When one sharp and seasoned Labor adviser received a letter from ALP supremo George Wright recently, he was more than mildly shocked.
The man who will guide Labor’s election fortunes as the party’s national secretary was appealing to senior Ministerial staff, the same folk who regularly plough 70 or 80 hours into a working week, to dip into their own pay packets to help out the ALP. The troubled Australian Labor Party.
Wright, who woke yesterday morning to the best Newspoll figures in six months, has the mother of all challenges as he works the boardrooms of Sydney and Melbourne, appealing for business to bring out their cheque books for Julia Gillard’s re-election. Despite a rise of 5 percentage points in Labor’s primary vote, from 28 to 33 per cent, the Coalition and Tony Abbott remains at remarkably short odds to win the next poll, in a landslide.
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As billionaire Clive Palmer playfully swats Tony Abbott around for a bit of sport the Liberal leadership should hark back to the first battle over the mining tax. Their recollections will not improve their mood.
Back when mining companies were fiercely opposing then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s doomed attempt to tax super profits they did so with a carefully regimented strategy. That regimentation was busted when Mr Palmer kept making unilateral interventions into the debate which strayed from the strategy and gave the appearance of disunity.
There were calls to Mr Palmer from executives of the big miners suggesting that a parade of billionaires refusing to pay a proposed tax was not a good look. It didn’t work. Clive Palmer would not be silenced until he thought he had made his presence felt.
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Last month Julia Gillard made a speech to the ACTU congress urging comrades to stock up for a 500 day haul to the next election. She has consistently maintained she intends her Government to serve a full term, placing the next election well into the second half of next year.
But this week she’s looking more like a political sprinter than a marathon campaigner, indicating the PM has either misjudged her run and let loose too early, or that it might be a shorter race after all.
According to Alexandra Kirk on AM this morning, the PM’s office has been sprung coaching ministerial staffers how to dig up dirt on the Opposition front bench. This in itself is not unusual, although dirt units are traditionally kept at arm’s length from the PM’s office and run by the party machines or by strange little groups of staff with titles such as “communications strategist” working out of windowless rooms in the Ministerial wing.
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It says a lot about the current climate that a mining magnate can simultaneously announce he’s commissioned a replica of the Titanic and that he’s going to run against the Treasurer at the next election and it seems like just another day in the circus that is Australian politics.
Clive Palmer’s press conference this morning might shift the focus from Julia Gillard’s diabolical situation for, oh, about seven minutes. But as much as the ALP might want to jump all over it like a life-raft, anyone who thinks mocking Clive Palmer is going to clear the “dark cloud” hanging over parliament is deluded.
While it might be great fun, it’s not going to work. But you can almost hear the list of talking points pinging around the ALP front-bench this morning, as the people running the Government’s dysfunctional communications cling to the idea that at least going after Clive is better than the “what she said” strategy.
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This year’s federal election gave me some insight into what it would be like to be in a coma.
The result, oddly, mirrored my desire at the booth to split my vote- by ripping the paper in half and throwing it in the bin (note: I didn’t end up donkey-voting in the end).
A little tip for next time: If you don’t really believe Australia is about to enter an inspiring era of positive change, pretend to.
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I’ve never been one for obsessing about The Australian. They have an editorial slant to the right, but they also have some very high quality journos who I like to read. As a result I buy and read their paper every day and filter out their leanings. I’m sure plenty of others do the same.
Yesterday, their front page (“Rudd loses ground in his homeland state and the bush”) blew up the filter. It’s one thing to take a news angle on one part of a poll at the expense of a more complex message. It’s another to ignore what should be, for one side of politics, an enormous, wailing emergency siren with big flashing red lights on top in order to substantiate a headline like that.
In their article, Matthew Franklin and Samantha Maiden claim “public support for Labor has plunged in regional Australia and fallen in Kevin Rudd’s home state of Queensland” as well as “a big jump in support for the Coalition among voters living outside the capital cities.” While no questions on the ETS were in the poll, the ETS was inserted as a possible cause.
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The battle lines in national politics have now been drawn along a fault line summed up by two four-letter words: debt and jobs.
In the one corner we have the Rudd Government, justifying an audacious program of pump-priming in order to protect jobs; in the other we have the Opposition, telling us it’s all about debt.
The key to understanding the jobs versus debt debate is that this is not an argument about economics – it is a battle to manage the national agenda.
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