Long road to September

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Well, that’s one way to get Tim’s jokes about prostate checks and female Asian doctors out of the news cycle quickly, isn’t it?

Prime Minister Julia Gillard shocked the nation on Wednesday, announcing an election would be held on Saturday, September 14.

That’s right – the usual six or seven weeks of baby kissing, funding promises and visits to key electorates will now be extended over a period almost as long as a full term pregnancy.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that announcing the date so early makes for a more stable year, or allows the focus to be on policies rather than political motives.

If anything, it only prompts instability for the final months of the Government’s term, with the use-by date now officially stamped.

With a smile, Ms Gillard on Wednesday said her intention was “not to start the nation’s longest election campaign”.

Now that’s right up there with her infamous carbon tax furphy.

Sorry, PM, but you know the “politics” better than anyone, and starting the nation’s longest election campaign was exactly your intention.
And in truth it’s a shame she won’t admit it, because it’s a pretty shrewd move.

In calling the election so early, she has all but challenged Mr Abbott to prove to the electorate in eight months, not eight weeks, his leadership credentials.

She’s challenged him to issue policies in detail, and opened him up to greater scrutiny, with the news cycle likely to turn a little slower during a campaign of such length.

And in a week in which Mr Abbott received plenty of publicity for his “mini-campaign”, she one-upped him by making the big play while he was still working out his moves in the rehearsal studio.

Bottom line: Ms Gillard was hoping to catch Mr Abbott off guard, which she did, and is hoping he remains one step behind through the long, arduous eight months ahead.

But there is a problem in the above plan.

What if Mr Abbott does prove his leadership credentials, does issue strong and clear policies, and does play as well on the main field as he did on the practice court?

Surely that sends Ms Gillard into political oblivion, given where she currently sits in the polls and in public sentiment.

The longer campaign has its advantages for Mr Abbott, and provides the exact opposite scenario to 2010 in a seat such as Lindsay, where Fiona Scott will be given record time to consolidate her reputation in the community.

Back in 2010, she had just a few weeks after being endorsed as the Liberal candidate on the eve of the election announcement.

If we choose to, we will have a much greater chance to engage with candidates, investigate policies, and make our vote count.

This unprecedented move will also raise many questions, about how Parliament possibly proceeds as normal with an election date hanging over everyone’s heads.

One really does wonder if it’s at all fair for a Prime Minister to play the game that Ms Gillard did this week.

Labor will shrug it off by saying that it avoids speculation about the election date, and allows the real issues to be addressed.

But the real story is that it’s an attempt to give the Prime Minister a fighting chance in a battle that most give her no hope of winning.

Whatever the case, new ground has been created, and we face interesting, unprecedented times.

Here at The Western Weekender, we are committed to delivering you the best possible coverage of this election, and to inform you the best we can of the promises, statements and activities of our local candidates, as well as giving you an insight into the bigger picture.

Apart from our team of reporters on the ground here in Penrith, our exclusive weekly columns from Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott will continue right through to election day, giving you the chance to compare the words of the two leaders fighting for your vote.

And from next week, we welcome Laura Jayes to our team. Laura, a political journalist with Sky News, will provide an incredible insight into this campaign, delivering us stories and opinion from the coalface in Canberra, and on the election trail.

No news yet on if Tim Mathieson will accept our offer of a “Joke of the Week” column.

Smile. Go on, smile. It’s going to be a rough, treacherous ride to September.

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