Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during a press conference at Central Queensland Livestock Exchange (Gracemere Saleyards).
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during a press conference at Central Queensland Livestock Exchange (Gracemere Saleyards). Sharyn O'Neill

Rudd's options slip away in election date guessing game

TODAY'S article was supposed to be about the August 31 Federal election.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has spent the past fortnight performing emergency surgery on Labor's three gaping wounds - the carbon tax, asylum seeker policy and leadership instability - and the consensus was that it was time to see how the patient responded.

Unless Rudd springs a late surprise by 5pm today, however, August 31 is out of the running.

The Constitution requires a minimum of 33 days between the issuing of writs to call an election and polling day itself, which must be a Saturday. Every Monday afternoon, another of Rudd's options quietly slips away.

There's no unambiguously good date for the Prime Minister to choose, but August 31 was one of his best.

The big policy questions have been answered since Rudd resumed the leadership, but at least two of them - bringing forward an ETS by one year and the Papua New Guinea solution to stop asylum seekers coming by boat - are going to be very difficult to get through the current Parliament, which is due to resume on August 20.

It's hard to imagine that week of Question Time being much fun for Labor.

Apart from Coalition pressure to vote on the carbon pricing and asylum seeker policies, the third anniversary of the 2010 election falls on August 21.

Every day that passes after that date, the louder the claims that Rudd is scared to face the people will become.

There's even a chance that going back to Parliament might give the Liberals a chance to install Malcolm Turnbull as leader.

It would be a truly desperate and probably foolish move by a party that's still slightly ahead in the opinion polls. But those same polls have consistently shown that Turnbull is far more popular than Abbott, and would beat Rudd comfortably.

Avoiding Parliament probably rules out any election later than September 21.

Assuming that Rudd wouldn't want to commit the unpardonable sin of clashing with the AFL Grand Final on September 28, any October election would have to be either called after Parliament sits or follow an unbearably long campaign.

October 5 clashes with school holidays and by October 12 we're talking about a 54-day campaign. Even Rudd can only visit so many shopping centres before people start to get annoyed.

An October election, then, is off the table unless Rudd is willing to cop another two weeks in Parliament. Doing so would at least come with the bonus of being able to attend the G20 Summit in Russia in early September.

Such meetings are what Rudd loves most about being Prime Minister, but he simply can't leave the country for a few days in the middle of a campaign.

Even if he does get to take a "selfie" with Barack Obama. An election on September 7, 21 or even Julia Gillard's planned date of September 14 rules such a trip out.

August 31 was the only date that let Rudd - assuming he wins - go to Russia without having to deal with the hung Parliament again.

It wasn't without downsides - there's findings from the NSW ICAC inquiry into NSW Labor powerbrokers due this week, as well as yet more budget writedowns expected to be announced by Treasurer Chris Bowen.

But on balance, the positives certainly seemed to outweigh the negatives.

Rudd has a history, though, of not going to an election when common sense suggested he should and everyone expected that he would.

In early 2010, the ALP was fully prepared for a February election that would have caught the Coalition and new Opposition Leader Tony Abbott hopelessly unprepared.

Advertising spots were booked and candidates had been pre-selected. Opinion polling at the time pointed to a clear Labor victory.

As we know, that election never happened.. How did that turn out for Rudd and Labor?

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