Friday, July 06, 2007

Australian Election 2007 - a very good election campaign

For the benefit of my international readers, there will be an election for the Australian Parliament later this year, probably in November. While the date has yet to be announced and the formal campaign begin, electioneering is well under way.

Unlike the intellectual bankruptcy that marked both sides in the NSW election campaign, this has to my mind been a remarkably good election campaign so far. I say this because I feel that, unlike the supermarket politics of NSW, there are a series of real policy debates underway.

It takes two to tango.

Under Mr Rudd, a rejuvenated Labor has been setting out a series of policy ideas that have a degree of depth, that do not simply attack the Government, that attempt to carve out a new direction for the country. As a consequence, Labor has too some degree been able to set the policy agenda in a way we have not seen in Australia for many years.

Despite its long years in Government, Labor's opponent remains an experienced and well disciplined force determined to pursue its own agendas. As Mr Howard said in answer to a question, if the Government went into caretaker mode as electioneering began, they would effectively waste one third of their three year term. This Government will continue to govern until the last possible moment, the issuing of the writs and the beginning of the formal caretaker period.

The result has been a fascinating contest.

In saying this, I am not talking about the daily round of exchanges as the attack dogs on each side attempt to find the throats of their opponents, although this too has been more interesting and somewhat less personalised than the recent Australian norm. Rather, it is the policy debate and the Government's responses to that debate that hold the real fascination.

Mr Rudd's remarkable early success in setting the policy agenda has triggered a remarkable and very interesting response as the Government attempts to remake itself, adopting a Labor policy here, altering its own policies there where Labor attacks are clearly gaining traction, restating positions in an attempt to establish clear differentiation.

In turn, this has forced the opposition into a similar process, refining its existing policy positions while announcing new ones. As both do this, debate shifts.

This is real debate at a level I have not seen before in Australia. The supermarket superficialities may still be there, but the core is a battle of ideas, a battle that has already changed the Australian political and policy landscape for the better.

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