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Archives for July 2010

Day 13: All Politics Is Local

The ALP released a national disability “strategy” yesterday. They could have just called it a policy statement but everything is a strategy these days. At least it was a national strategy in an important policy area that has gone unrecognised for too long. It was Julia Gillard’s first major announcement of the day.

But it was the only worthy policy announcement of the day. With Gillard and Abbott both in Melbourne, the race to state politics was never more keenly fought. Abbott announced a plan to crack down on gangs and Gillard declared war on knives. Melbourne marvelled at their intuitive understanding of our most deeply-held fears.

Later, Gillard was mobbed in a shopping centre in the electorate of Deakin. Abbott visited the Essendon Football Club and practised handballing. There was no sign at Windy Hill of that great Bombers fan, Peter Costello. Another prominent supporter, Simon Crean, was far from Melbourne in the northern Queensland electorate of Leichhardt, visiting schools with the sitting Labor member, Jim Turnour. [Read more…]


Day 12: Peril

There was no mistaking the danger the Gillard government faced yesterday.

That there is someone inside the government, someone “close to home”, who is leaking damaging allegations to the media, brought intrigue and treachery to the election campaign. It wreaked havoc with the political messages Labor has been transmitting for the past two weeks.

The allegation that the Prime Minister spoke out in Cabinet against pension increases and the parental leave plan fed into the most damaging impression of all, that she is not what she seems.

It is especially dangerous because it’s the very same allegation that hovered around Kevin Rudd before Gillard deposed him a month ago. [Read more…]


Day 11: With The Liberals in Deakin

Sections of the media have been preoccupied with Julia Gillard’s marital status this week. Her relationship with her partner is supposedly important. But it’s really just gossip. So far it’s been a week to reinforce one’s contempt for what passes for news.

It was time to instead commune with the Deakin Liberals. Roughly shaped like a revolver, the electorate of Deakin stretches from Blackburn in the west, through Nunawading, Mitcham, Vermont and Ringwood in the middle, to Croydon South and Bayswater North in the east. It is 61 square kilometres of Melbourne’s middle class, residential, eastern suburbs.

More often than not held by the Liberal Party, Deakin was won by Labor’s Mike Symon in 2007. He defeated the Liberal Party’s Phil Barresi by 2,328 votes, after securing an above-average swing of 6.38%. Symon won 28 of the 37 polling booths in the electorate and now holds the seat by 1.41%. [Read more…]


Day 10: Rituals, Women And A Moment To Behold

Election campaigns bring with them many absurd rituals.

One is the knowing commentator who asserts that Abbott or Gillard is doing something or other because the party’s “internal polling” is telling them such-and-such. Of course, I always put this person down as uniquely privy to information from the most confidential of sources inside one or other of the parties.

Another is the ritual incantation that the campaign is an insult to our intelligence because the political parties dare to use slogans and catchphrases. Before long, this election becomes the most hollow in our history – again.

I was reminded of another ritual yesterday when I saw a couple of body language “experts” on morning television offering profound thoughts on Julia Gillard’s waving hands in Sunday night’s debate. These political authorities pop up every election. [Read more…]


The Narrative: Week Two Begins

If a weekend can be said to start on Friday morning, this past weekend began with Julia Gillard throwing away whatever credibility she had left on the issue of climate change. It ended with a poll showing Labor leading the coalition by 52% to 48%.

Gillard’s speech at the University of Queensland on Friday morning to announce a revised climate change policy had been eagerly awaited. Everyone knew that Rudd’s poll numbers had dropped almost instantly he dropped the Emissions Trading Scheme last April.

At any other time, her announcement of a raft of measures to promote renewable energy and to halt the building of new coal-fired power stations might have been well received. [Read more…]


Day 6: Little Actions Vibrate

Gillard and Abbott both “suspended” election campaign activities on Day 6 in order to attend the funeral of Private Nathan Bewes, the latest Australian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.

It is to risk accusations of disrespect and poor taste to claim that, in fact, their decision was the only significant election campaign activity yesterday. It was a decision as calculated as any other to maximise the call to “values”. It was a decision which highlighted the almost total lack of debate about Australia’s involvement in the nearly nine-year-old war.

Dare it be said that what these young men who have given their lives in service of government policy deserve is a democracy that takes seriously its commitment to a Parliament of Representatives?

Dare it be said that this was never more so than in the midst of an election campaign?

***

I was running late for the GetUp! function organised by Sue Barrett and her German-born husband, Jobst. The meeting room in their company’s premises in South Caulfield contained seven men and nine women, half of them in their 20s, the rest tending middle-aged. [Read more…]


Day 5: In The Arena

As I prepare to leave home to drive to Boronia, the Labor leaning northern part of the marginal electorate of La Trobe, in Melbourne’s south-east, Julia Gillard is speaking to nurses in Sydney. Without warning, Sky News switches to a Brisbane school where Kevin Rudd is surrounded by cameras and engaged in a detailed conversation with the Principal about the stimulus spending which has delivered a new assembly hall.

Rudd’s return excites the commentators but it seems a long way from the concerns of people at The Alchester Village, a nondescript shopping centre which derives its name from the junction of Albert and Colchester Roads in Boronia Heights, nestled at the foothills of the Dandenongs. Internal political party rivalries rate poorly here against the concerns of local traders, small business and suburban home-owners. [Read more…]


Day 4: On Message

In Papua-New Guinea yesterday, armed police patrolled Parliament House. There was talk of the Prime Minister being toppled. The Parliament met, but the Opposition lacked the numbers and 74-year-old Michael Somare remained in control. There was much activity but nothing much happened. The old pro who first became Prime Minister in 1975 lived to fight another day.

On Day 4 of the 2010 Australian election campaign, it was much the same: lots of activity but a sense that the real events were taking place elsewhere.

For Gillard and Abbott, it was time to focus on bread and butter issues. Time to shake off the distractions and target the message. Time to ready for the grind that is coming.

Abbott began and ended the day well. On Channel 7’s Sunrise, in an interview that lacked the danger of Monday’s encounters with the media, he once again killed, buried and cremated WorkChoices. The Channel 9 evening news in Melbourne led with Abbott cycling the streets and announcing expenditure savings.

Julia Gillard also appeared on Sunrise, her lines now perfected and rolling forth in a torrent. “I don’t want to see a big Australia … I want to see a sustainable Australia… we’ve announced a modest measure to take a bit of pressure off … Tony Abbott is strongly supportive of WorkChoices…” [Read more…]


Day 3: Oh My God, They Killed WorkChoices!

“It’s worth it just for the cartoon of her nose,” the man in my local newsagency told me as I purchased the Financial Review yesterday. Like all the newspapers, the Fin had a special election supplement. Its frontpage cartoon by the incomparable David Rowe also contained a jug-eared Tony Abbott but the retailer seemed more agitated by Julia Gillard.

It was a small, perhaps meaningless, moment but it affirmed for me that Gillard is especially crucial to this election. Everyone is talking about her. [Read more…]


Days 1-2: On Message As The Election Skirmish Begins

The first couple of days after an election is called remind me of the first ten minutes or so in an AFL Grand Final.

On MessageEveryone is toey, nervous, keen to get into it. There’s muscling up to one’s opponents, a bit of what Mark Latham would call biffo, some aggressive elbowing behind the main play. The key players on each side are keen to get the first kick, control the direction of the ball and then score the first goal.

An election begins with a similar battle to kick the message straight and squarely into the goal square of the evening television news and the front pages of the daily newspapers. Minor players on both sides make their appearances but are swamped by the political ruckmen.

And so it was this past weekend when the nation’s 27th and first female prime minister came to the courtyard in Parliament House to announce that the nation’s 25th and first female Governor-General had accepted advice to dissolve the 42nd Parliament and hold the nation’s 43rd general election. [Read more…]