Australian PM plays down marathon campaign fears

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 11:28am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 11:37am

Prime Minister Julia Gillard Thursday told Australians to “relax” after giving them eight months’ notice of elections, insisting they will not be put through a marathon, bitter campaign.

Gillard made the shock call on Wednesday that national elections would be held on September 14, breaking from the tradition of revealing the date only a few weeks in advance.

She said it would force the conservative opposition led by Tony Abbott to reveal its polices and costings so the vote would be one “not of fevered campaigning, but of cool and reasoned deliberation”.

“Relax, relax, relax. This is not day one of the election campaign,” she said on Thursday.

“I made it perfectly clear yesterday, what I wanted to do was cut out all of the silly nonsense that goes with election date speculation.

“Let people know when the election is so that they can plan their year.”

Few on her frontbench were told she was making the announcement, apart from Treasurer Wayne Swan and the handful of Greens and independent MPs that ruling Labor relies on for its wafer-thin grip on power, it emerged Thursday.

But the party fell into line, with Transport Minister Anthony Albanese insisting that the lack of consultation was not unusual.

“Never has a prime minister, who’s always had the prerogative of calling an election, gone and consulted hundreds of people about election dates,” he told ABC radio.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon praised Gillard’s move.

“I think that’s in her nature, to be strong and bold and determined to do things in the best interests of the country,” she said.

Their comments seemed to be at odds with former Labor powerbroker turned political commentator Graham Richardson’s account of how the decision was received within the party.

“I have run up the white flag. I am obviously past it because I simply don’t understand Labor politics any more,” he said.

“In the hours after the announcement so many senior Labor figures rang me to express their bewilderment, dismay and disgust that at least I had one consolation – I was not alone in my ignorance and lack of understanding.”

Bewilderment was a recurring theme, with a Sydney Morning Herald editorial running the banner: “The long march: crazy, brave and very Julia Gillard.”

“The best effect may be the promise of less ‘petty politics’ and more policy. The early signs are not promising. Voters will quickly tire of an eight-month soundbite,” it said.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph headlined its front page: “Eight months hard Labor” and in an editorial said: “Brace for a long, strange ride.”

Opinion polls suggest Gillard will lose in September, though neither she nor Abbott has broad appeal.