I stepped out in Warringah on Saturday and stepped into a social media storm. I had earlier asked my old friend and former colleague Tony Abbott if I could personally assist him in his re-election campaign and he had invited me to join him door knocking in his electorate. Fortunate indeed are the residents of Warringah. What a glorious part of the country. The street chosen was in Manly, respecting the residents’ privacy (those of whom we met were all well-mannered and most often warm and inviting), I shall not identify the street or name the individuals but it was adorned with beautiful federation-style cottages and only one or two ugly unit developments. Tony strode through the gates first and rang the doorbells or knocked.
As I was later to tell the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas in a note she posted to her Twitter account and which I also posted on Facebook after several rather ugly comments were made there, we went to approximately 50 homes, only about half of which had residents present. Of those, the majority were for Tony. Not one mentioned any other candidate by name. Three people said they were socialists. In this beautiful area one has to be quite well off, I imagine, to afford socialism.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s media team had picked up on a photograph showing Tony talking to one of his constituents with me in the background wearing his campaign volunteer t-shirt and posted it on #ShortenSuite. I wasn’t working as a journalist (I’m a contributing columnist to News Ltd’s Sunday Telegraph) but believed I was entitled to do what I wished with my time. Participating in the democratic process is not a crime. I certainly wasn’t proclaiming to be an independent journalist as those activists who spruik for leftist causes at ‘our’ ABC or the Nine Media group’s newspapers do constantly when they are spruiking for the Greens or Labor. A mate does what he can for a mate.
In all of my previous engagements on the hustings over the past half century I’d been part of a media scrum generally involving a set-up in which the candidate arrives at the pre-arranged address of a party-friendly voter or family and is welcomed into a pre-prepared cup of tea and a slice of cake for a discussion conducted with friendly nods for the benefit of a bank of television cameramen who have jumped all over the furniture with boots still muddy from earlier trampling through the hydrangeas whilst the moment the candidate was captured being greeted with feigned astonishment at the front door.
Tony’s approach was to introduce himself, though all those he met knew who he was. He then mentioned the fact that the election was weeks away and asked if there were any political issues they wished to discuss. In this part of the electorate the proposed tunnel to remove traffic from the gridlocked Military Road through Mosman and Neutral Bay was clearly the most important issue with those for and those opposed to the project. It’s a state issue really but the Coalition has supported the NSW Liberal Berejikian government’s infrastructure program, so Tony was good to go.
One woman, a breast cancer sufferer, said she was interested in Mr Shorten’s cancer plan as she had paid a lot for a particular scan, possibly a PET scan. Tony said he understood her concern and mentioned the Coalition’s plans to increase the number of drugs available on the PBS as opposed to Labor’s dismal record in this area.
She understood but as she said she had come from a Labor background, and I’m not sure the visit was a vote changer. Nor am I sure the woman who raised climate change as an issue and who didn’t seem to grasp the fact that electricity has to be generated somewhere, somehow, before it can be stored in a battery, was inclined to change her mind, although her husband looked as if he had a firmer understanding of energy economics. Maybe their votes will cancel each other out on May 18.
In my note to Ms Karvelas, I noted that there were some wonderful dogs on the street and really active and well-mannered children and, in all, great people. Not so those on Twitter or Facebook though, according to my social media intermediary, who wisely chose not to view posts which the social media sites said contained offensive material.
On Twitter, @camhawker showed just how far you must stretch if you wish to take offence, writing: ‘I like the inference that the childless among us couldn’t possibly care about the future of the nation.’ Michelle Banyai chimed: ‘You can tell a man by the company he keeps… is piers a friend or a neighbour, or just another of your white suprematist (sic), right winged Demi-gods that you adore.’ And Nathan Fenech said: ‘Wow… It’s amazing how a Murdoch commentator is physically campaigning for you, and the photo is quickly deleted. Totally independent, right? Hard to complain about Steggall being “backed by GetUp” when you’re being backed by the Murdoch Empire :P’
I must have missed the Empire’s phone call on this and every other issue. In half a century, the great man has never told me what to write.And Nathan, the photo was still on the official Abbott Facebook page when I checked and the Sydney Morning Herald reproduced it on Monday with a very straightforward account, which attracted the usual tail of vicious and abusive online comments.
As I said, I believe in mateship and as a father and grandfather I consider it is essential for the nation’s security and economic future that Tony hold the seat and contribute to a Coalition victory.
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