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The Prime Minister said she did not announce the election date ‘to start the nation’s longest election campaign’.

Pfft... Yeah right!

That is one of the most significant reasons for her shock decision. Julia Gillard wants to give herself as much time as possible to contrast her plans with those offered by Tony Abbott.

In doing so, the PM will try to highlight the lack of detail on offer in relation to the Coalition’s policies and costings. She wants those people who don’t like the idea of an Abbott Prime Ministership to consider it is a distinct possibility, not some distant fear.

Just as significantly, Julia Gillard hopes the announcement will give the impression that she is in charge and that she is in control of the political agenda.

There are other reasons too.

By naming the date almost eight months out, the Prime Minister is doing everything she can to safeguard her leadership from Kevin Rudd.

Ms Gillard’s colleagues will find it very difficult now to replace her, no matter how poor her performance or polling is. It doesn’t guarantee there won’t be a challenge, but it certainly makes one much more unlikely.

Few people expected her to make this announcement in her National Press Club speech. Tellingly, Ms Gillard admitted she did tell Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor about it beforehand. She even gave the Greens Leader a heads up. But many in her Cabinet (including strident supporters like Bill Shorten) and most of her caucus were kept in the dark.

Labor MPs will all trumpet about how it was a brilliant move, but many will be very disappointed that they weren’t in the know.

So how will this play out?

Being able to pick the election date when it suits you is a key advantage of being Prime Minister.

If the opinion polls become favourable, you might decide to go to the election early to try to capitalise. If they are bad, then you might try to hold on as long as possible (think John Howard in 2007) and hope they turn around. Julia Gillard does not have that luxury. She has given up the advantage.

Tony Abbott now has the luxury of knowing exactly when the key events this year will take place. The budget was already locked in. But now he knows when the updated pre-election budget figures will be released, and when he can announce his policies and costings with best effect.

As for the date itself; The Jewish community won’t be so happy. September 14 is Yom Kippur, the most sacred day on the Jewish calendar.

September is also dangerous territory because of footy finals. But AFL and NRL fans have been assured they’ll have enough time to vote and catch that weekend’s games.

The sporting clash might seem a trivial consideration, but with Labor trailing in the polls for almost two years, the Prime Minister needs every vote she can get.

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