‘Annus Horribilis’ Looming For Turnbull, Coalition

ANOTHER RESHUFFLE — a task seemingly cursed for Malcolm Turnbull — and bad polls are not the only threats to his position in 2017, but are headline items in an ominous list featuring a threadbare agenda, a hostile Senate, a likely WA state election loss, One Nation, and continued fracturing of Coalition support. Turnbull is unlikely to last the year as PM. The Coalition is set to pay for ills and misdeeds this column has increasingly warned against.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, if ever (and I have been watching politics like a hawk since my early teenage years more than 30 years ago), Australia is in the grotesque position of having a Prime Minister who will not only be torn down as a result of persistent dreadful polling, but has personally provided the imprimatur for doing so.

In nominating 30 consecutive losing Newspolls as the pretext for engaging in the daylight assassination of former PM Tony Abbott less than 18 months ago, Malcolm Turnbull should have known that not only would the same yardstick be applied to him, but that if it did he would not survive a run of 30 losing polls, or anything approaching it, and having notched up the first six consecutively after last year’s election and prior to Christmas, it seems only a matter of time before Turnbull’s numbers, figuratively and literally, come up.

Edging toward late January, we are yet to see the first Newspoll for 2017, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that when the first survey for the year appears, it will be a case of “seven down, 23 to go;” the early polls we have already seen are not good for the government — Essential showing it behind Labor to the tune of 57-43, and ReachTel in smackdown territory with the Coalition trailing 46-54 — and even if Newspoll simply maintains its year-end 48-52 result from December, which seems unlikely, the aggregate of these polls makes it difficult to credibly claim that Turnbull’s government is not at least leaching further support to the opposition.

This column broke the news pf a putative move against Labor “leader” Bill Shorten in late 2015 — stating he would either quit or be replaced in a leadership coup — and wore the opprobrium and some ridicule that followed the failure of this development to eventuate.

But Shorten was gone for all money, and the move was indeed afoot; what one can never mitigate against in politics is the capacity for events to intervene: and with a perfectly timed raid by Federal Police on the home of then-Turnbull minister Mal Brough, Shorten was afforded the wriggle room (and the issue) he needed to mount a rearguard action to fight off the move against him — and survived.

I tend to think that despite Labor’s closer-than-expected run at government at least year’s election, Shorten is unlikely to “lead” the ALP to another election; his approval levels remain crushingly low, and this charlatan and opportunistic, insincere dirtbag simply carries too much baggage — from Labor’s last election campaign, from his time as a union thug, from unanswered questions emanating from his past and his personal life — for the ALP to be able to afford to front another election with such a liability weighing it down.

In any case, the ALP vote (which failed last year to even reach 35%) is too low for Labor’s backroom spivs to be comfortable with, and I think any renewed push to get rid of Shorten will signal that the ALP not only regards itself a genuine threat at the next federal election, but that it is getting serious about returning to office.

And besides, the idea of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister isn’t just ridiculous, it is offensive.

But this is where any itinerary of battlefield markers that might give succour to Turnbull starts and ends; the truth is that Malcolm has a big problem, and in turn, that big problem is comprised of a multitude of smaller ones that are apparently beyond the capacity of the Coalition to deal with — at least whilst the current Prime Minister remains in his post.

One of the consequences of taking an essentially threadbare agenda to an election is that now the bills concerning union governance and oversight have passed Parliament (if in an unsatisfactorily distorted form), the Turnbull government is likely to be seen to drift; “jobs and growth,” whilst hardly original, must have seemed like an irresistible mantra to Coalition “strategists” unable to elicit anything of substance to work with from their minions, but a three-word slogan, as we have oft heard previously, is no substitute for an otherwise empty policy cupboard in government.

Key areas like industrial relations, education and — yes — taxation are years overdue for comprehensive, root-and-branch reform; but in almost every case, Turnbull’s government has no particular policy upon which to overhaul them.

The “jobs and growth” policy, brutally distilled, amounts to a modest tax cut for business (that will never pass the Senate), a hacking away at self-funded retirees to recoup far less money than the political rancour the change generated was worth; and a vague promise to extract “value” from the burgeoning welfare spend that eats up four dollars in every ten spent by the Commonwealth.

I heard junior minister and serial disappointment Kelly O’Dwyer on Melbourne radio station 3AW on Wednesday afternoon, talking about the so-called “Google tax” that is meant to bring miscreant multinationals to heel by forcing them to pay (wait for it) their “fair share” of company tax.

Yet O’Dwyer herself candidly admitted this measure would reap just $100 million per annum at a time the budget deficit is running at more than $40bn per year, and Commonwealth debt at almost half a trillion dollars; the measure will make next to no impact on the national finances whatsoever.

But antagonising major global corporations for whom it is cheaper to do business in most other places in the world — remember, Australia’s uncompetitive company tax rate of 30% is higher than almost every comparable OECD country — could well motivate them to scale back, sack workers, and withdraw the contributions they make to the local economy by operating here.

Perhaps this is the bottom line of “jobs and growth:” destroying them by trying to head off a cheap one-line attack from the ALP and the vapid Shorten.

What little agenda the Turnbull has indicated it will pursue will be distorted, emasculated and/or voted down by the Senate, which seems to think its role centres on causing terminal damage to the elected government in the lower house; the Senate has long abandoned any pretence of being a “states’ house” — the role envisaged for it by the founders of Federation — and even the claim that it is a house of review, where “diverse” voices fashion “better” policy outcomes, should be roundly dismissed: the misuse of proportional representation to create a political battering ram is certainly not the role that was envisaged for the upper house, which has played a central and increasing role in bring politics and politicians into abject disrepute in the past decade.

To the left, nauseating bleating about the inability of Coalition politicians to “negotiate” with the Senate can be sneeringly dismissed: it doesn’t really matter who leads the Liberal Party in one sense, for the Senate will, in most cases, find some spurious pretext upon which to vote down legislation or mangle it to render it useless.

Where “budget repair” is concerned, the Senate has even more self-interest in preventing such an enterprise from ever occurring: minor independent and small party MPs (who would never be elected under a reasonable and robust electoral system) have a vested interest in using the Senate to see truckloads of money shovelled out with their names attached to it.

And wherever Labor and the Communist Party Greens are concerned, these entities have now repeatedly shown they will do literally anything to stop the Coalition from repairing the damage they themselves inflicted on the national finances when last they were in office — up to and including causing significant and compounding damage to the national interest in the medium to long term by wrecking Australia’s once-envied financial position.

To the right (and I use the term loosely), Malcolm Turnbull enacted piecemeal “reform” early last year to the method by which the Senate is elected, at the high cost of all of what little political capital he had left to spend, and which predictably made little appreciable difference (if any) to the outcome of a double dissolution: the Senate crossbench, whilst milder in its stridency, remains hostile to the government, which now controls less than 40% of its votes, and for a measure that was meant to make it harder for peripheral candidates to be elected on a sliver of the vote, the Senate now incorporates 20 independent and minor party Senators.

Some success!

For all the talk on the Left of Turnbull having “sold out” to the Right of the Liberal Party, the fact is that those positions Turnbull has maintained — like maintaining the rigorous border protection regime set up on Abbott’s watch — are, pragmatically, policies that have been maintained simply because dismantling them would bring disastrous consequences: and this is not hyperbole, for we have seen what happens when such measures are abandoned, and the 1,200 deaths at sea that are a monument to crazed left-wing obsessions are a price Turnbull is rightly unprepared to risk a repeat of.

But when it comes to measures apart from things like border protection and trying to get some accountability from Australia’s burgeoning welfare spend, nobody can categorise Turnbull as a “hostage” to the Right in any way; obsessed with the sham of climate change, obsessed with turning Australia senselessly into a republic, long known for his desire to legalise gay marriage without obvious concern or attention to institutional and social repercussions, the Prime Minister who promised a “thoroughly liberal” government seems bogged down with fancies centred on changing the state and legislating social change.

The whole climate change fiasco, which is likely to collapse this year if the US walks away from it altogether, as seems likely, has for years been a battering ram with which to abuse “deniers:” hardly the sign of either a rigorous policy or a constructive force in our polity.

But with one thing and another, the electoral gods are lining up to punish Turnbull too.

The departure on Friday of NSW Premier Mike Baird will perhaps affect the federal Coalition little, save for some renewed tensions between the various factions within that state; even so, three NSW Premiers in six years is as poor a contribution to the stable governance of the state — the valid reasons for Baird’s resignation notwithstanding — as the four ALP Premiers in the six preceding years who collectively helped create the perpetual sense of chaos in Australia’s largest state.

Western Australia heads to the polls in seven weeks’ time for an election even Liberal Party insiders are beginning to privately concede is likely to be lost; defeat for the Barnett government — even narrowly — will be as humiliating for Turnbull as the landslide four years ago against Labor proved for then-PM Julia Gillard.

The July election saw the Liberal Party go backwards federally in WA for the first time since the GST election of 1998: hardly a badge of honour for Turnbull in what has consistently been one of the party’s two best-performed states.

And if a state election in Queensland results in the re-election of the Palaszczuk government, irrespective of the role One Nation might play, then Turnbull will be in real trouble not because of any overlap in federal-state issues but because this time, the resurgence and rise of One Nation appears to be fuelled by the paucity of policy and the leftward frift that are characterising Turnbull’s government.

And this brings us to the slow leaching of Coalition support to the parties of the far Right, and the near-certain prospect Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi will wreck the Coalition by walking out to start his own “conservative” party — and probably destroying the Turnbull government in the process anyway.

I have long said that whilst entities like One Nation attract rednecks and bigots, the bulk of the support they draw comes from disaffected voters who don’t fit the “bigot” mould but simply want to be listened to: something today’s two-party divide, with is confluence around the politically correct rhetoric of the Left, its choreography and its saccharine, risk-free objectives doesn’t deliver.

John Howard managed to tame and eventually see off this threat from One Nation by accommodating some of the more reasonable outcomes it sought whilst slapping down the more extreme elements. There is no indication Turnbull is even prepared to tackle the problem, let alone be able to prevail.

If just one lower house MP follows Bernardi (who, at the weekend, removed all Liberal Party branding from his social media platforms) into a rump “conservative” group, Turnbull will face justified calls for an immediate federal election on account of losing his lower-house majority; if two or more desert (and I am told there are up to four who will likely walk out the same day Bernardi does) then the Coalition’s position will become untenable regardless of what it might cobble together in terms of crossbench support.

There are those who think Bernardi is about to split the conservative side of politics and consign it to opposition for 20 years; I am not quite so pessimistic, although the pieces will have to be picked up — from opposition — and that process will probably still take at least three terms: long enough for the ALP and Greens to resume their nation-wrecking program of high debt, high taxes, social division and this time, with no glittering Howard-era set of numbers to inherit, economic carnage.

That’s a hell of a price to pay for an adventure in new conservative parties: but as ever, when you boil what Bernardi seems to be contemplating right down, it is anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-abortion and pro-guns — the agenda of a protest party, not one seriously inclined to govern.

To be sure, we haven’t even talked about external threats to Australia — be they military, economic, or just Trump — but we don’t have to.

The point is that there are so many perfect storms lined up with Turnbull’s fiefdom and due to strike this year, it is nigh impossible to see him surviving even part of the onslaught.

You can argue about events beyond control and all the rest of that type of excuse until the cows come home, but Turnbull has been PM for almost 18 months, and most of these land mines on the road ahead have been sown by his and his ministers’ actions during that time.

I have $20 riding on whether Turnbull is still Prime Minister come Easter time: if he isn’t, I’ll collect. As a conservative Liberal — and one who has no intention of deserting the party to join Bernardi’s mad little game — it gives me no real joy to say so.

But at some point this year, the total unsuitability of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister is likely to catch up with him. The disintegrating government barely re-elected last year would arguably have been better off losing. But it didn’t, and life goes on.

If that includes Turnbull at the helm after Easter, I’ll be stunned. If he makes it as far as that, the end will follow soon enough.

It’s time to get your running shoes, on Malcolm. You are going to need them.

 

Shifting Sands: Could Kevin Rudd Lose His Own Seat?

WITH LABOR’S apparent standing in opinion polls worsening the further this election campaign progresses, many commentators are now considering the question of Kevin Rudd’s own political mortality. Approaching a near-certain election loss, his survival in Griffith is simply a question of degrees.

I’m back in Melbourne, although it will be a day or so until things return to “normal;” readers will see a bit more of me now but it still may take a little time for our conversation to fully resume.

Even so, I have been watching political proceedings whilst away like a hawk, and note — interestingly — that commentators in the mainstream press are now openly pondering the question of whether Kevin Rudd might lose his seat of Griffith.

It’s a question we’ve considered at The Red And The Blue before, mostly in relation to the prospect of Rudd’s resumption of the ALP leadership before the event; and whilst I have re-linked to that article only recently, I think it more than appropriate to do so again.

Labor — federally — appears to be poised not just to lose this election, but to lose it badly; with a Nielsen poll released today showing the Coalition gaining a point after preferences to lead 53-47, the aggregate of the national polls is now almost precisely that.

At 53-47, the Coalition wins by at least 20 seats — probably more.

I’m not going to discuss — for now — the plethora of automated telephone poll findings from key individual constituencies that are beginning to appear; it is, however, noteworthy that one of these was conducted in the Prime Minister’s electorate of Griffith.

The merits or otherwise of automated polling not being up for discussion (this time), it is interesting that this poll showed Rudd losing the seat to his LNP challenger, Brisbane eye surgeon Bill Glasson, by a 48-52 margin.

The thing I want to look at here is the voting history of Kevin Rudd’s electorate.

There is a myth in political circles that this is, traditionally, a Labor seat, and to be fair I have at least once in the past described it as being “usually Labor.”

But as regular readers will have also heard me say, this is an electorate that tends to be won by the Liberal Party (or its non-Labor predecessors) whenever the conservatives win resoundingly at the federal level overall.

Created at a redistribution in 1934, Griffith has been held by the ALP for 58 of the 79 years since; the electorate has always broadly covered territory in the inner south and east of Brisbane, and whilst redistributions over the years have greatly altered its borders, the electorate’s political complexion has remained surprisingly constant.

For the ensuing 30 years, the voting pattern of the seat followed the thesis; it was won by the Liberals in 1949 when they won office for the first time under Bob Menzies, and remained in the Liberal fold for five years until Menzies very nearly lost office in 1954.

Four years later — with Menzies re-elected in a landslide in 1958 — Griffith was again picked up by a Liberal for a single term until Menzies suffered another electoral near-death experience, the 1961 election being won by just two seats (and ultimately decided by Communist preferences in another Brisbane seat, Moreton).

In 1966 — the biggest election win by the Liberal Party in its history, if measured on its share of the two-party vote, which stood at 56.9% — Griffith was won back for the Liberals by Don Cameron, who held it against the savage national swing to the ALP in 1969, the election of the Whitlam government in 1972,and Whitlam’s narrow re-election in 1974.

When an election following the dismissal of the Whitlam government took place in December 1975 — resulting in the biggest election win for the Liberal Party if measured on the parliamentary majority secured (91 Coalition, 36 ALP, majority 55) — the conservatives, obviously, already held the seat.

But after a redistribution favoured Labor in the seat ahead of the 1977 election, Cameron shifted electorates and Griffith was won for Labor by former Hawke/Keating government minister Ben Humphreys.

And in 1996 — with the Liberals scoring their biggest-ever win if measured on numbers of seats (94 Coalition, 49 Labor, 5 “Others”) — the Labor candidate replacing the retiring Humphreys was beaten by a Liberal alderman from the Brisbane City Council.

That Labor candidate was Kevin Rudd.

I apologise to those who follow such things closely as I do for the history lesson, but all readers will see the clear pattern: 1958, 1966, 1975 and 1996 are the four standout wins in Australian political history by conservatives, rivalled in scope only by the obliteration of the Scullin government in 1931 and Malcolm Fraser’s first re-election in 1977.

Griffith may indeed return a Labor member about 70% of the time, but it has been won by non-Labor representatives before, and as often for multiple terms as once only.

And it has rarely been, on paper, a “safe” seat: even now, the 8.4% margin Labor holds it with falls short of the accepted 10.1% or higher that constitutes “safe seat” status, despite regular media reporting that describes otherwise.

Which brings us back to Rudd, who entered Parliament in 1998 on his second attempt.

Rudd is not a typical case, when looking at Griffith from a historical perspective.

For one thing, he’s the only person from Queensland to ever become Prime Minister by winning an election as the leader of a political party; for another, it is likely that the 58.4% result he recorded in 2010 was inflated by a “sympathy factor” in the washout of his dumping as Prime Minister in an internal Labor Party coup.

I contend he is insecurely seated in the first place: the seat’s history is proof enough of that.

But in spite of Rudd throwing everything at Queensland to find electoral gains to offset losses elsewhere in the country, all evidence points to the ALP going backwards — perhaps very badly — in the Sunshine State.

The recruitment of Rudd nemesis and former Premier Peter Beattie as a candidate has been an unmitigated disaster to date; there is ample polling data to show Beattie is, at the minimum, partially responsible for driving the decline in Labor’s fortunes in Queensland.

And with a consensus now emerging among the mainstream press and commentariat that (barring unforeseens) Labor is looking down the barrel of losing 20 seats in a fortnight’s time, it raises the question of how badly Labor has to lose in order for Rudd to suffer the indignity on his own patch.

Complicating the question is the indisputable fact that Rudd is in no way a popular leader; across published polls his falling numbers now closely resemble those of Tony Abbott, which in any case have been steadily rising for the past month and are beginning to overtake Rudd’s in some polls and on some indicators.

It’s a consideration that will count against Rudd in his own seat as much as nationally: it’s clear that the messiah-like “popularity” he enjoyed during his time on the outer was fool’s gold, and his absence from Brisbane to campaign around the country will cripple his ability to counter this among the very people on whose his political survival depends.

But if Rudd loses in Griffith, it will be a very different scenario to the other two Prime Ministers who have suffered the humiliation of being thrown from Parliament at an election whilst still holding the office.

John Howard’s loss in 2007 occurred in a seat that had, over decades, been steadily redistributed geographically south and west and away from the Liberal Party’s citadel of North Shore support in Sydney.

And Stanley Melbourne Bruce’s defeat in the outer Melbourne electorate of Flinders whilst PM, in 1929, is commonly attributed the fact he was a poor local member: Bruce is known to have shown scant interest in, or regard for, constituent matters, and it cost him.

It is said that Rudd is a very good local MP, at least in terms of his attention to local issues — even in spite of his Prime Ministerial duties.

And Labor has held the seat in the past when the tide for the conservatives overall was high; 1977 is a case in point. 1955, with Menzies scoring 54% of the vote, is another.

But the growing swing to the Coalition nationally, coupled with the rising unpopularity of Rudd personally and obscured by the extent to which his margin is built on sympathy from 2010, tends to suggest that as long as the swing is on — as it seems to be — Rudd may well be about to come to the involuntary end of his political career.

Personally, I’m not going to pick it. Not yet, in any case.

But if I were Glasson, I’d at least be giving some cursory thought to where I might stay during sitting weeks in Canberra, and to ensuring personal affairs were in order whilst there is still plenty of time to do so.

Election 2013: The Background, The Battle, And Polls Say: Lib Win

SO IT BEGINS…Australia will have a federal election on 7 September, ending three tumultuous years of minority government, and — in all likelihood — six tumultuous and inept years of Labor in office. Today we look at the election backdrop, the battle to be fought, and polls pointing to a win by the Coalition.

I’m including one of my YouTube picks today; it’s a little obscure in a sense, and certainly not an obvious selection. But it’s Australian, and its message is entirely applicable to the combatants about to face off before voters. Enjoy this while you read on…

The 44th federal general election since Federation will occur on 7 September, in five weeks’ time; it will be for all seats in the House of Representatives and for half the Senate (plus the four Senate vacancies from the Territories) as required by the Constitution.

It will either see Kevin Rudd re-elected as the country’s 26th Prime Minister, or Liberal leader Tony Abbott become Australia’s 28th Prime Minister on his second attempt.*

At the 2010 election — which ultimately (and spectacularly) ended in stalemate and minority Labor government — the Coalition won 73 seats to Labor’s 72; there was one Green (Adam Bandt in Denison) and four Independents (Messrs Windsor, Oakeshott, Katter Jr, and Wilkie).

The walkouts of Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson from the Coalition and ALP respectively bring those tallies to 72 Coalition, 71 Labor, one Green and six Independents.

Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are retiring, however, and disgraced former Speaker Peter Slipper has been disendorsed by the LNP in Queensland; commentators on all sides are virtually unanimous in the assessment that all three seats will return to the Coalition.

Conversely, Adam Bandt in Melbourne and Andrew Wilkie in Denison seem likely, but by no means certain, to be re-elected; Thomson — standing in Dobell as an Independent — is certain to be beaten, and probably by the Liberal Party, but this too is less certain than the other seats being scored off to the Liberals and Nationals ahead of polling day.

Accounting for all of this, then, the notional starting state of the parties is Coalition 75 (Liberals 61, Nationals 14), ALP 71, Independents 3, and the Greens 1.

Clearly, the Coalition needs a net gain of just a single seat to form a government with the narrowest possible majority; the first seat on the electoral pendulum is Corangamite in Victoria, which will fall to the Liberals’ Sarah Henderson on a swing of 0.3%.

Labor, on the other hand, must make five net gains to reach the 76 required; there is a range of plausible paths to assemble 76 ALP seats, but if we assume Wilkie and Bandt are re-elected — and Labor holds its existing seats, including Dobell — we look for the first five Coalition seats on the pendulum (Hasluck, WA; Boothby, SA; Dunkley, Vic; Brisbane, Qld; Macquarie, NSW) which are all held by Liberals, and would all fall on a swing of 1.3%.

And this brings us neatly to the problem faced by the ALP: it is almost impossible for it to win Boothby, Dunkley and Macquarie, and highly unlikely it will win Hasluck or Brisbane, and so if Labor is to win, it must find the seats somewhere else — all the while hanging onto what it already holds.

The resurrection of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister five weeks ago has, as I expected, produced a rapid and sharp spike in the ALP’s polling numbers across the reputable polls, and whilst I’ll come back to polling a little later, that effect is already beginning to wear off.

It means that whilst Labor may not be on course for the mother of all beltings it would almost certainly have received under Julia Gillard, its fortunes are again beginning to slide — and it means some of the state-based trends recent polls have masked will re-emerge.

NSW — when it comes to the crunch, and voters are in the polling booths — is likely to swing heavily to the Coalition.

This was Labor’s best-performed state in 2010 in terms of the efficiency of its vote, winning 26 of the 48 seats with a minority of the two-party vote.

Since then it has seen a Labor state government obliterated in 2011, and its Coalition successor continuing to poll near the record support it achieved at that election; it has also seen a procession of ALP figures through an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry into misconduct that occurred during the former state government, with a torrent of sordid revelations culminating a week ago in recommendations that criminal charges be laid against two former Labor state ministers.

Despite the rhetoric about cleaning the party up from Rudd, I can’t see voters being impressed by this; anger against the ALP in NSW continues, and it is hard to see the party holing on to what it has there — let alone winning in places like Macquarie.

Queensland is trickier, being Rudd’s home state; it swung strongly to the ALP in 2007 and strongly against it three years later. How much of this was attributable to the presence and absence, respectively, of Kevin Rudd? Time will tell. Queenslanders are a notoriously parochial (and anti-southerner) bunch: I should know, I was one of them for 25 years.

Complicating any evaluation of Queensland’s likely behaviour is the performance of the conservative state government that was elected there 18 months ago.

Like its NSW counterpart it too smashed the Labor Party to pieces, winning 78 of the 89 seats in Queensland’s unicameral Parliament.

But Premier Campbell Newman has lost ministers and backbench MPs to scandal and to minor party raiders, and — unlike NSW — faces a concerted and vocal campaign against it not from the parliamentary ALP, but from Labor activists and allied forces outside Parliament through the mainstream press, social media and on the streets that has been nothing if not noticeable at the very least.

Even so, talk of up to four and perhaps as many as eight additional seats in Queensland for Labor would seem fanciful; take away the noise over Newman’s government, and its polling figures remain solid.

Further, Queensland has shown for decades that it separates state and federal politics, and then votes accordingly: the one exception in living memory was in 1974, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen won a thumping re-election by campaigning exclusively on the issue of the Whitlam federal government.

And the insecurely seated Wayne Swan, in the Brisbane electorate of Lilley, would have to be regarded as a likely casualty of this election: nobody, apart perhaps from Swan himself, has been remotely impressed by his performance as a government minister.

Victoria is troublesome for Labor; the best-performed state in 2010 in terms of its vote and proportion of seats, it contains at least three seats (Deakin, Corangamite and La Trobe) that have all but been written off by the ALP as losses.

Like Queensland and NSW, it has a first-term Liberal government that has not been free of problems.

Yet these appear to have been resolved, and the state Coalition seems increasingly likely to be re-elected next year; coupled with the dumping of Melbourne-based Gillard as Prime Minister, it’s still feasible the state will yield additional seats beyond the three already pencilled in.

Tasmania is home to a 15-year-old Labor state government, the past three and a half of which have — like Labor federally — been served in minority and in coalition with the Greens, despite a promise at the 2010 state election not to serve with the Greens.

It contains two usually marginal seats — Bass and Braddon — that are considered likely to fall to the Liberal Party this year, and a huge anti-Labor vote that has been building for some time in Tasmania may deliver an extra seat or two to the Coalition as well.

The rest of the country and its 28 seats — already split 18-10 in favour of the Coalition — seem harder for either side to make significant inroads into.

However, slight movement to Labor in WA could yield a seat; moderate movement to the Coalition across WA, SA and the NT could yield three or four.

I would say, however, that on balance it is unlikely that we’ll be waiting for results from Perth on election night: I expect the eastern states to deliver about 20 seats to the Coalition in total, with possibly half a dozen offsetting gains for the ALP, and a majority for the Coalition of somewhere between 20 and 30 seats as a result.

It is important to note that John Howard’s thumping election win in 2004 — whilst less emphatic than the one that swept the Coalition into office in 1996 — was achieved on a two-party preferred vote of 52.7%.

The 2004 election also delivered the Coalition control of the Senate, although in 2013 this would be exponentially more difficult for Abbott to achieve on account of the composition of the Senators elected in 2010 who do not face the voters this time around.

I raise the example of 2004, though, simply to illustrate the fact that even a much more modest outcome in terms of votes cast than polls have shown this term can nonetheless translate into a resounding election victory.

And whilst election swings are never uniform, the premise of the pendulum is that if the overall swing is, say, 2.8% (the swing needed by Abbott for a 52.7% result) the movements in individual seats will cancel each other out, and the pendulum should still predict the actual number of seats with reasonable certainty.

A 2.8% swing to the Coalition at this election (based on the pendulum) would see the Coalition make a net gain of 10 seats for a total of 85 and a majority of 20 seats — and a Coalition result just two seats short of what Howard won in 2004.

The other reason I am talking about 2004 is because of the polls since Rudd returned to the Prime Ministership.

The average of these has been roughly a 52-48 split in the Coalition’s favour; that average has arrived at that point by peaking for Labor and then beginning to fall back.

There are two polls out today that confirm the trend; a ReachTel poll showing a 52-48 split to the Coalition (up a point for the Coalition since the previous survey) and a Newspoll for The Australian that shows an unchanged 52-48 result for the Coalition from its previous findings a fortnight ago.

Both polls show Kevin Rudd’s personal numbers slipping; indeed, Newspoll has his personal approval down four points to 38% and his disapproval up six to 47%: not the numbers of someone you would call “popular.”

Abbott’s personal numbers are terrible, but then they have been for years; and they were no bar to his efforts to get rid of Rudd the first time, or running Gillard almost out of office in 2010, or to destroying her Prime Ministership in the years since.

On the “preferred Prime Minister” question, ReachTel favours Abbott; Newspoll favours Rudd.

But the only number in any of these polls that really matters a squirt of shit is the two-party preferred voting number; all the other factors might feed into it, and boost or reduce it, but ultimately popularity on its own does not win elections: votes do.

And right now, Tony Abbott and the Coalition would appear to have them.

I think this election campaign is likely to be pretty grimy; voters already weary of politics are likely to be fed up to the core with it in the end, and this can only help Tony Abbott.

The Coalition’s arguments about stability and competence are likely to resonate.

And a big problem Labor faces — irrespective of whatever it says otherwise, and no matter how sincere its assurances — is the lingering question of whether Kevin Rudd will remain Prime Minister longer than the metaphorical five minutes after the election if he manages to win.

Nobody should delude themselves: the Labor Party viscerally despises Rudd; it made him leader because it was backed into a corner by circumstance and permitted no other viable choice.

It will not thank him, should the party win on 7 September; and far from honouring the man or his word to voters is likely to jettison him as Prime Minister as suddenly as it resurrected him.

In the end, spin, empty denials, and verballing and blocking tactics aimed at conservative rivals will get Rudd and Labor so far — indeed, they will get them nearer to a win than Gillard ever could this time around.

But on their own, these methods are not enough.

Rudd is standing on a shocking record of Labor governance that he seeks to hide; the Liberals will remind him — and the country — of this record at every opportunity.

With the economy deteriorating, the budget in disrepair, and fundamental questions on basic competence as administrators and managers likely to bedevil Labor, it is probably going to be fortunate to record the defeat I think it will.

Abbott and the Coalition by 20 seats for me, give or take a couple.

And thus begins — as everyone will know too well at the end — the five weeks that will determine who will lead Australia for another three years.

But then again, in politics, nothing is ever so cut and dried.

See you all tonight.

 

*The 27th Prime Minister was Julia Gillard, who is retiring from Parliament.