Why Abbott will win the Australian election
In August 2004, when I was living in Australia, Prime Minister John Howard called a six-week election campaign which he said would be all about trust.
He said: "Who do you trust to keep the economy strong, and protect family living standards?
"Who do you trust to keep interest rates low?
"Who do you trust to lead the fight on Australia's behalf against international terrorism?"
He won it then and there, I believe.
Like with politics anywhere, if the economy’s going well there is more in your pocket than a couple of years earlier and there are seeds of doubt about the “other guy” (or girl) in politics people tend to side with the incumbent.
Nine years on, the world – and Australia – has changed.
It used to be that New Zealand companies with exposure to Australia were on to a winner.
But flagging fortunes across the ditch – including disappointing GDP data, a slide in manufacturing activity and concerns over outsourcing jobs to lower wage economies like New Zealand – means it has been more of a drag, of late, on companies such as Fletcher Building and, until recently, Michael Hill International.
The sheen coming off the mining boom on soft demand out of China, appears to have Australians feeling less like the Lucky Country – as one of the few Western countries to emerge from the global financial crisis relatively unscathed – and more like a problem child, adrift at the bottom of the world economy, girt by angry seas.
Labor’s Kevin Rudd, whose body is only just warming the prime ministerial chair again after a three-year interruption by Julia Gillard, cannot stake similar economic claims to Mr Howard and this is why I think Tony Abbott will win.
Odd but canny
I don’t predict this from some deep-seated love of the one-time candidate for the priesthood – he of the bizarre “You’re not saying anything, Tony” interview, in response to his “shit happens” line over the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan.
It’s more a comment on their economy and the willingness of the voting public to give the “other guy” a go.
Setting aside allegations of sexism in Ms Gillard’s ousting – supposedly increasing the chances of Labor’s re-election – much turns on how Mr Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking Queenslander, frames the election campaign and if Mr Abbott can emerge as a credible alternative.
But my feeling is if Mr Abbott can shrug aside 30 seconds of the “death stare” to a television reporter to continue to lead his party, he’s more canny than most people believe.
Labor’s factional implosion, with six cabinet ministers quitting in the wake of Mr Rudd’s coup, will add to the “flip-flop” element of the campaign – think here of John Kerry’s US presidential attempt – but it's unlikely to be a landslide.
New Zealand’s 2011 election shows that given only small perceived differences between the two major parties in Western countries these days, wide polling pre-election will likely narrow into small victories.
As it often does with Australia, it comes back to sport.
Mr Rudd’s quiet, technocratic demeanor doesn’t reek of the little Aussie battler – a quality exhibited this week by tennis star Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon (well, until he got bounced by a German qualifier in the second round).
Interestingly, Mr Rudd’s 2007 confession of visiting a strip club was seen by some as making him more interesting.
Labor’s performance this week is more reminiscent of ructions within the national cricket team, whose coach has been sacked on the eve of its biggest assignment of the year – beating England in the Ashes.
The TAB here has England paying $1.16 to retain the Ashes.
When NBR ONLINE checked that is the same odds offered by Sportsbet.com.au on Mr Abbott’s Coalition winning the election.
As I flicked between State of Origin, Wimbledon and coverage of Australia’s political ructions on Wednesday night, a commentator on Sky News said most Australians would probably see the news Ms Gillard had been ousted, go “Oh well”, and switch back to the rugby league.
Queensland won that night, but don't expect that to be a portent for Queenslander Mr Rudd's election chances.
Most people, it appears, have already made up their mind and his cameo at the top is likely to be a brief one.