Well, its a pretty pathetic campaign so far, but it probably is useful to take stock of where things are at.
Voters seem to be favouring the Liberals at the moment, and it is easy to see why. Gillard's decision to rush to the polls quickly has turned out (not all that surprisingly) to have been a bad tactic in part because she has been badly sabotaged from within. It has all just served to highlight the problems with the style of the Labor Government of the last three years, a style with which Gillard has been well and truly tarred.
Had she waited, and been able to more clearly differentiated her approach from Rudd's, perhaps things might be going differently. But then again, the combination of the ingrained habits of the last three years and the factional minders who are running this campaign might have made the current mess inevitable whenever the election was held.
Yet the real issue still has to be, would the Coalition be any better? Have they actually learnt the lessons on why they were trounced so badly in the last election to the point that the incumbent PM lost his own seat? It is not clear that they have.
And for all its failings, its not really clearcut that the Rudd Government has been an utter failure.
The basic problem is that neither party is really offering much policy leadership on anything. And that seems to make it a contest between the merits of the individual leaders.
From that perspective, Gillard has some obvious, serious problems from a personal morality point of view, and in her personal opinions on a range of subjects (though she is by far from being the first PM to which such sentiment could be applied). On the plus side, she has firmly maintained, and in fact if anything strengthened Labor's existing commitments on things like opposition to homosexual 'marriage', reigning in potential dissenters such as Senator Wong.
Abbott is much more attractive from a straightforward catholic perspective (a commitment to fibbing aside). But his continued tendency to foot in mouth disease, and propensity to adopt weird policies without proper thought (such as his maternity leave policy on which see below) continues to raise questions about his leadership abilities. Much as I'd prefer genuine leadership, in the end I'm more inclined someone who hesitates to act than one who leaps without looking...
But in the end, its not the leaders themselves that we have to choose - as the leadership turmoil of the last year in both parties makes clear, who we actually end up with as PM could change at any time.
So we really do need to look at the parties themselves, and their records.
And behind all the slimy rhetoric, there are actually are differences in policy and approach that do matter.
There is a considerable irony in the fact that the Liberals are offering a maternity leave policy that heavily favours women in the workforce, while Labor's offers more to those who stay at home. A useful commentary of the policy differences can be found here. Labor is also doling out money to families right left and centre, with uniform allowances, payments for older teens and more.
Its pretty hard to choose between the parties on this one, but I think Labor is ahead by a whisker. Gillard's policy is undeliverable (but really, this isn't a major problem that warrants big solutions anyway); Abbott's is inhumane and dangerous.
East Timor doesn't want our refugees, and the rest of the region isn't convinced that the Australian proposal would achieve anything. On the other hand, Nauru hasn't had an actual Government as such for the last six months, and is economically bankrupt and getting worse (take a look at the DFAT fact sheet which shows the effects of the withdrawal of the refugee camp there). As Australia's last go around at this well and truly established, putting a camp there just invites the banana republic to hold Australia hostage to bail Nauru out economically at a huge cost.
Perhaps the one positive thing (our bishops' views notwithstanding) to have come out of this campaign is the end of the commitment to a big immigration policy on the part of both parties. Ross Gittins has written an excellent debunking of the economic arguments in favour of high immigration, do go and read it.
Labor has actually put forward a positive program on this front. Whether it can work remains to be tested.
Labor has also taken some strong positive steps to curb teenage alcohol consumption and smoking. It is disappointing to see Coalition forces continuing to oppose these measures.
When it comes to economic management, I think Labor clearly has it. Having seen Hockey up close as a Minister, I shudder at the prospect of him as Treasurer. More to the point, this is an area where Labor has actually done well.
And policies like increasing superannuation make a lot of sense economically given Australia's ageing population.
For once I actually agree with Mungo McCallum writing over at Crikey:
"Australia, having been the only advanced country to avoid recession, is now experiencing the economic double of falling unemployment and falling inflation. Interest rates are a lot lower than they were when the government came to office and are unlikely to rise beyond what are seen as normal levels. Australia has the lowest debt in the industrialised world and the budget is forecast to return to surplus within three years. The mining boom has meant that some parts of the country are doing better than others, but everyone is doing pretty well and both business and consumer confidence ratings are high.
Seen from the point of view of the hip pocket, things could hardly be rosier. And yet the voters are preparing to vote the government that has presided over this happy state and is at least partly responsible for it out of office after one truncated term. Instead, they plan to install a mob of shop-soiled has-beens and wild-eyed never-will-bes whose policies consist of slashing government services, refusing to collect the taxes with which to pay off what it absurdly insists is unsustainable debt and sending asylum seekers to Nauru...."
The bottom line?
There are a lot of other polices out there, and more still to come. Do feel free to comment on the ones I haven't talked about, but which you think might be important.
On paper, Labor might be ahead policy-wise. But they are such an unattractive prospect as a party competence-wise at the moment that it would be hard to bring yourself to vote for them...
Let's hope the campaign becomes more interesting....