Labor can only go negative

Many rusted on supporters of the Labor movement seem perplexed by the negativity with which Labor has campaigned for much of the Abbott leadership. Noni Hazelhurst neatly encapsulated the sentiment on the ABC’s Qanda in April when she said “I can’t imagine why the derisory election campaign that they waged at the last election – why that happened. They need to talk more about their successes”. The truth is that the government no longer has much choice: through its words an through its actions it has repudiated most of its achievements in its first two years and statements like Hazlehurst’s demonstrate a lack of appreciation for the extent to which they have done so.

Faced with an onslaught of criticism from sectional interest groups, this government has apologized for and disassociated itself from much of its earlier conduct. It was a folly attempt to garner some goodwill by presenting itself as earnest and upfront about its mistakes. The Australians Peter Brent links the approach to Mark Arbib, whoever is to blame, far from gaining some goodwill from the electorate; the strategy has only served to reinforce doubts about the governments competence. The watershed moment came in March 2010 when the then unassailably popular Kevin Rudd made an extraordinary apology to the nation on the ABC’s Insiders. Rudd’s schmaltzy earnest won him some initial praise, but in the long term he suffered for having transferred the issue of the governments Home Insulation Scheme out of “the hotly debated issue” basket and into one of unanimous condemnation.

The government’s next extraordinary back down occurred a month later when the Rudd government deferred the implementation of the CPRS after three years of insisting that climate change was the “greatest moral challenge of our time.” This single act mortally undermined Labor’s commitment to pricing carbon. No subsequent argument made in favour of the implementation of a carbon price will carry more weight than the image of Labor walking away from an ETS in April 2010. To put it crudely, if Carbon Pricing was absolutely necessary, why didn’t the government use its double dissolution trigger when Rudd was leader?

Clearly the government’s biggest strategic blunder occurred in June 2010 when Julia Gillard fronted a full press conference to declare that the government had “lost its way.” So much so in fact that a bruising change of leadership was absolutely necessary. She proceeded to then announce the areas in which the government had “lost its way”: they were too soft on boat people, too hasty on carbon pricing and too hard on the miners. To the surprise of nobody voters responded to her assertion that Tony Abbott had been right all along; by voting for Tony Abbott.

With the government accepting accusations of incompetence it can no longer hope to win an election on the back of its accomplishments but it can hide behind the fact that, despite what the Greens may claim, the current climate is still very much a two party system. Tony Abbott’s approval rating is still low, as is most people’s views on Joe Hockey’s ability to be Treasurer. Morris Iemma lead a highly unpopular government to victory in 2007 by running a clinical, negative, fear campaign against the unpopular opposition leader Peter Debnam and it is now falls to the federal government to do the same. Whether its Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd or someone else leading the government, they need to forego the gooey eyed narratives about Hawke and Chifley and drive home the message that Tony Abbott would be an incompetent Prime Minister.

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