The locking in of the September 14 election date will go down as one of the worst tactical decisions Julia Gillard has made as prime minister.
It ranks with Labor’s arrogant pursuit of a carbon tax in the face of massive public opposition, and the unnecessary alliance with the Greens — a decision that was reciprocated by the Greens undermining the government, purloining votes from the Labor Party, and walking away from the deal when it suited them.
But the forfeiting of the choice of an election date, one of the most important strategic advantages a prime minister has over the leader of the opposition, was just as unnecessary and hubristic.
For the sake of some short-lived headlines of media shock and awe, Julia Gillard left herself virtually powerless to respond to unexpected events and bad news in the last few months leading to the election date. Meanwhile, the Opposition has had the luxury of maximising its election planning, mobilising support, and chipping away at government problems in a long drawn-out campaign.
The recent announcement of the closure of Ford automobile factories in Melbourne and Geelong is just one such bad news shock that can only compound voter disillusionment with a government that appears impotent and out of ideas.
While Ms Gillard, in response, immediately announced an adjustment package of just under $40 million to help the regions affected by the 1,200 Ford workers who will lose their jobs and the flow-on hit to the automotive suppliers to the carmaker, the news was swamped by the tallying-up of previous wasted government assistance for the car-makers that had run into billions of dollars.
Similarly, reports that Australia’s new ASIO building had been severely compromised by Chinese espionage agents will also damage the government, if only to underline a dramatic cost-overrun as security specialists scramble to find out how to remedy the situation.
The new ASIO headquarters has already cost taxpayers $630 million, but efforts to fix the security holes now evident could cost tens of millions more.
According to the Australian Electoral Commission, the government could have delayed an election for a joint house of Representatives/Senate election until as late as November 30 — another 11 weeks of room to manoeuvre for Ms Gillard to seize an optimum date.
Instead, the locking-in of September 14 has galvanised a greater sense of certainty that there will be a change of government than in any other pre-election period in recent memory.
It has reached the stage where Ms Gillard has been forced to commit herself to serving a full-term as a House of Representatives MP should she lose office at the election.
Another area where Ms Gillard has snookered herself is in the very policy she used to justify having Kevin Rudd removed as prime minister — border control.
Since Ms Gillard became prime minister, more than 500 boats have arrived in Australian territorial waters, loaded with people seeking asylum under international treaty agreements.
This year alone, 10,000 people have arrived on Ms Gillard’s watch.
According to the Western Australian federal member of parliament, Michael Keenan MHR, the policy failure constitutes the single greatest number of illegal boat arrivals under any Australian prime minister.
The cost to Australian taxpayers, because of the border control policy shambles, has been more than $10 billion.
Since Labor came to office, more than 41,000 people have arrived on our doorstep in boats, seeking to bypass conventional migration channels.
The people-smuggler network has direct lines of communications between people in Australia who have already “made it” and their relations and friends who are being encouraged to follow.
In many cases, recently arrived asylum-seekers are financing people-smuggling operations, sending money back to Indonesia and other launching places to pay for the tickets.
But now, with the prospect of an Abbott-led government on the horizon, with an unequivocal resolve by the Coalition to stop the boats, the message being spread by people-smugglers is to get into Australia while you can — because after September 14 it will become progressively more difficult.
Yet Ms Gillard looks the other way, ignoring the most glaring issues in pursuit of a place in history for landmark legislation.
Illegal boat arrivals remain by far the strongest area of voter discontent with the Labor Government, but Ms Gillard has instead decided to pin her re-election hopes on big spending — massive increases in school funding and disability care.
Simon Crean — one of the elders of the Labor Party who decided to quit the frontbench rather than remain responsible for a leadership and policies that would result in a disastrous defeat — has described Ms Gillard as having a “tin ear”.
While he didn’t elaborate, it is clear from this expression, from one of the Prime Minister’s former mentors and strongest supporters, that he had grown frustrated with Ms Gillard’s inability to listen to sound critical advice and with her wilfulness in pursuing poor key decisions regardless of who has expressed opposition to them.