As the final week of the 2013 election campaign wraps up, Christine Milne and Kevin Rudd have summed up what many voters are feeling.
“This federal election has been dominated by the small, mean, narrow, tedious and entirely predictable race to the bottom from the old parties,” the Greens leader told the National Press Club.
A downbeat prime minister began his press club speech paraphrasing Macbeth, to lament much of the campaign had been “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
It’s hard to disagree, which is probably one of the reasons why Tony Abbott is on track to win Saturday’s election by a comfortable majority.
After six years – starting with the global financial crisis, Rudd’s overthrow by Julia Gillard, a Labor minority government and concluding with Rudd’s revenge on Gillard – Abbott has emerged as a veritable pillar of political stability.
If the polls are correct, the coalition will govern with between 80 and 90 seats in the 150-seat lower house, but fall a few seats short of a majority in the Senate.
Voters were given a snapshot of the parties’ policies and main attack points in the final speeches by the leaders at the National Press Club in Canberra this week.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott kicked off on Monday, mostly sticking to the main points of a stump speech he’s delivered dozens of times over the past three years.
The coalition – he said, looking straight down the barrel of the press club camera – would scrap the mining and carbon taxes, cut red tape, bring the budget back to surplus and stop the boats.
It took a minute into the speech for Abbott to switch from a positive message about a “strong and united coalition team” to the “chaos and confusion” of Labor.
A few minutes later he was accusing Labor of “bare-faced lies” about the coalition’s policies.
The opposition leader hit his stride talking about his top priority – abolishing the carbon tax – putting it at the heart of the coalition’s plan to inject new life into a flagging economy and lower living costs for families.
The alternative prime minister also projected a sense of gentle reassurance – something lacking through much of the five-week election campaign.
“I can’t promise that everyone will like every decision that an incoming government takes,” he said.
“But I can promise a government that is competent and trustworthy and takes every opportunity to help our country and our people realise its full potential.”
The Greens’ balance-of-power position will be a key factor in the success or failure of any Abbott coalition government at least until July 1, 2014 – when half the Senate changes over.
Milne’s speech on Wednesday roamed from lamenting the state of modern-day politics to policies the Greens would be happy to negotiate with an Abbott government and those it would fight to the death.
Most revealing was Milne’s admission she had never met with the Liberal leader or had a conversation with him.
Abbott can expect the Greens leader to seek talks on paid parental leave, a ban on semi-automatic handguns, bringing dental care into Medicare and strengthening foreign investment rules.
But it promises to be a battle royal over the abolition of carbon price, cuts to superannuation, asylum seekers, devolving green tape to the states and changing the Fair Work Act.
Rudd’s speech covered Labor’s plans, but mainly focused on the dangers of Abbott’s “conservative mission” and the economic risks posed by a potential coalition government.
He homed in on the opposition leader’s comment – made in relation to Australia’s role in the Syrian conflict – that the nation shouldn’t be getting ideas “above our station”.
“Australians have always had ideas above their station. It is that, in fact, that defines us,” Rudd said, listing post-war reconstruction, free university education, Medicare, superannuation and disability care as examples.
He warned a coalition government would be “a fundamental change to the face of Australia”.
But, as Milne pointed out, this is a hard argument to sustain.
With such a narrow gap between Labor and coalition policies on a range of issues – from asylum seekers to keeping a lid on welfare spending – and a long record of the major parties voting together in parliament, it is no wonder many voters see it as a race between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
How Australians have judged this race should be clear on Saturday night.