They commenced as frontrunners, with publicly available opinion polls suggesting they were ahead 55/45.
They were also aided by a slow start from the Liberals as well as confusion over the Opposition’s industrial relations policy.
The previous Workchoices policy was supposed to be ‘dead buried and cremated’ - however, Liberal spokesmen suggested the legislation could still be ‘tweaked’ (whatever that meant).
The great difference between Workchoices and the current legislation is the primacy of the industrial award as the basis of determining wages and conditions, as opposed Workchoice’s built in bias towards some form of individual contract.
Why they couldn’t say that in Government the coalition would retain the award system and not reintroduce the concept of unfair dismissals (if that’s what they wanted to do) without winding up into knots over whether or not they would touch any sort of legislative instrument related to the Fair Work Act currently in place over the next three years is beyond us.
As for Labor, however repetitious it was, the ‘moving forward’ mantra confirmed the idea that Kevin Rudd was no longer the leader. Noting infrastructure pressures was also a sound message to sell into Middle Australia.
However, things started to slow for them midweek.
Firstly, Kevin Rudd appeared, reminding people he wasn’t dead after all. Focussing on him soaked up around two days of the campaign week.
This took from view promises both sides made on what can be claimed under the education tax refund scheme as well as the Liberal’s re-announcement of its hit list of expenditure savings.
The remainder of the week underlined the difficulty Labor has keeping its bifurcated constituencies of inner urban progressives and outer suburbanites together.
As Bernard Salt said in an Australian article on 13 August 2009, a significant and growing cultural divergence has evolved in Australian cities between different social groups between those who live in the inner city and those who live on the city’s edge.
The traditional ALP voting coalition has generally consisted of self identifying members of the labour movement, people with English as a second language, welfare recipients, public sector workers, the arts sector and high income professionals who are secularist and internationalist in orientation.
On one analysis, Julia Gillard is well placed to keep this disparate coalition together.
In the Weekend Australian on 16 February 2002, Matt Price described Julia Gillard as someone with the cheese-grater voice of a Footscray fishwife and a the multi-shaded hairstyle of a Toorak trendoid.
At a memorial service held on 14 December 2007 after Price’s death, Gillard indicated she had corrected Price, claiming she had the cheese-grater voice of an Altona fishwife and the multi-shaded hair of a Fitzroy trendoid.
Altona fishwife and Fitzroy trendoid. This sums up the disparate nature of the ALP constituency.
The danger for Labor is that they have the problem that in trying to straddle both sides of the fence they will satisfy neither trendy nor burby.
A confusing message could mean they don’t stand for anything or anyone.
For example, during the week the Prime Minister claimed that the whilst she believed in global warming and the price of inaction about it was ‘too high a price to pay’, promising an emission trading scheme some day – something for Fitzroy.
However, the political process has to be tied to a ‘community consensus’.
The result a review of the proposed ETS during 2012 – but not before a ‘citizens’ assembly’ debates the issue over 12 months to assist in building community consensus (slowing the introduction of the ETS and thus a price on carbon, with its inherently higher consumer costs that it imposes) – something for Altona.
This idea (particularly the ‘citizens’ assembly’) was universally panned – in trying to please everyone they pleased nobody.
Promising offshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat (something for Altona) but not at Nauru (as it hadn’t signed the UN Refugees Convention – something for Fitzroy) similarly appeared to please no-one.
A final example was where the Prime Minister argued that the population debate she commenced was less about immigrant numbers but rather where skilled migrants were going to live.
However, as ex-leader Mark Latham said, it was a phoney debate. He went on to say:
If it's not an immigration debate, it's no debate…………and I'll tell you what it is, it's a fraud. It's an attempt to con people in western Sydney that she's going to do something about congestion.
Nevertheless, these problems ultimately didn’t alter Labor’s frontrunning position.
By weeks end, the Morgan poll still showed the ALP with a 54/46 margin (with a high number of women indicating they will vote Labor), although the last Newspoll had it 52/48.
The Liberals were aided by a ‘nothing to see here move along’ debate between the two leadership contenders (which really was a joint news conference) in which Abbott won by not losing to Gillard (the more accomplished public speaker) and Abbott getting through a 7.30 Report interview unscathed.
And so the second stanza commences with the challenge for the Liberals is whether an Abbott led party can be plausibility regarded as The Champion of Suburbia as well as getting over a perceived problem with women voters.
As frontrunners, it is Labor’s challenge to show that it is not trying to be too clever by half.