Libs will win, Rudd will quit, and Gillard will lead
Whilst becoming a journalist holds as much interest to me as being a Liberal MP does for Laura Tingle, I find a great deal of attraction in using my inaugural contribution to thepunch.com.au to make some predictions for the next 12 months in Australian politics.
The golden rule for an MP is not to become a political commentator, and long term predictions in politics are a dangerous business.
This high risk indulgence is completely irresistible to our competitive friends in the Canberra Press Gallery. Often they will be based around election timing, leadership and of course who will win the next election.
So let me start at the top. Kevin Rudd will eventually be recorded as Australia’s accidental Prime Minister, kissed on the head by a series of events completely beyond his control. As history records the Liberal Party poorly handled the leadership transition and the Labor Party was starving for a low risk leader after a series of disasters in Beazley, Crean and Latham. Timing is everything in politics, and whilst full credit should be given to Rudd for making himself a small non-offensive target, he was delivered a perfect storm.
In the eyes of his backbench Rudd’s only strength is his popularity. Whilst popularity is pretty desirable for a politician, party loyalty to a leader who shares nothing in common with his caucus colleagues is a fickle thing. Rudd built his popularity during the election campaign on a false premise.
Whilst Rudd is intelligent and has media management skills beyond those even of say Blair, Clarke, or Carr he doesn’t have their political substance. The media and public attraction will cease to be and this is the reason twelve months hence Julia Gillard will be biting at the bit to roll Rudd.
My prediction is the election is held before the next Budget, and if the Coalition wins the election, as I also predict, Rudd will then resign from Parliament.
If the Rudd Government is returned with a reduced majority, Gillard will start a period of destabilisation ably assisted by a band of willing backbench participants. Not even the recent re-shuffle where Rudd sought to shore up his support base from the NSW Right will sustain the eventual attack from Gillard.
Gillard is ruthless and knows her window of opportunity is narrow, and I suspect just like in school where the Prime Minister surely must have taken regular beatings, his fair weather friends like Combet, Arbib, Clare and Bowen will change to a winning team in a heartbeat.
On any read the next election is won or lost with seats in Queensland and New South Wales. Although Western Australia has three seats in play, it is reasonably assumed the Coalition will hold its ground in WA. The unknown factor for Rudd in NSW is the impact the incompetent Labor State Government will have on his own federal support.
The other unknown for both parties is how many incumbents will retire, and on this front I make no prediction (it is a crazy brave politician who makes predictions about career choices or pending retirements of colleagues!).
In Queensland where the biggest swings to Labor were recorded in 2007, the redistribution remains the biggest unknown. The impact is only guess work until the AEC announces their draft boundaries on 24 July. Wins are certainly attainable in Queensland.
Now to dangerous waters - what about the Coalition?
Modern day politics is a hand to mouth existence in the sense that all of us in the beltway take a greater interest in the fortnightly Newspoll published in The Australian than we might make out. If there is a bit of fat in the numbers, then the kids don’t go off hungry and discontented. Malcolm Turnbull’s strength is that he does have substance, and his numbers will start to build as punters start to focus on the choice.
Opposition is debilitating, particularly when you have a Government with spending habits similar to those of Elton John. But the party remains adamant we are the best economic managers at a time of most need and sees the upcoming election as the best chance of returning to Government to save us from generations of debt.
Those journalists who have predicted the Opposition has no chance at the next election underestimate the determination of Malcolm Turnbull and a party who has the trust of the Australian public on economic management. Their predictions may come back to haunt them.