Opinion

Leaders face off in State of Origin election

POLL BOOST: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has lifted the hopes of Labor MPs.
POLL BOOST: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has lifted the hopes of Labor MPs.

MATE versus mate. State versus state.

Well, okay. There's not much sign that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott are mates. But the upcoming election is very much a state versus state match up.

Kevin from Queensland has come off the bench late in the second half to take on Tony from New South Wales. And while the rest of the country still matters to the overall outcome, most of the focus will be on rugby league's heartland states.

Queenslanders like voting for the local boy made good.

At the 2007 election, with Rudd on the ballot, Labor won a 7.5% swing and nine seats off the Coalition. In 2010, in the wake of Rudd's axing as Prime Minister, Queensland punished his colleagues with a 5.5% swing against them and the loss of seven of those seats.

Since Rudd resumed the leadership less than three weeks ago the turnaround in Labor's polling in the Sunshine State has been stunning.

Talk of Rudd being the last Labor MP left standing in Queensland has given way to projections that Labor stands to gain as many as six seats, mostly in and around Brisbane.

Labor's polling has also improved in New South Wales since Rudd replaced Julia Gillard, but here the Government will still be playing defense.

Early polls from the (second) Rudd era suggest Labor is very nearly at 50-50 on a two party preferred basis in the state, which would actually be a slight swing towards the Government.

The electoral map in NSW looks very similar to 2010, when Labor suffered swings everywhere apart from four ultra-marginal seats, where its superior campaign kept Abbott from taking office.

But that was before the Independent Commission Against Corruption hands down its findings on the corruption scandal involving former NSW Labor Ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald, which is expected, with exquisite timing, on July 31.

And don't forget Federal MP Craig Thomson, who is due for his next court appearance on fraud charges on July 19.

A 50-50 result is likely to be as good as it gets for Labor in New South Wales, and Rudd has no less than ten marginal seats to defend with a very battered party brand.

By comparison, across all of the AFL states Rudd only has eight marginal Labor seats to defend. There's some scope for improvement in Western Australia, where even a modest 2.5% swing to Labor could net them three seats.

Early signs are that Gillard's home state of Victoria hasn't quite welcomed Rudd's return with open arms. Polls also indicate Labor still faces swings against it in South Australia and Tasmania, albeit with very wide margins of error.

Rudd will need to make up ground lost under Gillard, especially in Victoria where three Labor MPs sit on razor-thin margins, to win the election. Even if he does, Labor could still be blown away by what happens north of the Murray.

The 2013 election is going to hinge on one key question: can Labor translate Rudd's home state popularity into winning enough Queensland seats to offset what looks like being inevitable losses in New South Wales?

For now the best we can say is 'maybe'. In the meantime, expect to see Rudd in a Maroons jumper for State of Origin III.

Topics:  editors picks, federal election 2013, kevin rudd, politics, state of origin, tony abbott



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