Flat White

Backwards & Forwards: towards the campaign black hole

15 April 2019

11:20 AM

15 April 2019

11:20 AM

The week in politics, the week to come.

Looking back

Last Thursday, the eternal sunlight of the spotless mind erased everything in Australian politics that went before.

The election finally was called, the starter’s gun fired, and even after four days of campaigning it already feels like they’ve been at it forever.

Scott Morrison launched his bid in the dignified surroundings of the PM’s courtyard in Parliament House. Bill Shorten chased better and warmer pictures in a suburban backward in the Melbourne electorate of Deakin, held by Liberal termite-exterminator Michael Sukkar.

But the first few days seem like the Phoney War skirmishes on the Maginot Line before the Germans invaded France, with Sunday rallies by both Morrison and Shorten more like off-Broadway try-outs of new shows than serious pitches.

After these first few days, both Morrison and Shorten say spending our money on big expensive stuff is a Good Thing. But the Libs say only a strong economy provides the moolah; while Labor says bugger the economy, we’ll spend the money and we don’t give a flying f*** about the cost.

Shorten’s subtext is It’s Time for a change. Morrison’s is It’s Not. ScoMo might be wise to remember, however, the Liberal slogan in 1972 was the pathetic “Not Yet”. It didn’t work then, and simply fearmongering about Labor won’t work now, even if expert analysis of Labor’s $387 billion of new tax hornswoggles shows that voting Labor would be like laying down with a lady of easy virtue for a pleasurable night but waking up with the clap.

Arguably, Morrison came out the blocks better last week. He played with Shorten’s mind in springing his trip to the Governor-General mid-week and not on the traditional Sunday. The Coalition successfully harried Labor on their tax and spend plans, and got Shorten and Treasurer Chris Bowen on the defensive. At his Sunday rally, Morrison looked and sounded less choreographed and stage-managed than Shorten at his, and even managed to inject some passion – some might even say (shock, horror) sincerity – into his pitch. By contrast, Shorten saw and raised himself on Medicare, cancer and public hospitals, tickling the tummies of the states on hospital funding while peddling the lie the Liberals cut it.

After the rapacious diagnostic imaging industry that’s laughing all the way to the bank from Shorten’s cancer promise-fest, the states are the biggest leeches in healthcare since… leeches. As it rushes to shovel more money to the states to mismanage these money pits, this is a point totally lost on Labor.

Whether Greg Hunt can pull himself away from defending his own beleaguered seat of Flinders to make effective counter-attacks against BS’s BS could well be crucial in this campaign. In tying Hunt down, renegade hypocrite Julia Banks likely will earn herself an Order of Australia gong from a grateful PM Shorten.

Looking forward

You won’t read it anywhere else, but this week is going to be the crucial week of the election.

From this Thursday until Monday fortnight both Coalition and Labor campaigns hit a huge black hole. Easter, Anzac Day and school holidays, not to mention footy blockbusters, will dominate people’s lives and their airwaves.

Many voters will tune politics out altogether for at least that fortnight: their main preoccupation will be whether they can turn three days of annual leave into a 10-day break.

Then, on 29 April, pre-polling starts. Given fewer and fewer people wait for their election day democracy sausage – more than one in four voted early in the just-gone NSW election and one in three in Victoria last November – for the rest of the campaign every daily high and low, and especially every gaffe, could win or lose votes, and traditional strategies based on assuming people switch on in the final days and they’re the campaign days that matter most, is obsolete.

Monday’s Newspoll showed little movement in the opening days: the two party preferred margin remains 52-48 nationally (although it’s the likely greater margins in the key battlegrounds of Victoria and Queensland that matter far more). The side winning this week in campaign theatrics, its use of mainstream and social media, and the better (that is, more imaginative and hopefully amusing) advertising – oh, and policy – will have momentum as the campaign enters the black hole period.

Both Shorten and Morrison therefore need a blinder this week.

Commentators are fond of saying Labor is the most policy-heavy Opposition since John Hewson’s Coalition in 1993. ABC talking heads and Nine’s dead tree division (formerly known as Fairfax) applaud that. Yet Hewson lost his unloseable election and, on early signs, if he can go into Good Friday on a roll it’s just possible that Morrison can claw back as Shorten tries to both defend his poll lead and rein in bloated expectations of his party and media supporters of a Labor win.

Watch this week carefully. It may well decide the contest.

Highlight of the week

Sky’s Paul Murray Live is running Pub Test specials in key seats through the campaign, and last week was in Tony Abbott’s Warringah.

It was a lively night and an under-fire Abbott relished the opportunity. But where was his would-be nemesis, independent Zali Steggall? Certainly not there.

She would have had a tough time from Murray, the first to call her out on her claim to be a Liberal supporter by showing, from her own words, she could never have voted Liberal in her life. But that’s politics, and Stegall’s profited from Abbott’s taking extreme heat in a near-perfect political storm dumping climatic ordure on his ex-prime ministerial head.

Those who do front their critics invariably do win respect: Steggall didn’t and didn’t.

Steggall played chicken. Can she be a viable candidate without the iron lung of GetUp!, soft interviews and fawning media supporters like the Red Bandanned One, Peter FitzSimons? Can she even stand criticism?

Her PML no-show suggests Steggall doesn’t like heat. She should not be in the kitchen.

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