GASP: Battle hymns

Throughout this election campaign, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott have worked assiduously to mobilise the God squad. We've seen their faith. But are we believers?

Call it the mere passing of days, call it a miracle in the order of the loaves and the fishes, but there is no denying the end is nigh. This weekend Australians will take to the ballot box, and like orgiastic observers of a one-sided battle between Christians and lions, the electorate wants blood. Labor’s preferably, though we’ll settle for some of the Greens’ crimson. Sophie Mirabella’s too.

Having seen off the raven-haired heretic, Tony ‘mad monk’ Abbott and Kevin ‘the messiah’ Rudd are squaring off in what should have been the most religiously charged election in recent history.

Both are men of deep faith, as evidenced in the former’s invocation of the good book in opposing social issues such as same-sex marriage, and through the latter’s penchant church-front pressers. And yet instead of dueling genuflects, we find ourselves in a contest of timid compromise.

As in the times of yore, all roads led to … Queensland. Like Jerusalem in the past, there was no escaping the electoral holy land in the campaign’s dying days. In the face of polls showing Labor could lose up eight seats in the sunshine state (including the PM’s own), Rudd and his congregation followed their campaign launch in ‘Bris’ with stopovers in Caboolture, Townsville and Gladstone, to name just three.

The Coalition followed their own star of wonder north, but it was the installation of their very own three wise men that most pleased the big man. Peter Shergold, Len Scanlan and Geoff Carmody delivered unto Joe Hockey the gifts of gravitas, frugality and merit, blessing his final costings in a symbolic gesture of credibility.

Over on Aunty, these religious undertones didn’t go unnoticed.

First on Q&A, Rudd was asked by a pastor about his change of position on same-sex marriage and the inherent contradiction with the Bible’s teachings, to which his carefully crafted response drew precisely the response from “folks” that he intended.

Rudd’s comments drew equally furious, polar opposite reactions. Social media exploded in support for Rudd, delivering the prime minister the kind of self-satisfied validation he usually only gets from 127 selfies a day.

But prominent religious figures in the community lashed the PM for apparently confusing the bible with Aristotle.

The exchange highlighted one of the enduring follies of Rudd’s return: conflating Twitter with the electorate. Just as most discerning ‘tweeps’ include the disclaimer retweets are not endorsements, unfortunately for Kevin, nor are retweets votes.

Like the apostle who thrice denied his inevitable betrayal of his leader, the Twitterverse is a fickle “mob”.

Which perhaps explains both leaders’ appearance on Kitchen Cabinet.

For Abbott’s part, he was typically reserved with Annabel Crabb, dangling a conservative carrot for the fanatics but rolling out enough constraint to assuage fears of a religious crusade.

"I think it is essential that someone of faith understand that while faith is a splendid thing in private life it can often be quite a misleading guide in public life."

Tony Abbott, misleading? Shut the front door.

In the case of Rudd, it was easy to see why the idea of an immaterial being would be appealing. At one point he listed his closest friends for Crabb, naming, not unlike authors of the Gospels; Therese, Jessica, Nicholas, Marcus, Albert, Zara, Josephine. In that list, Rudd is married to one, father to three and one is 18 months old. Clearly this is man who likes his friends to be a virtual reality or divinely transcendent; a fact the majority of Canberra is collectively relieved about.

“Are you a believer?” Rudd asked Crabb, determined to live up to his well-worn promise to lead an Australia that “brings people together, rather than divide them”.

In a pre-recorded message to the Australian Christian Lobby, Rudd said: “We, as Christians, know how important leadership is.” And as a long-term plotter and serial leaker, Kevin knows how important it is to get the leadership back – and to not let it go.

Defiant to the end, Rudd also reiterated he had not lost faith in his own inherent popularity, as he stares his electoral crucifixion in the face.

Pressed repeatedly during the week about what his post-election role in the Labor Party would be in the likely event of defeat this weekend, Rudd was quietly self-assured.

Having already risen again in the third year, he’s confident resurrection on the third day will be an easy feat – much to the chagrin of perpetual Judas, Bill Shorten.

In the same video, he lauded his capacity to be a “force for good” and to bring “peace to the world”, feats he will predominately model on the universal harmony he presided over in his first term as prime minister. And let’s be honest, nothing says harmony like an ousted government in opposition.

Abbott, too, pitched to the ACL via video link. Fortunately, the video he sent to the almost inexplicable Big Brother was not mixed up with the one he filmed for the ultra-conservative lobby group.

Where he pimped out his daughters to housemates, Abbott wisely played his trump card when addressing his coven – his opposition to same-sex marriage.

At least he mentioned his position. Rudd – the social conscience of Labor, lone reformer in the wilderness of party bureaucracy – omitted his backflip on marriage equality.

Despite his uncanny ability to tailor messages to his audience, Rudd knows all too well that he is at his best when he is a man of the people.

When he takes to the pavement with hordes of young Labor supporters – or a very attractive collection of rent-a-crowd employees (reckless spending, anyone?) — he casts himself as the leader of the disciples, leading his loyal (or well-paid) flock out of the perilous exile of this damned election.

For almost 40 days and 40 nights, we have wandered this barren electoral desert. There have been temptations.

Who didn’t at least fleetingly consider a vote for the Palmer United Party, if only to see what insanity befell us next?

And who among us didn’t think twice about forsaking the Coalition’s plans for a Cadbury’s-led economic recovery in Tasmania in favour of the Sex Party’s suggestion to boost large-scale cannabis production on the Apple Isle, with a view to legalising and taxing marijuana?

But as urges subsided and rationality resurfaced, so too did the reality this is two-horse race between two men whose personal faith is outstripped only by political ambition.

We’re not facing a Jesus or Barabbas decision on Saturday, but rather are being asked to vote for he who has less sin.

God help us all.

Here’s looking at your kid

Here at Gasp, we were as thrilled as we were surprised to learn that prodigal Abbott daughter Louise had responded to last week’s column and returned home to be by her father’s side for election day. With Warren Truss coming out of hibernation to assume the deputy leadership of an elected Coalition government and Louise completing the Abbott family jigsaw, unnamed sources tell Gasp that Julie Bishop spent most of the week quietly imploding.

One-line wonders

“I want to introduce a husband who, when sent to Bunnings for a mozzie candle, comes back with Roman flares, Blue Tac, an extension cord, potting mix, a step ladder, secateurs – but no mozzie candle.”

Therese Rein does little to remedy husband Kevin Rudd’s reputation as a reckless spender during Labor’s official campaign launch.

“If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters.”

Tony Abbott pitches to the advanced specimens currently entrapped in Channel Nine’s Big brother House on the Gold Coast. Elsewhere in Queensland, Jessica Rudd was heard muttering: “What am I, chopped liver?”

“Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng is a Chinese spy…she’s been spying on Rupert for years.”

It takes something pretty special to earn the ‘most ridiculous comment’ award in an election that has features both suppositories and Jaymes Diaz. Then again, political aspirant and long-time News Corp detractor Clive Palmer is something… special.

The last gasp

It’s been widely commented that election 2013 will likely be remembered as the nation’s most strident leap towards presidential politics. Certainly, the exponential increase in the role of the leaders’ families, as well as the slogan-and-personality-heavy campaign launches of both parties bear particular similarities to the American system. Certainly the Coalition launch was only a selection of gun lobbyists and Clint Eastwood away from being a Republican National Convention.

Despite being two of the most divisive leaders in recent political history, both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott seem completely comfortable with this seismic shift in the landscape. Rudd particularly has long drawn criticism for his non-collaborative work style, and this week's release of a policy booklet called ‘Kevin Rudd’s plan for Queensland’ rather than 'Labor’s plan' will do little to blunt these attacks on his presidential ambition.

Abbott has labelled the election a referendum on carbon tax, but in fact the dipping of our toes in the waters of presidential politics could well be the catalyst for another referendum of becoming a republic.

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