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Time For A Change: Hobart Mercury Election Editorial

This is the election editorial from Hobart’s Mercury newspaper.

The Mercury is a News Limited publication.

Editorial from The Mercury.

Time For A Change

There is clearly a mood for change in Australia. The political climate warmed when Kevin Rudd swept to the leadership of the Australian Labor Party and it has remained so to the very eve of this federal election.

Yet there is no strong sense that the Coalition Government, led so skilfully by Prime Minister John Howard, has done anything so fundamentally wrong that it deserves to be tossed out on its ear. There is nothing that warrants a landslide to Labor.

But Australia seems to have made up its mind that it’s time for a change and that there’s no better time when the nation is ticking along quite nicely.

The opinion polls, which have been remarkably trustworthy in the past, have remained rusted in place. Labor has had its nose in front from the time of the Rudd ascendancy and nothing – not tax cuts, not buckets of money, not scare campaigns, gaffes, mis-steps and pratfalls – has loosened the bolts that have fastened Mr Rudd to the front gate of The Lodge.

Labor has earned its place in front in the home straight. It is a formidable force again. Mr Rudd set about a policy agenda from day one and has been unrelenting in pushing a message of new leadership but at the same time a safe pair of hands. He has so closely aligned himself with the Government on so many issues that the electorate can barely see daylight between them.

He brings a considerable intellect and work ethic to the task and appears firmly in control of a party that so often in the past has fractured under the pressure. He will need to maintain that iron grip if Labor is to deliver. Questions about the capacity of his team have been overshadowed by the relentless focus on the leader, but in government there will be nowhere to hide.

In this most presidential of campaigns it has been the experienced hand fending off the bright, shiny, new challenger. And it has been played out against the backdrop of a vibrant economy, the result of 11 years of dependable stewardship by Mr Howard and his heir apparent, Treasurer Peter Costello.

The question for Australia is: does Mr Howard have the vision and the drive after more than 11 years in office to build on the riches bestowed on our nation by the good times? And the corollary to that is whether Australians want to put their trust in a man who will retire mid-term if he wins and hands over to Mr Costello. That’s been the Coalition’s Achilles heel in this campaign. It would have been a vastly different contest if Labor’s generational change had been matched by the Coalition in replacing Mr Howard with Mr Costello.

For Mr Rudd it is whether he, as potentially the most powerful Labor leader in history, has the experience to do the job, whether his team has the experience after the long winter in opposition, and whether Labor can keep the lid on our booming economy and put in place those policies that will build on our bounty, not fritter it away. Equally, if Mr Howard defies the odds and is returned he must deal with leadership, skills, infrastructure and tax with more endeavour than he has in the past term.

As we hear in every election campaign, it is governments that lose elections. And this time Mr Howard’s famous skills appears to have diminished. The pledge to retire in his next term has been a millstone and the old tactic of shovelling money furiously into marginal electorates and into millions of pockets via tax cuts simply hasn’t worked.

It seems the electorate is now wise to these games, a perception again ruthlessly exploited by Mr Rudd in his campaign launch when he said he would not match Mr Howard’s avalanche of dollars.

It’s hard for many Australians to believe the Howard message of prudent economic management when such pre-election profligacy is frowned upon by the Reserve Bank as it warns of the dangers of inflation. And it’s equally hard to believe that a Rudd government – which has essentially matched the Coalition in the spendathon – might not have to re-evaluate its own spending promises when it actually has to sit on the Treasury benches.

Whoever wins tomorrow will have to confront some tough advice on what the promises will mean for inflation and, therefore, interest rates.

Mr Howard has been one of the great prime ministers but there is a growing cloud over his reputation because of his determination to stay in the job at any cost. His greatest misjudgment may well be that he did not allow the generational change that gave his opponent such a boost, and that at a time he was warning of economic stormclouds on the horizon he went on a vote-buying spree.

Mr Howard looks poised to be the victim of the very prosperity he has delivered. It’s given Australians the feeling that it’s safe to change, a sentiment brilliantly exploited by the Rudd machine.

It’s a very strange place to be on this election eve. It is the eye of the storm. There is a remarkable calmness and there is no sense, even today when all the polls point to a Rudd win, of which way the wind will blow when Australians cast their vote tomorrow.

Labor offers a fresh tomorrow while the Coalition argues that it has delivered a bountiful harvest, so why change.

Given the Government’s economic record, it would be perfectly sensible to stick with those who have managed this nation competently over the past 11 years.

But there is also no better time to change. Australians are in the mood for it and there is confidence in Labor to do the job and confidence in Mr Rudd as a conservative and cautious helmsman very much in the Howard mould.

Labor deserves its chance.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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