Without question, the return of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister has made Labor very competitive in the lead-up to the election. The Prime Minister lacks the policy consistency to fit the profile of a charismatic leader. But he is a celebrity figure of a kind not usually found in western-style democracies.
Rudd's decision to post a ''selfie'' of his shaving cut on Twitter and YouTube last week was very revealing. It used to be said that all politics is local. In the time of Facebook, maybe all politics will be about the self.
In view of the phenomenon of prime-minister-as-celebrity, it is perhaps understandable why some journalists, including sections of the Canberra press gallery, currently appear to be going along with the exciting Rudd ride without asking too many questions.
Since Tony Abbott took over the Liberal Party leadership in December 2009, he has been criticised in the media for not having specific policies. The Opposition Leader denies the charge which has become part of Labor's mantra. Yet there is scant recognition of the fact that, since Rudd replaced Julia Gillard, Labor itself has no settled agenda.
The Rudd government does not have established policies on asylum seekers nor action on climate change nor what alterations need to be made to the 2013 budget in order to cover Labor's recent promise to move from a carbon tax to an emissions trading scheme a year earlier than planned.
The Coalition claims to have policies on asylum seekers and climate change. Even if it did not, it is in opposition. Labor may soon bring down a new policy on unlawful boat arrivals but it is unlikely that legislation to move from a carbon tax to an ETS will pass before the election. And there is no indication where further expenditure cuts will be implemented.
Since Abbott replaced Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal Party leader in December 2009, Labor has been obsessed with the Opposition Leader. This was no doubt partly motivated by the belief, promulgated by such ALP advisers as Rod Cameron and Bruce Hawker, that Abbott was unelectable. There was also the fact that some Labor MPs are stridently opposed to what they regard as the Opposition Leader's social conservatism.
During their long periods as NSW premier, Neville Wran and Bob Carr had a policy of avoiding references to the opposition leader of the day. This approach was not adopted by Rudd (the first time round) nor Gillard. The Prime Minister's apparent obsession with the opposition is again evident.
Subjected to a rigorous interview by 7.30 presenter Leigh Sales on July 3, Rudd made no fewer than 12 references to ''Mr Abbott''. Likewise when he addressed the National Press Gallery last Thursday. He made more than two score references to ''Mr Abbott''. In this address, Rudd maintained that Abbott ''is the most conservative politician to become leader of the Liberal Party in its history''. This is the same line that Labor once used against John Howard.
Last week at a meeting in East Arnhem Land, the Prime Minister accused Abbott of engendering ''delays'' and ''excuses'' to stop the move to have indigenous people formally recognised in the Commonwealth constitution. He said much the same when interviewed on ABC Radio in Darwin. There he blamed the Coalition for playing politics on the issue and went on to refer to the Opposition Leader as ''Captain Negative''.
The fact is, as Abbott made clear in a considered speech to the Sydney Institute on March 15, the Coalition supports acknowledging ''Aboriginal people as the first Australians'' in the constitution. Abbott has a longstanding commitment to indigenous causes. Unlike Howard, Abbott took part in the Reconciliation Walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000. Moreover, in his 2009 book Battlelines, Abbott suggested that Howard's refusal to issue an apology ''to Aboriginal people … looked like stubbornness''.
On indigenous policy Abbott would be more properly labelled as ''Captain Positive''. Indeed it is in this area that the Prime Minister is negative, identifying a problem which does not exist. It was much the same in November 2009 when Rudd falsely claimed that Malcolm Turnbull was a climate change sceptic who was close to Lord Monckton. This was not the case as was evident within weeks when Turnbull lost the Liberal Party leadership to Abbott over his support for Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme.
Right now there are all too many journalists prepared to run Labor's line that Abbott is exclusively negative. The truth is that sometimes even political celebrities throw the switch to negativity.
Gerard Henderson is the executive director of The Sydney Institute.