Kathy Marks: Election starts to look like a contest

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo / Getty Images
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo / Getty Images

The sense of "back to the future" in Australian politics is growing by the day, with the Labor Party's primary vote rising to 35 per cent - exactly what it was when Kevin Rudd was deposed three years ago - and former Prime Minister John Howard helping to launch a Liberal Party rally in Melbourne at the weekend.

The Liberals are embracing this Groundhog Day feel, for they are keen to depict Rudd as the same "vindictive, bullying, self-aggrandising narcissist" - as one columnist put it, referring to a newly published book, The Stalking of Julia Gillard - as when he was dumped by Labor in 2010.

By contrast, Australia's "new-old Prime Minister", as some are calling him, has been at pains to stress that he is a changed character. He wants MPs to be "a little kinder" to each other. He plans to consult colleagues, rather than ruling by diktat.

And he bears no grudges; he refused to accept the resignation of Tony Burke, who spoke so memorably last year of "the chaos, the temperament ...

the inability to have decisions made" of Rudd's previous reign.

He has moved Burke from environment into the immigration portfolio. (On second thoughts, perhaps that was a sneaky pay-back.)

Rudd Mark Two faces much the same challenges as before, including climate change (how to tinker with the carbon tax to make it more lovable?) and asylum-seekers (two more boats arrived on Sunday).

As for the man himself, he has the same faux-breezy manner, the same faux-folksy language, the same irritating habit of being late - even to his first press conference after last week's leadership ballot. The electorate appears to be sceptical, too. A poll in Monday's Daily Telegraph found that 42 per cent of voters doubt he has changed.

Tony Abbott hasn't changed much either. He reiterates the same points: the Coalition will "stop the boats", axe the carbon tax and bring the budget back to surplus. He must be rattled, even if he isn't showing it yet. The election looks like a real contest for the first time in months.

The Liberal Party gathering last Saturday was more like a presidential-style campaign rally, with some of the accompanying glitz and glamour. Did I say glamour? Perhaps nostalgia would be a better word. The crowd gave Howard a standing ovation. He looked distinctly greyer than when he departed office six years ago.

But then, don't we all?

- NZ Herald

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