Blog: bracing for an election

And so, off we go.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard is set to visit Government House tomorrow to call an election for August 28. She hasn’t confirmed it but others as good as have.

It looks likely that she will delay the issuing of the writs until at least Wednesday to allow time for the ‘election imminent’ message to spread and for those who aren’t enrolled, including first-timers, to get themselves on the rolls. (It’s compulsory for over-18s and they’ll fine you if you don’t. But it’s also both a right, for which people give their lives in other countries, and a responsibility.)

It means we face a longer-than-usual campaign, which has to be a minimum of 33 days. But the Government is ok with that.

The delayed issuing of writs gives the Government access to the resources of the public service for a little bit longer but there’s another reason Ms Gillard is keen to go quickly.

Ms Gillard and her government want voters to focus on the credentials of her opponent, Tony Abbott, as much as on her own.

Recently and especially since the savage leadership coup on the Government side, Mr Abbott has successfully made himself a small target, leaving Labor to capture all the attention. Now, Labor wants that to change.

The argument goes that once the official campaign is underway and there is a deadline for decisionmaking, it becomes about making a choice. The Government hopes that more focus on Mr Abbott will foster doubts about him in the minds of voters. It could, of course, also work in the reverse.

Ms Gillard will be hoping that those who are currently angry or just uneasy about the way she ousted predecessor Kevin Rudd will then stop seeing it as Julia v Kevin and start thinking about Julia v Tony.

Labor also doesn’t believe the Liberal-National coalition is ready for an election yet. It’s still bedding down candidates in a couple of seats.

There is a risk for Ms Gillard that some will see this all as undue haste. The polls, both published and internal on both sides, are suggesting it could go either way.

It is likely to be a messy election, fought seat-by-seat in pockets of marginals, with general themes around the economy, immigration and the environment and more nebulous issues like trust, character and stability.

But messy, ready or not, it’s upon us.