New-look Labor is a free advert for the Greens

Originally published on http://www.thepunch.com.au

The mad pre-election scramble for support has begun and the latest wild grab for ammunition has taken the form of a controversial refugee policy. Gillard played up to her rapidly forming image as one of the few straight talking, honest pollies when she said she wanted a “frank, open discussion” about Australia’s borders. She then proceeded to make decisions with insufficient Cabinet consultation, and indeed neglected to inform the Prime Minister of the country on which she planned to dump the sea-bound asylum seekers.

That, off the back of caving in to the big mining companies, confirming a belief in but lack of commitment to resolving climate change and a remarkable lack of progression when it comes to gay marriage, lead up to the election polls released today.

Yesterady’s Herald/Nielsen poll confirms that Labor’s sudden change of face has given it a standing change in the upcoming election. It is, however, nowhere near the sort of dramatic lead that the first post-Gillard Nielsen poll suggested as she waltzed in to a projected popularity lead of 55% to 45%. This has since shifted to a more moderate figure of 52%: 48%, indicating that whilst Labor could snake ahead in the upcoming election with a shaky 5-seat lead, it has seen a drop in support since the previous Labor election.

None of this is surprising really, but it does put Gillard in an interesting position of deciding when she should call the Australian public to the voting booths. The current talk is that the election is due for the 21st or 28th of August, but according to SMH’s Phillip Coorey there is still debate within the party about when the most opportune moment would be – proceed with caution or steamroller ahead?

Gillard shuffled into her current position as Prime Minister in a less than conventional manner. She then proceeded to tackle five of the most controversial current issues and, unfortunately, has left the public in a state of somewhat dazed confusion (a tactic well-executed by her predecessor).

To re-cap for everyone who has understandably gotten a little giddy; Gillard professed an understanding of the gravity of the environmental problems we face and then pandered to the Mining sector. She talked of the impetus to act on climate change but then asserted that she will wait for (the already established) community consensus. She declared that she wanted an end to hyperbolic rhetoric around refugees and border security and then proposed to ship off boatloads of people to a country that seemed less than willing to welcome them with open arms. Finally despite leading Australia’s history of Prime Ministers in ‘firsts’ (first female Prime Minister, atheist, de-facto childless relationship…_) she can’t quite bring herself to be a “first” when it comes to equalising all couples’ access to the perceived legitimacy and sanctity of marriage.

Oh, and lets not forget Gillard reconfirming her support for the military deployment in Afghanistan, fighting the longest most drawn out war in recent history. When actions produce undesirable consequences (like, oh, blood shed, lost of civilian lives, infrastructure damage, economic toll…) our instinct is usually to withdraw and reassess. Not with Afghanistan! Nope, we’re so enraged by the possible presence of individual terrorists (within an entire nation of peaceful civilians) that even heading towards the bloody decade mark we’re committed to keep on killing.

The Labor party’s dilemma as to when to summon the public to the political slaughter-field therefore seems understandable. To call the election soon, would just add to the frenzy that ties the end of Rudd’s era and the beginnings of Gillard’s together in uncomfortable proximity. It would however, reduce the chance of Gillard seizing anything else politically precarious to toy with.  On the flip side, if the election were left a little longer, Gillard would have a chance to carefully extract herself from Rudd’s legacy and present herself more gradually and moderately to the Australian public.

Either way, the political window doesn’t seem any less foggy having wiped Rudd’s bureaucratic jargon aside. Instead, straight-talking Gillard has been head-butting all the big, ugly issues of the day. But, like her predecessor, she has proved highly skilled at acknowledging and placating the public, whilst simultaneously diverting any responsibility she might have to demonstrate decisive and responsible leadership.

One can only hope that the tried and tested allure of potential votes will be enough incentive for Gillard to step up on any number of issues. She could rope in a nice bundle of progressive votes if she decided to pilfer the planet a little less, treat asylum seekers a little more humanely or maybe reduce our international contribution to blood shed by a couple of gallons.

She doesn’t have to do it all mind you. Just one of the aforementioned wildly radical steps would be enough to slow that steady trickle of Labor votes to the Greens.

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