Australians have witnessed considerable rewriting of the political rulebook over the past decade.

Mark Latham ran an unconventionally hokey campaign in 2004 that almost got him elected. He focussed on populist issues such as MPs’ superannuation and reading to children, when the rulebook says that oppositions should stick to the big policy issues like the economy and health.

That same election, John Howard unashamedly and un-ironically used “trust” to beat Latham. The rulebook says he should have avoided this political battleground when the community clearly had their own trust issues with the then-PM.

New rules were written in 2007 when Kevin Rudd barnstormed the election with his “me too” campaign, promising to be Howard-lite with added features like the ratification of Kyoto and the scrapping of WorkChoices. Never before had a politician offered to be “the same, but better” than his opponent. It was however the perfect pitch for Howard-weary voters looking for another safe pair of hands to run the economy.

And now, Tony Abbott is defying all known rules on negative campaigning by running the longest anti-campaign any of us have ever witnessed. The success of that strategy is yet to be borne out.

Perhaps the most “bent but not broken” rule in the political playbook to date, is that which says history is written by the victor. I mention this because of the concerted effort being made by the Rudd camp to re-play the Howard trust card, and claim that Julia Gillard lost the trust of the Australian community by wresting the Prime Ministership from Kevin Rudd in 2010.

This narrative might suit the combatants’ purposes, but it’s not backed by the facts.

Support for the Labor Government increased after Julia Gillard became leader, from 52% before the change in Prime Ministership, to 53% after the change and 55% two weeks after that. Similarly, support for PM Rudd as preferred Prime Minister was 46% prior to the change, and then for PM Gillard was 53%, increasing to 57% two weeks later.

So, up to three weeks after the “coup”, the Australian people were swinging back to the Labor Government and Julia Gillard as PM. Surely if there was outrage or resentment about the way in which Kevin Rudd was dispatched, it would have emerged in the opinion polls. But no, it did not.

The polls did dive three weeks after the change in leadership, but not because of any perceived poor treatment of Rudd. The polls dived because the Australian community realised they’d be sold a pup. Not once, but twice.

I’ve written before that people lost faith in Rudd because his promise to be Howard-lite proved to be empty. Rudd created the expectation but did not deliver. While he promised to be a man of action, he proved to be a man of indecision, committees and reviews.  Rudd proved to be nothing like Howard, showing none of the former PM’s ability to provide a narrative to give meaning to the government’s efforts. Nor could he speak like Howard to the community, in a language they understood.

So, in June 2010 the Australian community were well on the way to understanding that they’d been conned by Kevin Rudd. That’s why there was no uproar when he was deposed. Instead there was a cautious optimism that maybe the Labor Party had made a necessary course correction.

The shattering of that optimism is the reason why Julia Gillard no longer has the faith of the Australian people.

Julia Gillard became Prime Minister promising to resolve three issues: Australia’s response to climate change; the battle with the mining industry over the Resource Super Profit Tax; and a more humane approach to sea-borne asylum seekers.

On 2 July PM Gillard announced a resolution to the mining resource tax that was reported by the media as being a backdown. Then on 6 July 2010 the PM made a strong speech to the Lowy Institute committing to solve the issues relating to boat-borne asylum seekers. Even though her asylum-seeker solution was scuttled shortly after, the public remained optimistic and the PM registered her highest approval rating (57% on 16-18 July 2010).

But on 23 July 2010 PM Gillard announced that her government would create a citizens’ assembly of ”real Australians” to investigate the science of climate change and consequences of emissions trading, under a plan to build a national consensus for a carbon price. This proposal was widely derided as setting climate policy by public opinion instead of science, and a further repudiation of the emissions trading scheme shelved by Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.

This was the point at which the penny dropped. Voters realised that they’d not only been gypped by Rudd, but also by Gillard, and so the opinion polls began to fall.

At the time of the citizens’ assembly announcement, PM Gillard’s rating as preferred Prime Minister fell from 57% to 50% (23-25 July) and the Government’s standing from 55% to 52%. A week later, the parties stood at 50% each.

The rest, as they say, is history. On this occasion, the facts are borne out by the numbers and can’t be bent to show anything other than the truth. Attempts to recast them for political purposes should be exposed for what they are – blatantly misleading and condescending to all of us.

(All opinion poll data is sourced from Newspoll).

This piece also appeared at ABC’s The Drum

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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. ..and here was me thinking that Julia Gillard saved the country from the nasty mining tax that we all knew was going to stop mining companies in our poor little country. We knew this because they spent multi-million dollars telling us so, and we all believed it because we’d never seen ads like it before. Well some of us believed it. Actually, most of us believed it. Of course, since then we’ve seen the same mob tell us that tobacco is good, carbon dioxide is good for our gardens, mining companies are our friends, electricity bills must go up because there’s going to be a big bad new tax next year, and that wind farms cause extreme illness and are a blight on the horizon.

    By June 2010, Kevin Rudd had been at the butt end of anti-mining tax advertising for months and was being consistently undermined by Labor-Right, right under his nose. Julia Gillard, Mark Arbib and Wayne Swan were worried about electricity bills and pressured him for months to water down the ETS. If it were me, I’d have been pretty cranky and I’d have been micro-managing the bastards too.

    He was also subject to Tony-bloody-Abbott telling us all what a wastrel he was, with pink batts disasters and bungled school halls. The insignificant factor that we had been alone among the developed world in coming through the GFC and that 97% of schools were delighted with their new buildings, and that the percentage of incidents per insulation installed actually went down.. was ignored.

    ..and then Julia Gillard rescued us from the nasty man, threw out the nasty mining tax, said we’d never ever have a carbon tax under any government she ran.. and the rest is history.

    See, some of us remember the real story.

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  2. Why is that all the media are allowing Tony Abbott to stroll to the lodge with out ever asking him what his polices are for running the country should he get elected. I know you have all been hung up over the Rudd /Gillard show but come on it’s time to get serious with the opposition. At some stage the media must do it’s job and not become obsessed with getting rid of Labor. It’s your responsibility to stand up for the average Australian and ask the difficult questions of my Abbott – if you wont who will?

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  3. I like this piece but it failed to sway me that Rudd the nerd was bullied out of the PM office just like it occurs on the school playground.

    He was different so he was shunned.

    When this occurs in the community, we can say hello social isolation, depression and suicide. It reflects badly on Australia and all its citizens and as your polling shows the lack of concern of the populous is well concerning.

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  4. Rudd is not the only `me too` campaign. If you watch any of the Yank politics, you would notice that all Aussie politicians `me too`, what the yanks do. Both red and blue are so much the same that the choice is near zero to the common citizen. EG. Beazely and Howard are both `Yankophiles`. If Beazely was PM, he would have goose stepped into Iraq with the Yanks, just as John-W did. Don`t get me started on the 2010 poll. 🙂

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About Drag0nista

Political blogger and columnist on the interwebs. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989. Otherwise known as Paula Matthewson.

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