Angry voters ready to give Rudd the red card


Rudd’s detractors blame his character. ”We’re not paying a price for anything we’ve done. It’s just character,” said one MP who returned to Canberra yesterday after a week in the electorate.

Like his colleagues, his ears are ringing with voters venting their anger at Rudd and the government. ”Out there in the community it’s really bad,” he said. ”Rudd isn’t who you told us he was,” he recites.

Everybody in the government agrees there is a problem. Short of gambling by changing leaders – a move for which there is no consensus – no one is sure how to turn it around.

Those with their feet firmly on the ground agree it will be a long process, far more complicated than simply shutting down the debate over the mining tax.

”If it was one thing like fixing the [mining tax], it would be easy,” a source said.

Senior operatives say the decay is not the product of any single decision or Rudd’s character but a composite that began in October. Rudd’s inability to resolve the stand-off aboard the Customs vessel the Oceanic Viking exposed the Prime Minister in a crisis but also swung the focus back to that most potent of issues, asylum seekers.

It began to cost Labor swing voters in marginal seats, the same voters it had lured away from John Howard in 2007.

Then came the insulation debacle, Tony Abbott’s effective scare campaign about the carbon emissions trading scheme being a ”great big new tax”, and the cost blowouts with school buildings. It took until the health policy release in April and the leaders’ debate to arrest the slide.

Things began to unravel again, first with with the abolition of the insulation program and the dumping of a promise to build childcare centres, then with the biggest catalyst of all, the decision in late April to shelve the emissions trading scheme for at least two years.

The budget, just over two weeks later, was supposed to be the circuit breaker with the news the economy would be back in the black within three years.

That was clouded out by the developing fight over the mining tax, announced the week before.

”The message has been completely lost,” one senior figure said. ”Most people still think we’ll be in deficit for years.”

If Rudd believes he can turn it around, and all leaders do, then the smart money would be on a late election. If he thinks it’s only going to get worse, and the Gillard threat becomes real, he will go early.