It's on! Election date set

By Alex Easton

THERE was a time, not that long ago, when election campaigns really began only when the Prime Minister of the day announced the election date.

But no one with the faintest interest in current events could mistake PM John Howard's election date announcement for the campaign starter's gun. This year's campaign has been running hard for months now.

It's not a race, so much as a gruelling marathon, and Mr Howard's announcement is not the shot of the starter's gun, but the final bend that brings the finish line into sight.

The intensity of campaigning so far points directly to the desperate nature of this battle, both nationally and in our local electorates of Page and Richmond.

National opinion polls put Labor in a true winning position for the first time since early 2001 before the Tampa arrived off the coast of Western Australia and the September 11 attacks; and the stakes for all parties are huge.

After four straight election losses, Federal Labor is now trusting Kevin Rudd to prove almost as much to itself as to the voters that it still has what it takes to win government in the Federal sphere.

For the Coalition, this election is a fight for survival. Despite years of enjoying a seeming untouchable supremacy in Federal Government, the Liberals and Nationals have failed to hold on to the States. If it loses this election it will not be in government anywhere in Australia and risks sliding into irrelevance.

Yet despite the intensity of the fight to win government, or perhaps because of it, voters at this election will face a choice between two almost indistinguishable parties.

That creates an interesting opportunity for The Greens.

The Greens' battle this year is focused entirely on winning back the balance of power and its voice in the national political debate in the Senate.

Should the Greens do that, and Mr Rudd be given the keys to the Lodge, Labor's continuing shift to the right, combined with an emasculated Coalition, will help position The Greens in its long and slow campaign to shed its 'minor' status and become a party of government.

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