Rudd is gone, but he’s still the focus

Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard agree: Kevin Rudd must not be allowed to win this election.

The former prime minister will not be a big participant in the campaign, but it seems he will be its primary focus.

Labor candidates across the country have photoshopped him out of their campaign photos. We can now see the results: in the western Sydney electorate of Macquarie an ALP flyer is being distributed that features Gillard rejecting a ”big Australia”. The bogyman on that flyer is not Abbott, but Rudd.

So far, all Gillard’s policy announcements have been Rudd-centric. She’s backed down on Rudd’s mining tax, she’s toughening up the refugee policy she inherited from Rudd, she’s fudging climate change as much as she can.

The statement to the Canberra press gallery this week that her campaign would be frugal sounds responsible. But it has to be frugal. She, and Rudd, and the rest of the kitchen cabinet have used up all the government’s money already.

One thing wasn’t about Rudd. Last week she announced, with the sort of pomp and ceremony befitting a declaration of war, that school uniforms would be eligible for the education tax refund. Whether that’s a good policy or not is immaterial; it’s not much policy at all.

The ALP seems to be asking for three more years to retract the last three. ”Moving forward” is, well, a little backward looking. And it’s not a lot to hang a campaign on.

Gillard has no lack of issues she could pick up. The former prime minister’s irritable policy-making style ensured that.

If there’s a slow news day, she could jump aboard any of the few hundred recommendations from the Henry tax review, the Preventative Health Taskforce, and the 2020 Summit, or the health reform, or the Asia union. She could even take up the entirely futile and entirely noble campaign for nuclear disarmament.

At the very least, Gillard will have to decide which of Rudd’s proclamations she wants to support or discard.

Spare a thought for Tony Abbott.

The Coalition wanted to run against Kevin10. Their policies on refugees, population, the mining tax and climate change are concentrated to capitalise maximally on his weaknesses.

Rudd was the Coalition’s best asset. Soldiering on, Abbott has started referring to the ”Rudd-Gillard government”.

But with no Rudd, the Opposition Leader appears to be just hoping Gillard will break something.

With the failure to lock in a refugee processing centre in East Timor, Gillard may have.

Yet surely what’s more memorable about the Dili solution is that the new PM is – again – repudiating her predecessor’s approach.

Rudd is skulking around, pretending to be the political powerhouse he isn’t.

But now the election is on, both Gillard and Abbott are going to have to face each other directly. Doing so will take serious policy creativity.