Rudd basks in endless honeymoon

By Greg Ansley

Almost three months after ending John Howard's 11-year administration, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is still riding a surge of support that has reached record highs and underwritten a sweeping reform agenda.

The Opposition has been crushed into submission and has yet to demonstrate that Liberal Leader Brendan Nelson will be able to reconstruct what one of his frontbenchers admits is a "shattered party".

Nelson and his workplace relations spokesperson, Julie Bishop, have been forced to accept the humiliating end to the former government's unpopular workplace agreements, shredding the last of Howard's industrial reforms.

Other senior Liberals, including former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, former Health Minister Tony Abbott and former Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey, have publicly picked over Howard's political bones, admitting that they had lost touch with voters.

For the moment, Rudd is untouchable, bolstered by the scale of last November's victory and by popular support that has soared beyond even the normal heights of post-election honeymoons.

From the day of his victory, Rudd ordered his new ministers to work on a long and detailed agenda, pledging to keep all election promises and already delivering on several - most notably last week's apology to indigenous Australia.

In the week before the apology, a Morgan poll found that primary support for Labor had climbed a further five percentage points, and on a two-party preferred vote was running at 62.5 per cent, compared to the Coalition's 37.5 per cent.

Another conducted by the political internet site GetUp after the apology confirmed that Rudd had accurately tapped into the mood of the nation: support for a parliamentary "sorry" rose from 55 per cent beforehand to 68 per cent.

And yesterday a Newspoll in the Australian confirmed powerful anecdotal evidence that Australia is more than happy at the choice it made.

The poll found that support for Rudd as Prime Minister has now reached 70 per cent - the highest reached by any leader since Newspoll began asking the question two decades ago.

Support for Nelson has plummeted to a record low of 9 per cent.

The Australian said that Rudd's 61-point lead over Nelson outstripped the previous highs of former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke's 40-point lead over then-Opposition Leader Howard, and Howard's 51-point lead over former Labor Leader Simon Crean.

Rudd has benefited from the relief and expectations that traditionally follow the downfall of a long-lived Government whose arrogance and self-belief had severed it from electoral reality - just as Howard initially enjoyed new heights of popularity after ending the 13 years of Hawke and successor Paul Keating.

Rudd has further gained from a personal style in Opposition that allowed him to support Government initiatives with which he agreed, such as federal control of the ailing Murray-Darling River system and intervention in the Northern Territory's indigenous communities.

This continued with the bipartisan accord he reached over Parliament's apology to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, and the establishment of a joint policy commission with Nelson to develop common indigenous strategies, initially on housing.

Rudd was further welcomed because of his promise to dismantle Howards detested WorkChoices industrial laws, a process already under way and now guaranteed by Nelson's decision to drop attempts to rescue workplace awards from the wreckage.

And since the election, Rudd and his Ministers have very publicly set to work on the promises they made.

Nelson, in contrast, has inherited a broken party that many believe will turn on itself.

Challengers are waiting in the wings of a party that former senior ministers accept will need to be rebuilt. Nelson also suffered from widespread criticism of his speech in support of the federal "sorry", in which his unqualified apology was marred by his belief that not all Aboriginal children of the "Stolen Generations" had been stolen from their families, but that many had instead been "separated" for the best of intentions.

While he is doing that, Rudd will continue to have the advantage of power and the ability to implement real policies while his opponents first develop their own, then try to persuade the nation they are a better alternative to a programme already rolling at a heady pace.

If Rudd continues to deliver, that will be no easy task

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