For Gillard, the bad news comes in threes


For Gillard, the bad news comes in threes

Date February 17, 2013 Category Opinion 397 reading now

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Peter Hartcher

Sydney Morning Herald political and international editor

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Rudd denies leadership bid… over and over again

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd is constantly asked the question he doesn’t want to hear, and while his answer stays the same, his sense of humour does not.
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Julia Gillard today gets the political news she most fears, at the time she fears it most.

After declaring that she will go to the people on September 14, she now finds that the people are running from her.

After declaring that she will go to the people on September 14, she now finds that the people are running from her.

There are three distinct political tremors in today’s Herald-Nielsen poll result that, together, come as an earthquake for Labor.

Losing popularity … Julia Gillard. Photo: Andrew Meares

First is that the voter trend towards Labor in the second half of last year has now reversed.


Second is that Gillard has now lost to Tony Abbott her only poll advantages. While Labor has been in a losing position for a long time, Gillard had the consolation of two areas of personal dominance over Tony Abbott.

She has now lost both – she is no longer preferred prime minister, and she no longer has a higher approval rating.

Third, Kevin Rudd’s popularity not only remains strong, but has grown stronger.

And while Gillard fears losing power to Tony Abbott at the election, the more urgent danger is from Rudd’s popularity. Because Rudd offers the party a way out of the landslide that, on today’s poll results, would sweep Labor out of power with a swing against it of 6 percentage points.

The Prime Minister’s dramatic early announcement of the election arrested national attention.

For a moment she had the chance to hold the initiative and monopolise the political airwaves. But the announcement was hastily conceived. There was no follow-through plan, apart from a jarring announcement of two cabinet resignations.

We now know that Gillard lost her precious moment. Instead of the government towards a new momentum she merely provided Labor with a dramatic attention-grabbing moment for it to showcase its ugliest faces – the faces of scandal and corruption, the faces of Craig Thomson and Eddie Obeid. And, of course, the admission that its much-vaunted mining tax is a farce.

”I think the most likely thing is that the combined effect of Craig Thomson and Eddie Obeid created an atmosphere of crisis,” says Nielsen’s John Stirton.

And while Labor lost its opportunity, Tony Abbott took his. ”I think the results probably reflect Abbott’s change of approach,” becoming less aggressive and more positive, says Stirton. ”There have been far fewer shots of him on the evening news in his shrill, hectoring mode. He’s been more moderate and bipartisan – it took him a long time to learn, but the voters rather like that.”

This dire combination is not necessarily fatal for Gillard, or for Labor. John Howard recovered from worse polling to win in 2001. But each passing week of bungles and bad news narrows her options for recover.

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