The Australian political commentator and election strategist Ian Kortlang gave a fascinating talk tonight at the Business Roundtable offices in Wellington about the Australian elections.
He has worked on campaigns there and on Act campaigns here which might not sound like a great endorsement of his expertise now that Act is down to two MPs.
But that is a little unfair. Act has run some very sharp campaigns.
It was hardly his fault that National had a leader in Don Brash who was seen as so attractive to Act supporters that he decimated the Act vote - even the ex-Act president Catherine Judd referred to him as the "ninth Act MP," if you recall.
Kortlang arrived in New Zealand this morning and en route the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia raised interest rates to 6.75 per cent. Never been done before during an election.
It sounds like a horror story for the Liberals.
But when Kortlang switched on his Blackberry when he landed the Liberals had immediately changed their message: the economy is being subject to difficult external pressures and so needs careful strong management. With 17 days to go, Kortlang's says Howard will attempt to turn this absolute negative and what looks like "a fatal blow" into a positive for him. And management of the economy is an area that Howard beats Rudd hands down, polling wise.
Kortlang referred back to similar success in 2004 over the "big fib" last election - the children overboard claims. It suddenly turned the election into an issue of trust, a word which Howard seized upon to thrash the issue of trust and management of the economy.
He talked also about the importance of "right-track, wrong-track" polling and the puzzling results that have been apparent in Australia for the past nine months.
"If the poll gives a '60 per cent wrong track, 40 per cent right track' result, you will get a change of Government," he said.
But what has been happening consistently in Australia has been 50 per cent saying the country is on the right track but 55 per cent saying they would vote for Labor leader Kevin Rudd. He uses metaphor to explain it:
"We've all struggled with this idea and what I think has happened is that over those past nine months, people have had an affair with Kevin Rudd. They've met this nice young guy in a wine bar somewhere and he talks Mandarin and... he buys them flowers and everything's terrific and then at the weekend they go home to John.
He's a pretty crusty old guy but he has given them a double-digit return on superannuation and he's been pretty good. Bought a beach house... got a new SUV.
"Over this election Kevin has been saying to them: 'I want you to leave John, I want you to come and live with me. I can do the SUV thing. I can give you double-digit return.'"
For the record, Kortlang thinks there will be a change in Government.
One thing he said with which I would dispute is his belief that a Labor Government in Oz would lead to closer co-operation on foreign affairs with New Zealand especially in the Pacific where, he said, fraternal Labour parties together would take a less heavy-handed approach.
I disagree. It is hard to see how New Zealand and Australia could work more closely in the Pacific than they do now. In fact I have argued that New Zealand should put some distance between itself and Australia, so joined at the hip are they on Pacific matters. As history has shown, transtasman relations have been better when brother or sister parties have not held office simultaneously.
I was intrigued by Kortlang's reference to a fair chunk journalists on The Australian newspaper favouring Howard so I thought I'd end with a link to its coverage of the interest rate rise.
It is not the first time I have been hosted by the Business Roundtable but it's the first time I have been to their premises. It was a pretty small crowd, only about 30 or 40 people there - including MPs Murray McCully, and Hone Harawira.