New tune shows Coalition ready to start ringing in the changes

THE ringtone of Tony Abbott's senior press secretary, Andrew Hirst, changed earlier this year from a grab of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, declaring there would be no carbon tax to the Coalition's campaign song - Hope, Reward and Opportunity.

Hirst's phone rings a lot, a constant reminder of the importance of being on message at all times, particularly in an election year.

After two years of take-no-prisoners politics, the Coalition goes into 2013 ahead, on a two-party preferred basis, with 52 per cent of the vote to Labor's 48 per cent, according to the latest Nielsen poll. But it has an unpopular leader.

The Coalition is fully aware of the impact Gillard's now-viral misogyny speech has had.

''There's nothing to be gained for us by debating it,'' one Liberal source said.

Instead, the Coalition will focus on policies aimed directly at women, such as its promise to review the childcare system and a generous paid maternity leave scheme.

Abbott's wife, Margie, and their three daughters will be used in the lead-up to and during the election campaign. They are an attractive family and her job as the director of a childcare centre gives her authority to speak on an issue both parties want to own.

All the major Coalition policies have been completed, the Liberal camp says, and could be rolled out at any time. ''Subject to whatever's in the budget,'' one insider notes.

But the time-honoured strategy of oppositions not revealing too much about their policies until much closer to election day will be maintained.

Although the hardheads running the campaign are not ruling out an early election, most think speculation over the timing will hot up from the day the budget is released in May.

The Coalition received a big gift shortly before Christmas when the government announced it would be highly unlikely to deliver a budget in surplus.

As the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, held his press conference, Liberal Party headquarters swung into action on Twitter and put out comment after comment by Labor ministers committing themselves to a surplus budget.

''It was the government's decision on more than 200 occasions - without qualification - to set the benchmark for economic credibility as a surplus this year,'' the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, said.

The Coalition was merciless in its pursuit over the Prime Minister and the reversal in position on a carbon tax.

The budget surplus will feed into the Coalition's narrative about trust and economic management.

''Governments of six years usually campaign on their record, not their aspirations,'' a senior Liberal source says. ''[But] when they trashed Rudd, they trashed half their legacy.''

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