For whom the bell tolls – The last days of Rudd or Abbott or both.

Saturday will be a time of great personal relief for the vast majority of Australian voters. After the most painful and boring election of a lifetime, we will have made the decision that most of us would prefer not to make.

Is Abbott about to achieve his dream of becoming Australia’s Prime Minister, or will Rudd pull-off what will be recorded as a political miracle? The making of this sad choice will enable us to experience the profound relief we cherish when we get-up after sitting for a long time on a really nasty bit of prickly pear. You feel a hell of a lot better, but you know also that you will have a sore backside for a long time thereafter.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I have never before seen Australians so disgusted with politics, or so disillusioned with the choice that political parties have forced upon us by presenting us with leaders who inspire such little confidence. But, there is not much we can do about it right now, and it is our democratic responsibility to ensure that whoever wins is given a fair go at trying to give positive and sustainable leadership to Australia.

So, let us look for a few moments at the key figures in this eminently forgettable election:

Kevin Rudd

The pollsters told us that his return to the Office of Prime Minister was welcomed by many voters, and some predicted that he would take the ALP on to an unlikely victory. This possibility has faded, but it does look as though some ALP seats that may have been lost may now have been saved.

In my view, the Labor Party made a tactical error in basing its campaign predominantly around Rudd, as he carries too much political and personal baggage. They would have done much better by running as an elite team, as their front bench is stronger than that of the Coalition. Younger Ministers like Mark Butler, Tanya Plibersek, Bill Shorten, Kate Ellis, Mark Dreyfus, etc, would have gained them far greater traction.

Rudd campaigned superbly against John Howard in 2007, but his effort this time has been a pale imitation of that high moment in his life. It would have been worse but for a sterling effort by his deputy, Anthony Albanese, who has campaigned his heart out. It seems that the very best that Rudd can hope for is another hung Parliament.

Tony Abbott

I cannot remember there being an alternative Prime Minister who has been so personally unpopular, but he should win in spite of it. He made a huge mistake in announcing his policy of six months paid parental leave. He was clearly in front at the time of the announcement, yet he put forward the most extravagant middle class handout I have ever known.

He also erred in taking too long to release his policies and costings, thereby leaving himself little time to reply to the inevitable criticism of them, particularly as he needed to overcome the image of negativity that he has unnecessarily built-up around himself.

He also made a wrong call in not making changes to bring younger members onto his front bench, as it looks a bit stale. Nevertheless, Rudd’s overspending in past years offset some of that downside. Also, Abbott must be given top marks for tenacity. He is relentless.

Christine Milne

She has a significantly difficult job in following Bob Brown as leader of the Greens, particularly as most voters regard Brown as the historic Green icon, but she is a better leader than people give her credit, and she is the only one who has shown any compassion to refugees. Interestingly, she identified correctly that the Nationals are slowly fading-out in the bush, and she has gone after the rural vote, especially in those areas aggrieved about mining, gas drilling and water contamination.

But, I have been unable to identify any significant Green gains in that area thus far. So, it could be that their vote drops a bit this time and they lose one or two of their team, particularly Sarah Hanson-Young in South Australia while still retaining the balance of power in the Senate. Their sole member in the House of Representatives, Adam Bandt, faces a tough battle to hold the seat of Melbourne, as both the ALP and the Coalition are preferencing against him — but he may benefit from a protest vote against both Abbott and Rudd.

Bob Katter and Clive Palmer

Katter is one of the legendary figures of Australian politics, but made a mistake when he formed a political party. This gave him an image of being another Party hack, instead of presenting himself as the authentic leader of Australia’s many independent voters. He also made a mistake in not giving up his electorate of Kennedy to run for the Senate himself, as he could have gained a personal balance of power situation there — whereas I don’t think his other Senate candidates can make it. But, he will hold his seat of Kennedy and vote with Rudd if the Parliament is deadlocked.

Palmer is one of the world’s greatest egotists, but he correctly identified an opportunity to form a new conservative party based on gaining the anti-Abbott vote. However, Rudd’s return foiled that by polarising the electorate. Palmer’s campaign will fail spectacularly, but he will gain some votes, in which case his preferences could be vital. Most will flow to Katter and vice versa. Then, they could go anywhere.

Independents

Andrew Wilkie has a solid chance of holding his seat in Tasmania, as he was a responsible Independent in the last Parliament and has been a dedicated local member.

Cathy McGowan is a genuine possibility to unseat Liberal MP, Sophie Mirabella, in the rural seat of Indi in northern Victoria. She has impeccable rural connections and is receiving ALP preferences. There are no other independents with realistic chances in the House of Representatives, but it will be interesting to watch where Tony Windsor’s supporters place their votes in New England. Many are strongly anti-National Party and regard Barnaby Joyce as a foreigner from Queensland. The new Independent, Rob Tabor, will do a lot better than expected as he has Windsor’s support and ALP preferences.

However, in the Senate, the Prime Minister’s brother, Greg Rudd, could sneak home in Queensland on the preferences of everyone else. Pauline Hanson may do the same in NSW, as the racist vote in Australia is, lamentably, growing. Nick Xenophon is a very good bet to retain his seat in South Australia and could get his Number Two up also.

Wikileaks may get an irrelevant sympathy vote. If some of these victories occur, it will spell the end of Tony Abbott’s hope of controlling the Senate and removing the carbon tax. This is a possibility as many who distrust Abbott, but vote for him in the Reps, will decide to curb his power by deadlocking the Senate.

Former Prime Ministers

Julia Gillard has faithfully honoured her commitment to depart the political scene, something that Rudd should have done three years ago. Her stature as a former Prime Minister grows by the day, and history will treat her more kindly than either Rudd or Abbott. Nevertheless, she is still having a current impact on voters.

In Adelaide, where she spent her childhood and now lives, there is a sizeable number of voters who are anti-Rudd because ‘he knifed our Julia’. John Howard is doing a good job bringing some of the anti-Abbott votes back into the conservative fold by attending functions with the Party faithful around the nation. Because we are friends of 35 years standing, I attended a function that he addressed in Brisbane just to say hello and arrange to have a coffee with him in Sydney after the election. He gave the crowd a splendid speech on the state of the economy without attacking Rudd, Swan or Gillard. It was refreshing to hear an informed opinion given without spin.

Significant Others

Mal Brough will return to Parliament where his talent is needed. One day, the full facts of Ashbygate will be revealed, and will prove that Brough took the rap to protect others. For the moment, the fact is that the colourful political career of Peter Slipper will end.

Wayne Swan will hold his seat of Lilley, and one day people will give him credit for saving Australia from recession in 2008.

The Parliament’s youngest member, Wyatt Roy, will deservedly hold his seat of Longman, and Phillip Ruddock will become Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Craig Thomson will have plenty of time to spend his days with his credit card. It is probably a reasonable bet to say that Peter Beattie will regret the rush of blood that caused him to attempt a political comeback.

The Campaign

Before commenting on who might win, I want to say a few words about four crucial issues that the major parties have ignored in the most shallow campaign of my life, convincing me that politicians and voters are not living on the same planet.

An Ageing Tsunami is about to hit Australia (and every other nation). Wayne Swan established a Treasury Panel that I chair, whose task it is to plan how Australia will meet the huge costs of Ageing, and what steps can be taken to turn Ageing into a social and economic asset. We had made considerable progress until Swan lost his job as Treasurer. Now, this potentially catastrophic issue has been neglected in the election campaign because Rudd does not want to highlight any good work done by Gillard or Swan, and it just doesn’t seem to be an item of importance on the Abbott agenda. This is an extraordinary lapse by both of them and is a tragedy for Australia, as the Ageing Tsunami will hit us much harder than the GFC, particularly as our major trading partner, China, has a massive ageing problem that will severely retard its progress. Their one-child policy means that there are millions of families where ageing parents are living far longer than expected and they have produced only one child to replace them in the workforce. Japan will be hit hard, too, because they practice longevity better than any nation on earth. In our case, we are not likely to have a budget surplus again until 2040, such will be the impact of neglecting the impending crisis just to demean the long-term planning that Wayne Swan undertook with considerable wisdom.

Housing is in a lamentable state nationwide. There is a significant shortage of age-friendly housing, low cost rental housing and communal housing for people who are otherwise alone or are part of the growing list of homeless. The Property Industry is neglecting this very profitable business opportunity, while continuing to build traditional accommodation which is in oversupply and, therefore, largely unsold or not rented. The situation will be helped if the ALP and LNP pledge to stop negative gearing and use the tax savings to partner with developers in providing the real housing needs that I have outlined rather than the trendy housing that they build now.

The movement of freight all around our continent is appallingly inefficient and hugely overpriced, causing us to be highly uncompetitive. Yet, neither side of politics has a national freight policy or a plan to appoint a Minister of Freight to co-ordinate all forms of freight transport, create freight hubs and links, and fill the gaping holes in the system. Cost of living is a huge issue in this election, and it can be reduced significantly through wise and visionary investment in freight logistics.

Water is the Cinderella of all of Australia’s resources, yet it has passed under the radar in this election, even though the nation badly needs drought and flood proofing as well as irrigation channels for new food bowls. Politicians reckon it is too hard an environmental task, too financially costly and not a vote winner. One day, a political party will see the light and plan to harness our water resources to make us the largest producer and exporter of food in the world. The candidates in this election are not those leaders, but we should remember that Andrew Robb has drawn-up a splendid water plan that Tony Abbott has ignored. I was proud to be a volunteer working with Andrew on this crucial challenge.

The Result

So, the winner is an uncertain future. But, then, there is no such thing as certainty in life, and we need tough times here and there to bring out the best in us. Those times are upon us now, but we do not have an Angela Merkel to put fire into our souls and lead us out of the wilderness.

The image I have of the Abbott campaign is that it seeks to take us back to the glory days of the past that we all know will never return. I don’t have the feeling that the Coalition in its current form will launch us out into a brave new world and become leaders of change.

But, then, the image of the Rudd campaign is one of high drama, much rhetoric and little substance, with no clear goals that the voters can believe will happen, and much emphasis on covering-up the sordid facts behind the assassination of Julia Gillard. We really don’t need emotional politics in our lives at this time. The call is for innovative management of the nation that is implemented with wisdom.

So, I will do what we all should do. Accept the winner, whoever it is, and give my full support for a full term, then make a highly critical judgment when I vote again. If we have been led nowhere, we must dispatch them to the darkest places.

In the meantime, the safest comment I can make is that if Tony Abbott doesn’t win, he should be swabbed by the stewards. The election is his to lose.

I will take ‘The Mad Monk’ on trust and hope that he will lead us to ‘the light on the hill’ that Ben Chifley told us about 70 years ago. If he takes positive steps in that direction, the ALP should give him bipartisan support from the Opposition benches.

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