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Twists, turns and backflips to be expected as -

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Twists, turns and backflips to be expected as election looms

Broadcast: 16/05/2007

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

As public opinion continues to bleed away to the Opposition, Coalition MPs are starting to show
their concern as they try to work out how to force swinging voters to heed their warnings about a
Labor government.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN: Welcome to the program, and tonight we take a second look at a perplexing political
riddle for the Howard Government.

The economy is booming, unemployment is at record lows and today, consumer confidence came in
post-Budget at a 32-year high, yet public opinion keeps bleeding away to Kevin Rudd's Labor
Opposition.

Two polls this week have consolidated Mr Rudd's dominant political spot - a lead he's held now for
months.

Publicly the Government says it wasn't expecting a bounce from last week's Budget, but privately
Coalition MPs are starting to show their concern as they try to work out how to force swinging
voters to heed their warnings about a Labor government. Peter Costello's now painting Kevin Rudd as
a dangerous socialist.

And as Michael Brissenden reports, we can expect plenty more twists, turns and maybe even policy
backflips as the election nears.

WAYNE SWAN, SHADOW TREASURER: The Labor Party is today at a place where it has not been for a long
time. There's no complacency, but I can tell you there's a lot of excitement.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: No I don't pretend to understand all the movements in the polls. I
didn't expect a bounce, you don't normally get a bounce out of a Budget and these things move
around.

KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION LEADER: I think we've really just passed the halfway point of the marathon.
Long, long way to run. I'm up against a very clever and cunning politician, that's Mr Howard.
Anything could happen and as I said, when we get to Election Day, I think it'll be 51/49 one way or
the other. Very close.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Yes, anything could happen. But what's happening right now? Why is the Kevin
Rudd honeymoon stretching beyond the usual fortnight in Fiji with the voters? In fact it has gone
on for months now, and it's not as if the Government hasn't been trying to take off some of that
loss.

JOHN HOWARD: I can probably borrow that famous line of Ronald Reagan's about Jimmy Carter: if you
don't talk about my age, I won't talk about your inexperience. And certainly Mr Rudd is very
inexperienced.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Experience, or lack of it, is just one front in the Government's attack. Apart
from questioning policy and economic credibility, there has also been an enduring focus on the
question of character. From his association with Brian Burke, through his childhood recollections
about his family evictions from the farm, and of course the big Anzac/Sunrise fiasco, the
Government, as you would expect, has seized every opportunity that's come along.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: This is now a character issue for Kevin Rudd. His explanation doesn't
wash.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But now, after what was without doubt a bad couple of weeks for Kevin Rudd,
dominated over confusion over Labor's IR policy, some stumbling parliamentary performances and a
Budget from the Government that included across the board tax cuts, the polls still haven't
corrected. In fact, they've drifted even further towards Labor.

Government frontbenchers are perplexed to say the least, especially with the economy going as well
as it is.

JOHN HOWARD: Can I just say that today we learn that the consumer confidence in Australia has
reached a 32-year high. So not only does Australia have a 32-year low in unemployment, it has a
32-year high in consumer confidence. And that is very, very good news because it shows that
consumers are confident, they're more relaxed about interest rates. The wages figures that came out
today are very reassuring as far as inflation is concerned, no, all of that is good.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So why aren't the voters paying homage where it's due? Well behind the public
rhetoric there are a few theories within the government's ranks. For a start, a fifth term is not
easy to win under any circumstances. Kevin Rudd has been successful in painting himself as a
non-threatening alternative. When the pollsters ring, people are not embarrassed to say they'd vote
for him.

But the fact is the focus, if there is one at all, among the voters is fixed on the Government and
not the Opposition. Many are simply not listening, and those that are want to see some action. They
want to Government to convince them again.

The Government front bench does still believe it has a good chance of bringing the vote back. But
as one said this afternoon, we need to be working our tails off on policy and we need to show we
still have a capacity to do things.

But despite the polls, there are still some very real pressures on Labor - and IR is one of them.

MALE VOICE: What is your personal view of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard's proposed workplace
relations policy, particularly as it relates to AWAs?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Today Rod Eddington, the former British Airways chief and now a business
advisor to Labor, was out and about not quite endorsing the Labor position, but at least defending
the Labor leader.

AWAs might go, but Kevin Rudd has reserved the right to finetune his IR policy. And according to
Rod Eddington, he does at least understand the mining industry's position.

ROD EDDINGTON, ALP BUSINESS ADVISER: He understands China and he understands Australia. And he was
up in Karratha precisely to make sure he was up to date about it. He has a prodigious work ethic,
Kevin. And I've discovered there's not very much he doesn't know. But he's always keen to learn and
to listen. And yes, I think he understands the importance of the mining industry from both the
China side and the Australia side, which is very important.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The votes in the mining communities are pretty important too. And how that
feeds into the wider perceptions of Kevin Rudd's economic credibility is also crucial. The
finetuning might be pretty significant when it finally comes.

Everyone's doing it. The danger of such high stakes politics is that sometimes policy on the run
can run away from the politicians. For example, the Government is now taking plenty of time
formulating its broad climate change response. But that certainly wasn't the case with the water
initiative earlier this year.

A freedom of information request made by the Seven Network revealed today that the Government's $10
billion water plan was, to say the least, hastily put together. Normally the expenditure of such a
vast amount of money would be supported by volumes of papers from the Finance Department and the
Treasury, but the FOI request did not uncover a single document from the two financial departments.
Only 22 documents were found in the Environment Department, but the Department refused to release
them.

JOURNALIST: Doesn't the taxpayer deserve to know how you came to that decision, that $10 billion of
their money is to be spent on?

MALCOLM TURNBULL, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Look we are in very intense negotiations with the states.
And we're trying to get this deal done. Now, it is important that we get the deal done. The
negotiations are underway, the detailed legislation is with the states and a lot of hard work is
going on.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Pity the Department won't let the public see the paperwork that backs this up.
Apparently it's not in the public interest. In this case, like almost every other, the Freedom of
Information laws are an oxymoron.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political Editor Michael Brissenden.