By MICHELLE GRATTAN
Tony Abbott has had his much anticipated election victory and Australia once again, to the great relief of most, has a majority federal government.
The Abbott win is solid and comfortable, but by no means as large as many had anticipated.
Labor has lost several seats in western Sydney, but it has not suffered the massive rout there the party had feared. Treasurer Chris Bowen has survived – a relief for the ALP, which in opposition will need his economic expertise. Bowen is also a possible future leader.
In Queensland it appeared last night that Labor would hold all its seats. Tasmania has seen heavy losses and several seats have gone in Victoria, where the ALP had particular difficulties because of its high vote in 2010.
In assessing Kevin Rudd’s performance, it depends where you’re coming from. Rudd’s destabilisation over the last three years has contributed mightily to the perception of a fractured and disunited government. But his return to the leadership has significantly contained the swing against Labor – which under Julia Gillard was likely to be huge – to a relatively modest level.
This is particularly the case in Queensland, where without Rudd Labor would have been much worse off.
One wonders how much closer Rudd could have come if he had run a better campaign. In contrast to Tony Abbott’s discipline, Rudd strayed off message at times, did not appear at his best (certainly compared with 2007) and brought forward some policies which had minimal credibility.
Admittedly, it was always going to be hard going. But his “new way” was a gift to Tony Abbott, who quickly said the only new way was a change of government, and he wasn’t able to maintain the positive message on which he’d promised to campaign. Labor quickly had to resort to negativity and fear mongering, which did not cut the mustard.
As one after another Labor figure appeared last night, there was a common call for putting aside the
divisions that had been so costly in the last three years, and to achieve a spirit of unity as the party pulls itself together into an effective opposition.
In his concession speech, Rudd dwelt on his achievement in holding up the vote. “I’m proud that despite all the prophets of doom that we have preserved our federal parliamentary Labor Party as a viable fighting force for the future,” he said, pointing to holding the line in Queensland and to the fact that every minister had been returned.
Rudd announced that he would not be recontesting the leadership, declaring that the “Australian people deserve a fresh start”.