Federal election 2010: The leaders’ opening gambit

Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited Yarralumla this morning to see Governor-General Quentin Bryce and the 2010 Federal election will be on 21 August. Writs will be issued on Monday, and enrolments close at 8pm. You can enroll, or update your enrollment here.

This will be the first election since 1993 when neither major party leader has ever led their party to an election. The contest is finely poised, with Queensland in particular a key battle ground: 16 seats in that state are held with margins less than 5%, and Labor’s result in 2007 was only the third time since WW2 that the party has gained a majority of the two party preferred vote.

In her press conference at midday today, Julia Gillard sought to relate the narrative she’s been constructing about her personal background and value to wider election themes. She framed the election as a back to basics one, seeking to entrench the risk factor of voting for the Coalition, and particularly Tony Abbott. The PM is also triangulating between the opposition and Kevin Rudd, defending Labor’s record while distancing herself from the perception that Rudd eschewed the largely quotidian concerns he exploited so well in the 2007 election campaign for a grand narrative which ended in disappointment.

Julia Gillard only sketched out a policy framework, with important questions on climate change and other key policy areas remaining to be filled out during the campaign. She sought to take the asylum seeker issue out of play, emphasising the points of agreement between Labor’s stance and the Coalition. Gillard tried to neutralise the Liberals’ debt and deficit message by painting the Coalition as the party of cuts and austerity, and much of her rhetoric centred on certainty and stability – minimising the impact of Kevin Rudd’s overthrow and trying to reclaim the government’s incumbency advantage.

She offered some contrition for first term stuff ups, promising that lessons of poor implementation would be redressed. The PM emphasised the closeness of the election in order to fend off protest votes.

Her key themes for the campaign are a strong economy, equality of opportunity, working together and dispelling fear, summed up in the ubiquitous phrase “moving forward”. The pitch is to the suburban marginals, on economic management and values in a time of uncertainty. Trust is a major theme, and no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot of Tony Abbott’s notorious 7.30 report interview during the campaign.

Julia Gillard’s performance was assured. Tony Abbott, by contrast, speaking from Brisbane where he’d ambiguously promised to embrace Labor’s Fair Work Act (but with a bit of “tweaking”), got off to a very shaky start, with a surprisingly quick address to the media. He didn’t convince as an alternative PM, struggling to move beyond the posture of carping opposition leader. He also emphasised trust, pointedly asking whether Julia Gillard could be trusted by the people if Kevin Rudd could not trust her. Abbott has a parallel problem to Gillard: just as she needs to both embrace and distance herself from her predecessor, he wants to claim that the Howard government gave us competence and security, while avoiding the very real negatives which led to its rejection in 2007.

But one thing is certain in this campaign: both parties will emphasise cost of living pressures and the “lived economy” concerns of suburban marginal voters. We shouldn’t expect much inspiration or grand dreams from either side, but a focus on the quotidian and a contest over which party can convince the electorate that it’s a pair of safe hands in a turbulent world. The asylum seeker issue is very much intertwined with that set of concerns, but it’s unlikely to dominate the campaign as much as it has the lead up.

Update: The complete audio of both press conferences is online – Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott.

Elsewhere: The Poll Bludger and Mumble.

Update: Antony Green identifies suburban and regional seats in Queensland and NSW as the key contests, with less likelihood of seats changing hands in WA, SA and Victoria.

Elsewhere: Tim Dunlop, Guy Beres and Alex White, and Peter Martin posts the text of the PM’s presser.

Posted in elections
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