The events of the past 24 hours have convinced me more than ever that unlike economics where past events can be tabulated, or meteorological forecasting where even with a multitude of factors you can still reliably predict the future, the art of politics is more or less a complete and utter crapshoot (although even dice are governed by the rules of probability). I am reminded of that line which always appears on Product Disclosure Statements: Past performance may not be indicative of future results.
In the hours leading up to this, I thought that the whole thing would pan out like it had several months earlier; that is, fizzle out to nothingness.
I was wrong.
This particular change in Prime Minister is almost an entirely naked sales push for the next election. Throw the date September 14 out the window, because that now is also an irrelevance because seeing as the writs to dissolve parliament have not yet been issued, the election could be held as early as August 10 (being six weeks from today provided parliament was dissolved this very afternoon) or as late as November 30 (which is the maximum duration of the parliament).
Obviously the ALP have collectively decided that they stand a better chance of reelection with Rudd installed as the figurehead than they would if Gillard was. My disappointment comes about because I think that Wayne Swan is the most skilled person and best suited to the role of Treasurer (from both sides of the chamber) and I think that the country will slightly the worse for his not being there.
Statistically ever since Federation, the average term that someone has either been the Leader of the Opposition and brought their party to power or been installed as Prime Minister mid-term to return their party to power (and I don’t include any Prime Minister running from election and being returned) is just on 18 months; having said that, the numbers vary so widely as almost to be useless.
Billy Hughes, Alfred Deakin, John Howard and even Julia Gillard had all been leaders of their parties for less than two months before they led their party to an election victory.
Bob Hawke was “the Leader of the Opposition” although never sat in parliament with this title and won the election which Bill Hayden had said that “a drover’s dog could lead the Labor Party to victory” after only being leader for 25 days.
In contrast, Robert Menzies was Leader of the Opposition for 76 months before he finally led the Liberal/Country coalition to victory in 1949. Also, John Curtin had been Leader of the Opposition for 73 months.
Who honestly knows what the statistics reveal if anything?
I do think though that this is mainly about the Labor Party making sure that Tony Abbott is not Prime Minister; though to some degree this is like building a Great Wall to keep out the rabbits.
If the Lib-Nat Coalition win the '13 election, then Tony Abbott will certainly be PM. If Labor should win the '13 Election, then I really do not see them winning the presumed '16 election. What would remain outstanding is if either the public or indeed the Lib-Nat Coalition themselves can stand Abbott as the Opposition Leader for yet another three years. By the '16 election, there might be a generational change or like Labor, an old hand might return to the tiller - anyone from Wyatt Roy to Malcolm Turnbull?
If in the bizarre set of circumstances which sees Labor win the ’13 election and Abbott retained as Leader of the Opposition until the maximum term of the parliament in ’16, then he could set a new record as Australia’s longest serving Leader of the Opposition.
We can't account for 2016 yet, not until the dice for 2013 have been thrown. Who knows what they'll turn up?