CALLA WAHLQUIST says: THE first federal election I remember is 1996.
We were in a taxi in Melbourne heading back to our hotel after dinner in Chinatown, and the taxi driver turned to my parents and said: "I hear we have a new prime minister."
I was devastated, or as devastated as a nine-year-old can be when their only political knowledge is filtered through their mother's economic rationalist crush on Paul Keating.
Which made it confusing when, three years later, she sat me down and explained that sometimes you could vote for someone you did not like because you supported their policies.
After all, it's the policies - like John Howard's introduction of the GST - that count.
So it's particularly upsetting that there don't seem to be any this election.
It's not that the major parties don't have any policies, it's just that in most areas you would be hard pressed to pick the difference.
Take asylum seekers. Labor has its offshore processing policy and a ban on resettlement for anyone who arrives by boat.
The Coalition has its six-point plan to stop the boats, which involves reintroducing temporary protection visas, offshore processing and a presumption against refugee status for people who arrive by boat without papers - all of them.
The Coalition's policy is curiously more flexible on resettling boat people in Australia, which is presumably why it announced yesterday that asylum seekers already in Australian camps who were found to be genuine refugees (about 90 per cent) would be granted temporary protection visas instead of bridging visas. Wouldn't want to be accused of being soft.
It's a bet each way on who will be the first to declare they will fight asylum seekers on the beaches.
The similarities don't end there.
There's the carbon tax, which Labor will scrap in favour of a Howard-style Emissions Trading Scheme and the Coalition will axe (their verb) for a $3.2 billion direct action plan with an as-yet- unexplained $1billion to $13 billion funding shortfall; establishing the Northern Territory as a special economic zone, which Labor mocked when the Coalition raised it earlier this year and which may, according to former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser, be unconstitutional; and strengthening the economy by putting eggs in many baskets.
Even their election slogans, "a new way" and "a new hope", are different only because just one is a Star Wars film until Disney releases its next working title.
Of course there are some points of difference: the national broadband network; the Gonski education model, where the Coalition will back existing funding deals but not the ideology; and the GST, which the Coalition has said it will review (about time - it's been 13 years) and Labor has said must not be touched.
Then there's the Tasmanian policies, largely distinguished by the fact the Coalition has a Tasmanian policy with a big "win Bass" stamp on the front and Labor does not.
And there's the question of costs, but we can't talk about that because, as opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey pointed out, costings are boring and wouldn't you much rather talk about Katy Perry?
All of which does not erase the fact that, in an effort to defeat Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who he described as the greatest threat facing Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has adopted his core policies.
It seems we got lost in the race to the centre and ended up in a race to the bottom.
Of course you could vote Green or another minor party with a unique platform, except both parties say you must not because then we'll end up with a "nation- destroying minority government" and have to do this whole sorry business again.