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20 August 2010

When the UK got its first female prime minister she was in power for 11 years; now that Australia has followed suit with Julia Gillard 21 years later, her reign may only last a meagre two months.

Voters will take to the polls tomorrow to play their part in a snap election that was called by Gillard in July, seeking to capitalise on increased support for her incumbent Labor party having supplanted then prime minister Kevin Rudd in June.

Said coup took Australia by surprise. Having had talks with Gillard, Rudd decided to step aside rather than face a leadership ballot with his ultimate successor. To make matters worse, it’s thought that Rudd was confident he had reached an agreement with Gillard that would see him stay in power, before she proceeded to inform him of her intentions to challenge him. Gillard may have taken her lead from the opposition Liberals (a centre-right party, despite their misleading name): last December, a party vote for the leadership was forced through and saw Tony Abbott take power from Malcolm Turnbull.

This impromptu infighting leaves Australian voters choosing between two candidates who haven’t managed a year between them as leaders. To make matters worse, both Abbott and Gillard have been accused of failing to come up with any forward-thinking and inspiring policies, instead relying on negative campaigning and cheap shots to try and sway voters.

Professor Stephen Bell, head of the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland, concurs. “The parties and the policies are low risk and are not resonating much with the electorate.”

Even keeping tabs on when the leaders will get together to discuss what policies they may have is a tiresome task. Abbott and Gillard took part in what was advertised as their only televised debate in July, only for Gillard to goad Abbott (who initially declared that he was “too busy”) into a second debate on the economy that finally took place last night. Alas, as with the first debate, neither would-be-leader impressed, choosing to stick to well-trodden themes rather than engage in a face-to-face contest.

Where, you might ask, does this leave voters on Saturday? The most recent polls put the parties neck and neck; do Australians vote for a man who recently failed to successfully explain his own broadband policy (“I’m no Bill Gates here, and I don’t claim to be any kind of tech head”) or a woman who seems to be lacking any semblance of a plan in the first place (“I’m going to discard all of that campaign advice and professional or common wisdom and just go for it”)?

“Labour should scrape home,” says Professor Bell. “There is not a strong public mood to change governments.”


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