on sale of Corporation may fail should attested shareholders decide to retain as opposed to sell.
      The cosy relationship QLD Government had in Corporatising gave ownwership of shareholding to the Citizen, with only the Minister holding not owning.

 

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