Ari Sharp, Australian Democrats candidate for Kooyong, reports from the campaign frontline.
For months we all thought we knew the terms that this coming federal election would be fought on.
Following on from successive anti-conservative votes in Western Australia, Queensland, Ryan and the Northern Territory, it seemed that Howard would be fighting against a tide of change, pissing into the wind, as more poetic people might put it.
Most of us even thought we knew the election date, with the Constitution, various state elections and CHOGM commitments leaving only a few possible Saturdays.
For the Democrats, and myself, we also knew our place in things. We had a fresh and charismatic new leader who was doing exceptionally well in all opinion polling, an electorate who were seeking change and an opposition who weren’t providing all that was expected of an alternative government.
We knew our vote would come from the camp of the disillusioned, those who wanted something different, those who wanted to ‘Change Politics’.
Everything – absolutely everything – has changed since the middle of August.
Firstly, the issue of asylum seekers became forefront in people’s imagination. This one is a winner for Howard – he can appeal to the Hanson vote, and split the ALP, all whilst looking highly Prime Ministerial and statesmanlike.
Secondly, the terrorist attacks in the United States, which also work in Howard’s favour – a nation on the brink of war seeks stability and conservatism, not change.
Thirdly, Ansett, which is no great winner either way, but does act as a distracter. The combined effect of these three activities (all of which were beyond the levers of the national government) was to prevent the ALP from doing what it needed to do – get the public thinking about Howard’s soft points (the GST, aged care, public education, reconciliation).
Without the chance to shine the spotlight on these issues, the ALP is suffering from a severe case of RDS – Relevance Deprivation Syndrome.
The most immediate fallout from all this is that CHOGM has CHOGone, and the calendar has all of a sudden freed up in anticipation of an election.
The effect that this has with an on the ground campaign is significant. For those of us not in the realm of full-time professional campaigners, a change in the election dates means a severe change in lifestyle plans.
For me, the thought of an election after university exams was a relief, but one in the middle of them is just a nuisance. An earlier than expected election also catches campaigns unawares in terms of logistics – leaflets that we thought we had three weeks to prepare now need to be ready by Monday.
The realisation that the election is nearly here hits home when email in-boxes and phone message banks are full of friends and pundits anticipating the election date.
I look forward to the time when Australia looks to the US example and fixes its election date (unlike the US we, neither fix election dates nor elections), so that this infantile speculation is relegated to history.
In the meantime, all of us must be ready to go as soon as Howard makes the trek to Yarralumla. Just wait for that starting gun!