Stranger things have happened
but it's difficult to recall, at least prospectively, a more remarkable irony unfolding. Could it be that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is unwittingly consigning himself to the same destiny as former Opposition Leader John Hewson, a man most famous for losing the unlosable election to Paul Keating in 1993? On the surface Abbott and Hewson are like chalk and cheese - Hewson was an economist turned economics advisor to John Howard in the 1980s; a finicky details man, exacting in everything he did, whereas Abbott is the complete opposite, a political brawler whose negative politics is as stark as is his aversion to policy detail.
When John Hewson released the Coalition's 650 page GST manifesto, Fightback! late in 1992 there was still about a year to go before the federal election. He believed that providing the voting public with a comprehensive economic package upfront and early was a masterstroke of honest politics. The tactic was to garner trust from transparency. Such was the Coalition's almost religious belief in the infallibility of their document that its campaign completely revolved around it. What they failed to foresee, however, was the ability of the master tactician, Paul Keating, to pick it to pieces just enough to put doubt in the public's mind. It was a fear campaign for sure but it was brilliantly executed - a majority of voters decided that Fightback was a step too far into the unknown. It is history now that Keating went on to win the election, thus forever killing off any chance of future oppositions releasing policy details any earlier than absolutely necessary.
How does this in any way relate to Tony Abbott? To clarify, two points need to be made. Firstly: ever since former Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the federal election date as September 14 - almost eight months away - Abbott and the Coalition have been on an election footing. So too to some extent has the public. Secondly, the Fightback! package needs to be seen not only as an economics package but as a political strategy, a strategy that was remarkably consistent but highly predictable, politically omnipresent but formulaic and inflexible. As a strategy it was seriously overexposed - the longer the Fightback mantra went on the more people grew weary of the endless references to its verses as though it was some kind of biblical panacea for Australia's economic woes. The Coalition stuck so rigidly to the plan that they gave themselves no room to move inside the Fightback! coccoon.
To 2013 and we have Tony Abbott and his plan to crush the Labor government by reminding the electorate of its past failings, the infighting and leadership brawls, the destabilisation, the boats the carbon tax the boats the carbon tax .... even attacking his opponents' characters. His fervent belief is that all he needs to do is turn the spotlight on the Labor Party, crawl up into a little ball of predictable slogans, and the voters will hand him government on a plate. The point here is that Abbott and Co have been in this mode of operation with little variation for even longer than Fightback. And like Fightback, the strategy is inflexible, overexposed, and becoming tiresome to the public.
The new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is just that - new. It may be his second time around but people are not focused on past flaws or failings, they basically care about what is happening right now. And as it turns out they like what they see - a new, reformed, more inclusive Kevin Rudd who still appeals to them as someone outside of the political machine. He is, amazingly enough, a breath of fresh air, something the Coalition does not seem to know how to counter. And still Mr Abbott persists with his negative politics, the same program, the same spiel, the same 'old politics'. Given all this the ultimate irony might be about to befall Tony Abbott - just as the voting public grew weary and distrustful of Fightback! they are growing weary and distrustful of him. Rigid. Scripted. Unable to change. A 2D politician up against a 3D prime minister.
A few days prior to the time of writing, Kevin Rudd had a 'social lunch' with none other than Paul Keating, the man who killed off Fightback and won the unwinnable election. We can be sure the two of them weren't discussing the pâté de foie gras. Keating may very well see the similarity of Abbott's scripted old politics to the scripture of Fightback. If so we can be sure he'll be making his ideas known to Kevin Rudd, himself a master tactician. The 2013 election is, incredibly, now up for grabs. And the longer Rudd stalls on the election date the more he will expose Abbott's unsuitability to be Prime Minister. We can probably expect an election some time in October, and quite possibly the greatest victory of all - for Labor.