A fascinating Aussie election? Not an oxymoron

Political junkies take note--the leadership battle across the Tasman is about to get really interesting

In 2007 Helen Clark knew Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister of Australia before Kevin Rudd did.

Here’s how that happened and why political junkies should be looking across the ditch at a fascinating fight shaping up in Federal Australia.

I’d gone across several times during the 2007 campaign as usual to report back, to pick up ideas and to check on the 10 young Kiwi Labour activists we’d funded over there for educational purposes. (Though it was with a little chagrin we discovered that far from dispersing around the continent’s marginals as suggested, they’d all made a beeline for safe Kingsford-Smith where rock star Peter Garrett was carrying the flag for the ALP).

On the day I got a call from super lobbyist and old mate, Bruce Hawker, to go on the Sky TV election broadcast.

The channel had foolishly opted for full day coverage of the poll and once the two leaders had been filmed voting and the resident queueologist had opined, they’d run out of content.

I filled in 10 minutes reporting on my scientific poll of seven Sydney taxi drivers and the bloke polishing the brass koalas at the hotel, and went to sit amongst the folks in the studio.

An empty seat near the coffee machine saw me beside a young pollster who was on the computer end of an exit poll he was running in all the states.

He quickly identified me as a potential customer (I forgot to tell him that what he was up to was illegal in NZ) and enthusiastically demonstrated his product.

As the sample built, the result was happening before our two sets of eyes only, and hours before anyone had the least idea of what was going on. Reporting of this poll was heavily promo-ed and no one was to know it in advance, not even the Sky producer.

Election winning swings were going on in New South Wales and Victoria, which I faithfully and covertly texted to Helen in Kenya. (No, I don’t think she was supposed to be listening to the Queen at the time). When sometimes maverick Queensland came in about the same as the other big eastern seaboard states I suggested getting in first with a call to Kev.

I’d also predicted a Labor win in Howard’s Bennelong seat, not because I knew anything but purely that I’d found out that candidate Maxine McKew’s partner du jour was politico extraordinaire and wily old bastard, Bob Hogg, who I’d known and admired as a former ALP National Secretary.

Switching to 2010, the Federal Election is now shaping up for a gripping photo finish with a three and a half point swing to the conservative coalition parties showing up in polls.

Polls in Australia have a much better predictive value than here because of the compulsory voting environment and three percent may be enough to unseat the ALP.

Watch for an election announcement mid August. The arcane workings of the Aussie constitution (I won’t bore you with double dissolutions etc) mean that after August 9th or thereabouts Rudd’s options are better.

This is now a serious contest, with the aforementioned Bruce Hawker abandoning his super successful lobbying business to take a formal place on Rudd’s campaign team. 

There are some lessons for PM John Key. One is how quickly an electorate can fall out of love with a leader, and another is that deputies can count.

The emerging ALP star is deputy leader Julia Gillard.

I met her at the Australian High Commission residency in Wellington some years ago.

She’s sharp and spunky and told me that Michael Cullen was quite possibly loopy for even considering indexing tax rates or some such idea that risked killing bracket creep -“the Treasurer's best mate”.

She won points when asked what the natural colour of her hair was by conceding that she no longer had the faintest notion.

Despite Carmel Lawrence in Western Australia and Anna Bligh in Queensland, women in high places are still more of a rarity over there than in NZ.

In the early 80s I swapped a regular Auckland-Wellington commute for the Canberra-Sydney version and was struck by the mono-gender nature of the Aussie flight compared with home.

Gillard’s heading towards being the first female Prime Minister of Australia. A lot like Clark (long term partner, no kids, from the left) but somehow both earthy and sparkly at the same time.

Closer to home another good scrap is ahead for the mayoralty of super city Auckland.

The latest poll, by trans-Tasman research wizards UMR, has Manukau City Mayor Len Brown on 52 percent and Auckland City’s John Banks on 35.

Banks is shown to be a polarising figure whose campaign could only be saved on those numbers by an even lower turnout than normal.

His favourability rating is minus 10 to Brown’s plus thirty-four, meaning that a lot of Brown’s lead is driven by dislike of Banks.

Mayor Banks’ strategy is to feign sanity as he tries to soften his rip shit and bust image (motorways through the eastern suburbs, a week of car races around busy motorway junctions) by referring to himself by the puerile diminutive “Banksy”.

Pass the puke bag, Mavis.

Banksy’s campaign team – Boagy, Billy and Bhatty – must be wondering if their product is saleable, and the Auckland right must be quietly seeking an electable alternative.

Pity Doug Graham’s otherwise occupied.