Saturday, July 31, 2010

Colonel Cargill & Steven Bradbury

Kevin Rudd was dumped as Prime Minister a month or so ago due to bad polls.

You can ignore everything that's been said about it since. That the Government had lost it's way, that the machine men that run the ALP wanted one of their own in charge, that Kevin ran a dysfunctional government and treated his cabinet with disdain and was erratic and moody and a aloof and pretty hard to deal with when he didn't get the right sort of food. All tosh. While the above may have been factors, these elements had existed in a greater or lesser extent since Rudd assumed the Labor leadership in 2007. He was always a thin lipped, bloodless little freak and he didn't suddenly become erratic and egotistical and devoid of substantial policy a few months ago.

No, all these elements were ignored, or at least tolerated, while the ALP was miles ahead in the polling and Rudd himself had personal approval ratings not seen since Hawke. The party began to turn against Rudd as soon as those polls started to turn against him. A few months of bad polling and the man himself was gone, at least from The Lodge, although not from the scene or the campaign (how ever fervently Julia Gillard may be wishing for the earth to swallow him whole).

So it must give pause for thought to our new PM, and the her senior Labor colleagues, to have a look at the Neilsen poll figures released yesterday and see they are almost in as bad a position as when they booted Rudd out. This, most recent poll, shows the Coalition edging Labor 52 - 48% in the two party preferred stakes. Much more worrying for Labor, however, is the massive lead the same poll shows in the primary votes, which has the Coalition ahead 45 - 36%. If this sort of result were repated at the election, Labor would be buried in a landslide, with a host of marginal seats swept away, not just in Queensland and WA but everywhere.

So actually, forget what I said two sentences ago.

The Labor Party are in a worse position now then before they booted Rudd out. At that time, a few weeks and several political lifetimes ago, they were in exactly the same position in the two party preferred stakes and were behind the Coalition on primary votes 42 - 33%. Statistically the same margin but with a lower vote for themselves, but at that time they had Rudd as leader and not on the loose somewhere in Queensland, doing his best Mick Taylor impersonation (the rest of the Federal ALP are an annoying British backpacker in this analogy). Before Rudd was deposed, Labor could do their rally-behind-the-leader thing come election time and make it reasonably convincing, which is always worth some votes. A united front. Solid, dependable leadership. The punters like that sort of thing. But now... well, the bulk of the Labor party has retired to a back alley somewhere in Canberra to settle things in the style of the rival news crews from 'Anchorman,' leaving Julia to lurch around the country, trying to ignore the scuffling behind her and say that she's for 'Jobs, education and a strong economy,' with a straight face.

Which will make another bit of Neilsen polling potentially even more disastrous. This one is, on the surface at least, good news for the government, in that it shows Julia edging Tony in the preferred PM stakes 49 - 41%. But the bad news lies in the fact that just two weeks ago, at the start of the campaign, she was shading Abbott in this measure by more than twenty points. In other words, in two weeks of campaigning under her leadership, she's reversed the ALP's standing in the overall polls and put them behind and more than halved her lead over her direct opponent in terms of who is better suited to running the country.

Is she Julia Gillard, Prime Minister, or Colonel Cargill from 'Catch 22'?:

Colonel Cargill was so awful a marketing executive that his services were much sought after by firms eager to establish losses for tax purposes. Colonel Cargill could be relied upon to run the most prosperous enterprise into the ground. He was a self made man who owed his lack of success to nobody.

Which is probably a bit rough on her, but it's hard to know what the ALP were thinking over this initial period of campaigning. It appears to have been something like:

'Let's get rid of that bloodless, thin lipped little freak from Queensland that none of us have ever liked and replace him with someone a bit more down to earth and human that the punters in the marginals can relate to... and then when the election rolls around let's drain all the life out of her campaign and have her chant inane slogans and do our level best to make her impersonate that bloody bugger from Queensland again.'

Either the Federal Labor Party is suffering from an acute case of schizophrenia or they have a very warped sense of humour.

Which leaves us with the opposition leader, 'Action Man' Tony Abbott, who would appear to be on his way to living in The Lodge and can probably hardly believe his luck.

This time last year he was stuck in a dead end minor portfolio in Opposition, the moderates under Malcolm Turnbull seemingly having taken over his Liberal Party and closed the door on Howard acolytes like him forever. Rudd was still riding high in the polls at this time and the 2010 election seemed to be heading towards a deadly dull Turnbull-Rudd battle over which one of them would bore the fewest of us to death with their minimalist carbon reduction plans.

Fast forward to... well, now, and Abbott finds himself hustling around the country, getting surprisingly positive press while his opponents pour gasoline all over themselves and set themselves on fire. And let's not forget those polls. Even facing such lacklustre opponents as Kim 'The Bomber' Beazley and Simon 'Please Make Him Stop Talking' Crean, John Howard never enjoyed a nine point primary vote lead in any polls I remember. And this was a man who won four consecutive elections and enjoyed almost God like status in his party.

And so, after all the synonyms, metaphors and analogies I've employed in this piece to describe how Labor are fucking themselves up and ruining their re-election chances, the metaphor that best describes how Abbott is going at this time could well be this one:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kevvie's Plan to Being a Very Popular PM (Mark 2)

In his published diaries, former Opposition leader Mark Latham tells this hilarious story about Kevin Rudd. He, Latham, had just been elevated to the ALP leadership in late 2003 and was settling his shadow ministry. Rudd was going to get foreign affairs:

Kevvie wanted his title expanded to the more grandiose Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security. No worries, but then he rang me last Sunday to say he objected to McLelland (Shadow Minister for Homeland Security) also having the word 'Security' in his title. At first I thought it was some kind of joke, but the crazy bastard was serious: he had a long and absurd argument ready about the overlap of the two jobs. By the end of the day, Rudd was threatening to go to the backbench, over a question of semantics. I told him I was willing to accept his resignation and he went away to think about it.

It goes without saying that Rudd didn't resign and somehow managed to get on with his job in the shadow ministry, despite this 'security' problem. Nevertheless, there was something about the chaos that overwhelmed the ALP in the last couple of days that brought this story to mind.

A brief recap then, of events as they transpired. On Tuesday, both Channel 9 and The Sydney Morning Herald came out with stories detailing comments that our freshly minted PM had supposedly made during internal deliberations over big ticket policies of the, now dispatched, Rudd Government. Among the colourful allegations:

- That Gillard had been opposed to both the paid parental leave and age pension increase schemes the Rudd Government had implemented.

- That she had argued against the paid parental leave scheme as it did nothing to help stay home mothers and

- That she had argued that it was pointless doing anything to help retirees as they never voted Labor anyway.

And this after she had gone on the debate on Sunday of the previous weekend and highlighted both of these policies as something that she had been intimately involved with formulating and proud of.

These leaked allegations have proved enormously damaging for Gillard for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they make her look disingenuous and amplify the growing perception that she doesn't really stand for anything; that she'll say and do anything to get elected, even praising popular policies she privately doesn't support. Secondly her blithe dismissal of parents and age pensioners as important groups worthy of government attention accentuate Labors problems with these demographic groups; parents are attracted to Tony Abbott's more generous paid parental leave scheme and old people really don't vote for Labor and really won't now. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Gillard had to spend a valuable day of campaigning time defending herself rather than rushing around the country to 14 different marginal seats to promise people living there that she'd build them a new railway line (and anything else they fancied).

But at least she defended herself rather well. An early morning press conference in Adelaide was the forum for the PM to shake off some of the dull, weirdly Rudd-like, non persona of the first week and a half of campaigning and show a bit of spunk. She bristled, she counter attacked, she started one answer, 'Oh come off it.' She said in plain language that she was skeptical of any policy that crossed her path and this was a sensible way to be and that anyone who wasn't like that was a dill. It was more like the Julia Gillard we'd seen prior to her sudden elevation to leadership, which could only be a good thing for her. But it was still defense and the leaks still hurt.

Which brings us back to the leaks themselves.

Which brings itself back to why anyone from the Labor side of politics would want to do such a thing.

Which brings us back to Rudd.

Popular opinion among the nation's press seems to rule him out as the direct leaker, but I'm not so sure about that. The other possiblility appears to be an un-named person or persons within Labor, deeply offended by Rudd's treatment, trying to get back at Julia for her treachery. But it's hard to imagine anyone doing this for someone like Rudd, who had so little support in caucus he couldn't even muster enough votes to have a credible (i.e. non humiliating) vote on his leadership.

It seems far more likely to me that Rudd would have done this himself. He has a reputation for leaking and a nasty streak so prominent that journalist David Marr wrote a recent profile of him that made him sound like Francis Begbie when he was losing at pool. And Marr was meant to be one of Rudd's 'mates' for fucks sake!

No, Rudd destabilising his own side makes perfect sense if you consider these things, the fact that he's a terrible sook and also:

Kevvie's Plan to Being a Very Popular PM (Mark 2)

Step 1: Leak all sorts of nasty shit about your replacement and ruin her election chances.

Step 2: Watch the Labor Party tear itself to pieces as they become the first one term Government in Australia since the Great Depression.

Step 3: Try not to laugh hysterically as Tony Abbott outlaws abortion and restores the White Australia policy and orders every kid under 16 into fat camp and all the other crazy shit that he'd really like to do once he doesn't have to suck up to us anymore.

Step 4: Quietly assume the ALP leadership again after Swan, Smith, Macklin, Roxon, Combet and Shorton have had a go.

Step 5: Win the following election, or even the one after that, and quietly put Australia back to sleep after years of chaos with a blizzard of the dull, technocratic gibberish that you specialise in.

Somewhere in the back of Kevvie's fevered mind, I've no doubt that this plan is formulating.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


There's not much to be said about Sunday's Great Debate. Everything you need to know is right here:

I really wanted this entry to be an in depth analysis of the cut and thrust of the debate, the policies the leaders presented and the vision for the country that each had on display, but this has proved impossible. No such vision was on display.

For each candidate, the debate was more about what they were trying not to do; Julia trying not to look too much like Rudd, Tony trying not to look too much like an angry nut. On this score, you'd say that Tony fared better. Julia, with her empty sloganeering and vague promises, was pretty Rudd like. Tony was presentable and didn't say or do anything that would've frightened anyone too much.

In terms of what they talked about well, anyone with even a passing interest in national politics could've guessed beforehand. As I heard the PM's campaign spokesman say before the debate occurred; 'Julia Gillard stands for better schools, better health and a strong economy' (presumably her opponent is against these things). Her part of the debate was her saying this over and over and then rephrasing it to say it again and trying to ignore anything else.

Q: Can you tell us how you and Kevin Rudd are substantially different?

A: Well I won't comment on that. What I will comment on is my commitment to a improving education and health and building the economy.

Abbott stuck to the relentlessly negative tone of his campaign and ragged on everything the Government has done over the last three years (except the revised IR laws which he's very supportive of... or something). There was also a fair bit about turning boats back and stopping boats and sending boats somewhere else. Moving away from this safe territory proved a bit trickier:

Q: Can you outline what the top priorities of an Abbott Government would be in the areas of helath and education?

A: .... (pause)... (pause)... Stopping the boats!

Sometimes I htink it's a shame that these live, televised debates aren't taken a bit more seriously in Australia, like they are in the States. In US politics, the three debates are seen as absolutely key to winning office and shape the remainder of the campaign once they're done. Here, while it was well watched, it caused nary a blip on the national consciousness. Both candidates, having agreed to just one debate in the non prime time slot of 6.30pm Sunday, seemed eager to get it over and done with and forget about it.

Another example of moving forward, perhaps.

Monday, July 26, 2010


After the success of Channel 10's 'Hawke' telemovie from last week, it was probably no surprise to see the Silver Bodgie back on the campaign trail. Although keeping the former PM out of the action may well have proved impossible, given the blokes enthusiasm for the limelight: 'Elections really get the juices flowing,' Hawke was quoted as saying with relish, while campaigning in Melbourne last week (and also quoted as saying 'I like your English' when some punter called him a fucking legend).

What was surprising (and a little disappointing) was that Hawke didn't get out the powder blue lounge suit and white shoes, as he did during Campaign 2007:

Putting that disappointment aside though, this underlines something quite unique about the man himself; With the exception of Hawke, the Australian public never has much love for ex Prime Ministers. I mean, can you imagine any of John Howard, Paul Keating or Malcolm Fraser (our other surviving ex PMs) hitting the campaign trail for their respective parties this time around? Anywhere? For any reason? The current batch of candidates all avoid these ex leaders like the plague. And hell, Malcolm Fraser has disowned the Liberals and cancelled his party membership anyway and is probably more likely to doorknock for the Greens than any of Tony Abbott's bunch.

On the other hand, Hawke is probably more popular than he was when Keating ousted him. I mean, now that he doesn't have to worry about upsetting the squares out in the marginal seats he can have a drink and a punt and pinch the odd girl on the bum ('Look at all these beautiful women,' was another choice quote from his day campaigning) and that stuff always goes over well with the mob.

The other thing that was significant about Hawke's campaign appearance was where the Labor Party strategists had him appear; the marginal inner Melbourne seat of Deakin, held by backbeancher Mike Symon on a slim margin of 1.4% What this tells us about the election is:

a) Where the campaign will be won and lost and;

b) What your vote is worth.

And the answers to these questions are, in order:

a) In the marginal seats and;

b) Nothing.

To summarise the above then, starting with the marginals.

There are 150 seats in the House of Representatives, where Government is formed, and the Australian Electoral Commission defines any of them held by a margin of less than 6% a marginal seat. There are 57 of these at this election, or about 38% of total seats. The Liberal Party needs a net gain of 17 seats from the ALP in order to win Government, so guess which ones they're going to concentrate on? That's right! The ones with the smallest margins! It's no wonder they call it political science, because rocket science it ain't.

In any case, this is where you come in. Unless you live in one of these marginal seats, the 62% of people that don't in other words, you're in a safe seat and that means that whichever major party you belong too can afford to take you for granted. Or, on the flipside, can't afford to spend their scarce electoral resources trying to gain a seat they'll almost certainly lose. And so the whole thing can become a bit like a perpetual motion machine in theses safe seats. Neither party really bothers contesting them very vigorously and so the people that live there have little reason to change their voting intentions. The simple truth is that most of the seats in most of the country don't come within cooee of changing hands election after election, year after year, generation after generation.

So to summarise the summary of the summary then, a handful of marginal seats decide each election and the majority of people who live elsewhere can suck up to their local member or just fuck off.

And what this means is that the marginal seats become like black holes, exhorting enormous gravitational influence over major party leadership, time and money. To return to Deakin for a moment, as well as RJ Hawke's visit, already in this week old campaign they've had visits from Tony Abbott, Bronwyn Bishop and Peter Garrett. Julia Gillard will be there sometime this week and will undoubtedly promise to build a new school, or hospital or rail link or whatever the focus groups are telling her the Deakinites want... Then Tony Abott will come back the week after and promise a larger, spiffier and yet cheaper schoolhospitalraillink... Then Julia will come back the week after that and promise everyone a free hot water system and a new car and maybe their OWN PRIVATE SCHOOLHOSPITALRAILINK!!! And then Tony will come back and tell people that they'd already have all of those things if the Labor Party hadn't let so many filthy boat people in to steal all of our schoolhospitalraillinks... and so on, until voting day.

And so it'll go across all of the marginal seats in the country, as the leaders sweep through every couple of days and the actual candidates themselves stalk each other like rabid dogs who have learned how to drive. I've lived in a marginal seat before and if you think the bombardment of campaign ads and propaganda is bad elsewhere, you have no idea what the marginalites are in for. They get the same number of TV and radio ads, but they'll also get personalised auto dialled campaign telephone messages and so much mail box dropped leafleture that they're in danger of disappearing under it all, like De Niro at the end of 'Brazil.'

And this while the safe-seatites wnder why the local members office is shut 328 days of the year.

And so, to summarise the summary of the summary of the summary, the Australian electoral process is a bit skew-iff.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Come on Rudd, For Fucks Sake!

Looking and sounding a bit like a Richie Benaud doll with flat batteries, Kevin Rudd made his debut appearance in Campaign 2010 yesterday. Fresh from his $40 000, tax payer funded, first class flight back from his working holiday in the US, the ex PM was out and about in his seat of Griffith in Queensland, which he has represented since 1998.

The Rudd-bot sat out in the sun for a bit, chatting to shoppers along one of the main streets in the electorate, before moving on to Coorparoo State School, where he addressed the kids about their new hall. The sparkling Rudd public persona, so fondly remembered by anyone who has followed politics in this country these last two and a bit years, was on display again:

RUDD: Hands up now, what's the best thing about having a new school hall.

KID: This ones got seats!

RUDD: This one's got seats. That's very good.

Which made me kinda sad. Clearly, losing the top job has taken the edge off Rudd. If it had been the last election and he got this kind of response, he would then have gone:

RUDD: Is it better having seats in your school hall? Yes it is. Am I glad that you've got them? Yes I am. Would my opponent have delivered seats for your new school hall? No he wouldn't. Has my opponent had 12 years to deliver seats to your new school hall? Yes he has. Has he failed to deliver the seats to the new school hall? Yes he has...

And so on, for another fifteen or twenty minutes, far past the point where anyone in his audience could remember what had set him off in the first place. Makes a pundit almost feel nostalgic, especially during these grim days of 'Moving Forward' and 'Stop the Boats.'

But almost is the operative word when it comes to Rudd, as it seems a fair bet that the only one who misses seeing him in the PM's office is Tony Abbott (well, maybe Therese too). Abbott was all set to have a nice little 'Regular If Angry Man versus Inhuman Rudd-Bot' election before Gillard and the factional leaders in the ALP stepped in to make his task much more nuanced.

Leaving the leader of the Opposition to one side, the PM and other senior Government ministers seem to want Rudd to disappear as quickly and discreetly as possible. There's been a lot of talk of Rudd focusing on 'local issues' and 'campaigning in his electorate' and 'maybe fucking off back to the States until August 22.' I mean Rudd is the principle reason for the whole 'Moving Forward' campaign strategy. They want to move forward, from him, and only see him occassionally in the rear view mirror. And even then only by accident.

When asked whether she would campaign with Rudd in Griffith, Gillard sounded a bit like Abbott trying to explain his stance on 'Work Choices':

GILLARD: Well I will if he wants me to... Which he probably doesn't... Although we haven't spoken about it... But if he did ask I probably would... If there was space in the diary... And he wanted me to, which he probably doesn't... He's got a pretty safe seat anyway and I'm pretty busy... But I'd help him out if he needed it... Who were we talking about again? Judd? That bloke who plays for Carlton?

And that reminds me of something that my girlfriend said the other day when we were watching Carlton getting belted in the AFL. Chris Judd was having a very dark day and when, on one occasion, he grabbed the ball and then booted it out of bounds on the full, she went, 'Come on Rudd, for fucks sake!'

Says a lot about the last few weeks in Australian politics really.


A few days into the election campaign, and things have mostly settled into a comfortable routine for both major parties. Each day the two leaders do a round of breakfast media before jetting off to one marginal seat or another for a stage managed photo op with some rusted on supporters, the media coverage of which makes for a non threatening evening news backdrop.

Julia repeats the things that she's in favour of: (listed here in case you haven't been paying attention) growing the economy, money for schools, moving forward... And Abbott repeats the things that he's against: debt, boat people, Julia Gillard. They both shake hands with some bewildered looking passersby and then scram as quickly as their campaign bus/plane/fleet of cars can get them out of there.

As journalist Matthew Franklin, covering the Gillard campaign for 'The Australian,' put it: 'The Prime Minister appears to be avoiding contact with any real human beings.'

This then, is the essence of the modern election campaign. And this surely makes you wonder what the point of the whole process is.

I mean, these jokers, on both sides, get elected and spend three years tucked away from the rest of us in Canberra, doing God knows what and spending great swathes of our money while they do it. The one time that they're actually forced out from behind the skirting board, out into the light with the rest of us, asking for our vote, and they still don't want anything much to do with us.

I mean, why don't they get out more amongst regular people and find out what we want? Or what we're thinking? Town Hall meetings? Walking down the main street of a regular suburb? Well, last night Channel 7 showed a grab of Federal Treasure Wayne Swan having a go at it yesterday:

SWAN (To shop owner he was walking past): How's business?

SHOP OWNER: Good... No thanks to the Government.

No doubt Swanny is in a bunker under the Treasury building right now, still in tears, interviewing lookalikes so he never has to go out in public ever again. But really, what's the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that the major party's are terrified that this is what'll get played on the 6pm news that night. Instead of what they want played on the 6pm news, which is some speech the leader has given where they repeat 'Moving Forward' or 'Stop the Boats' 97 times in an effort to drum it into our heads.

But imagine, instead, if Swan had thrown back his head and chuckled, said something like 'Good on yer mate,' and paused to shake the blokes hand. Maybe bought a sandwich or an apple or a piece of fetish gear or whatever the shop owner was selling. That clip would've been on the evening news and people would've loved it. And the shop owner himself, while probably not changing his vote, may have thought of the Federal Treasurer as something other than a cunt, which is almost certainly how he feels about him now.

Part of this problem of sanitised modern politickin' comes down to contemporary media coverage and the 24 hour news cycle, which has a tendency to magnify even small incidents as media outlets search for content. And part of the problem comes down to the sort of people who, for the most part, make up our elected representatives nowadays. Constructed from soy protein and pencil sharpenings and grown in large vats in the basement of the major parties headquarters, they are indoctrinated from an early age with the key mantra of modern politics: Stay On Message. And the best way to stay 'On Message?' Avoid anything that's off message.

As former Keating speech writer Don Watson put it: 'Most modern polticians have never done anything but be in politics.' And so the deadly dull nature of a Federal election campaign, with its stage managed photo ops, 'On Message' sound bites and ridiculous slogans seem entirely natural to them.

Which is bad news for anyone with even a passing interest in politics in this country. 'The Age' election bloggers Mark Davis and Jacqueline Riley sum it up, commenting on the end of Day 4 of campaigning:

Another day where Gillard Labor's tactics came from from the Modern Campaigning 101 playbook: staying relentlessly on message while unveiling a "new" policy which was more presentational than substantive (National Trade Cadetships). By contrast the Abbott operation looked more DIY, struggling again to get its chosen message across cleanly on the all-important prime time TV news bulletins due to self-inflicted distractions.

You can almost hear them saying, '4 and a half weeks to go? AAARGGGHHH!!!'

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

But That's Our Money!

Tony Abbott was accosted by a bloke in a pair of red Speedos when he visited a Melbourne shopping centre on Monday:

Initially it was reported like a light hearted bit of protest boof-headery by someone with an axe to grind who was missing the days of the giant rodent suits from the last election:

But it emerged yesterday that there was something sinister - and I don't mean left handed - going on with this guy.

The Budgie Smuggler Protestor was one Conrad French, who it was later revealed was a paid employee of the Labor Party, working out of the Victorian Campaign office. The ALP would immediately distance themselves from the incident, with the PM stating that it was 'silly' and that anyone with a point to prove would be better off keeping their clothes on. And that may very well have been it, a fairly forgettable piece of background noise in a five week campaign, if it weren't for the fact that it came to light who was paying Conrad to get his clothes off.

And that is... none other than you and I. By which I mean, us! Well, most of us anyway. My apologies to my friends who are still suckling on the tax payers teat themselves. Go back to bed guys, there's nothing for you to see here.

So, Conrad French works for the Victorian State campaign office. That being the case, you'd think that the ALP were paying his wage. And you'd be dead wrong. His wages are, at least partly, funded by tax payers.

Here's how it works. Members of Victoria's state Parliament get a taxpayer funded stipend to pay for a couple of people to staff their electoral office. You know, the grim, run down looking shopfront you've probably passed by a thousand times on your local main street with '(Insert name here), State Member for (Wherever)' painted on the window. These staffers are meant to do the filing, answer the mail and tell any constituents who actually rock up that their local member is in Sweden on a study trip and they won't be back till the next election.

What the ALP in Victoria do is they require all of their state MP's to pay a percentage of this taxpayer funded staff money back to State Labor HQ so they can use on... well, whatever. Leaflets or TV ads or a bloke or lunch at 'Nobu.' Even a man in red budgie smugglers trying to ruin the Opposition Leaders press coverage.

And look, part of me thinks I'm not even opposed to this kind of thing. Public funding for nutty election stunts. Labor people dressing up in costumes and heckling Tony Abbott. Liberal people putting glue on Julia Gillard's head and sticking a neon wig to her scalp. Might be a lot more edifying than five weeks of 'Moving Forward' and 'Stop the Boats.'

But another part of me thinks that this is just stealing under a different and more confusing name. That if the major political party's want to spend money on TV ads and leaflets and blokes in budgie smugglers than they should fucking well pay for it themselves and spend our money on what we all assume it's being spent on.

Start a political party like that and you've got my vote. But I wouldn't bet on it, anytime soon...


There's a touch of the Mark Latham's about Tony Abbott. And I'm not the first one to think so. When both of them, particularly Latham, were on the rise a few years ago, journalist Michael Duffy produced this book, comparing the two:

And it's easy to see why. They're both about the same age, they both represented the next generation in their storied political parties and they both employed a bit of the biffo, head-kicking, enforcer type style to get their point across. Latham even acknowledged that they had something in common in his hilariously bitchy published diaries. On taking Abbott to meet some of his constituents:

He seems strongly committed to the principles of social self help. Not rampant individualism, but the revival of old style mutualism in society.

This being something that he, Latham, believed in himself.

And this was on my mind yesterday - long after Latham had taken his bat, ball and fat guy shirt home - watching Abbott role out a dodgy gimmick on the campaign trail.

Abbott was trying, with the kind of lack of success that could only be deliberate, to explain his Industrial Relations position to Melbourne radio's Neil Mitchell. Under repeated questioning from Mitchell about whether or not Abbott would seek to revive the previous Liberal Government's hated 'Work Choices' policy, Abbott snatched up a pen and a bit of paper and said he'd sign an agreement to that effect. Not to bring it back, that is.

What he wrote was 'Dead, Buried, Cremated,' signing his name underneath in a way that, according to one prominent 'graphologist,' showed he wasn't thinking about what he was writing and didn't believe a word of it anyway. Or something.

Shades of Latham in 2004, signing some sort of ridiculous novelty contract thingo that declared he would always keep interest rates low. Or something.

And so the lesson of Latham's ultimately doomed election campaign should be clear to the current opposition leader. Leave the gimmick's to 'The Chaser' and stick to what you're good at. In Abbott's case, running around the country looking and angry and demanding that the boats be stopped.

Truth be told, Abbott had a tough day yesterday, as he tried to simultaneously say two different things at once; that he both wanted to keep the current, Labor Party style of Industrial Relations law AND look at revisiting some aspects of 'Work Choices.' No wait, that wasn't it. No, actually he was quite happy to keep Labor's system for the next three years before junking the entire thing and replacing it with 'Work Choices.' No, no, that's not right either. Of course, the thing that he signed. The Mitchell thing! What it is, see, is that 'Work Choices' has actually been cremated already so there's no need to worry about it... but also that Tony has the urn full of it's ashes and he's going to keep it handy just in case he needs it for something.

How any one who's meant to be John Howard's political protege could cock something like this up so badly I have no idea. I mean, why didn't he just say he'd 'never ever' bring back 'Work Choices' and then just introduce it at the next election.

John Howard never signed nothin.'

Monday, July 19, 2010

The TV Ads

And so they came. On a Sunday night, prime viewing time, with 'Master Chefs' and 'CSIs' being watched by millions, the first real moves of the 2010 election campaign were unleashed. By which I mean, the first batch of television ads went to air.

And they're interesting to watch, both because they give us an insight into what the major party's focus groups have been telling them, and to what the major party's think their probable support groups look like. To take them one at a time then, starting with the Labor ad:

Focus Group Feedback AKA 'Q: What Do You Like About Julia?'
Julia Gillard is a nice person who cares about the same things I care about. She really cares about Australia and wants to see it develop in a responsible way. She cares about strong border protection but she wants to target the wicked people smugglers not the asylum seekers. She wants to move the country forward (this last repeated at the end of the focus group meeting, 14 or 15 times, drone like).

How the ALP Views Their Supporters Based on This Ad
ALP voters are a pack of easily frightened simpletons who are so dense that they'll only be able to understand our policies if we whittle them down to two or three words each and even then we'll have to repeat them twice. And we better say those words in a soothing tone with some soft music playing or else the voters in the mortgage belt seats are likely to hide under their beds and miss the slogan. These people don't like the boat people but they do like the economy so we'll be sure and say that those are the things we dislike and like too. And, did I mention the slogan, 'Moving Foward'? Better say it a few more times so that it really lodges in there.

And the Libs:

Focus Group Feedback AKA 'Q: What We Like About Tony'
Tony Abbott is a man of conviction, a man unafraid to speak his mind, a man not constrained by the evils of moderated speech and political correctness. A man, in short, that we can rely on to take charge of things, shake 'em up a bit and maybe rough up the deadbeats while he's at it. He may be a successful politician but he's not that dissimilar to YOU! I mean, ME! He understands that Labor has let the darkies take over the country again and drive up electricity prices and this worries him, just like it worries YOU! I mean ME! Really, the similarities between YOU/ME and Tony Abbott are amazing when you think about it...

How the Liberal Party Views Their Supporters Based on This Ad
That there are a lot of people out there in the suburbs that are ready to join a neo-Nazi style cult, with uniforms and symbols and rigid rules and that, if such a cult isn't available, they may as well vote for the Liberal Party. These folks want a leader who'll throw a few punches and we've got one who's positivity popping out of his suit wanting to get his hands on someone. Kevin Rudd would have been better but Julia'll do. Equality and all that! So give 'em a logo and a four point plan and we'll hand out the red meat at the rallies. We've got a lot of work to do!!!

What's Interesting About Both Ads
That there is neither an ALP nor a Liberal Party symbol on display anywhere. Are these guys running as independents?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Moving Forward

This morning, walking home, I listened to the ABC's 'Insiders' program on Radio National and the ABC's footy show 'The Sunday Inquisition' on 774 and the two of them weirdly blended together in my mind. Helped, undoubtedly, by an overabundance of the phrase 'moving forward' in both. Sample dialogue:

Insiders (Random political commentator): Well the Labor party wants this election to be a bout moving forward.

The Sunday Inquisition (Random AFL personality): Well the club is happy about the win but we've got to keep it in perspective moving forward.

Which is to say, that once Julia Gillard announced the election, she then immediately stepped up to provide the election with what will become its ludicrous, annoying tag line: 'Moving forward.' According to today's 'Age,' the PM said the phrase 'moving forward' in her campaign launch speech no less than 22 times and, according to my own unofficial estimate, she'll be gearing up to say it 9 065 000 more times before polling day.

Expect to see 'Moving Foward' on TV commercials, on leaflets, on banners and placards and those funny curtain things they hang up behind political leaders when they talk on television. It'll be on the tax payer funded propaganda that clogs up your mail box (that's right, you're paying for that stuff!) and on the ALP's how to vote cards. It'll probably even show up on naff t-shirts that some of the more clueless in the community will wear:

And it will serve to make life easy for Government MP's who might otherwise struggle with tricky questions on the campaign trail:

QUESTION: What is the ALP going to do with asylum seekers that arrive by boat.

ANSWER: Well, what we'll be doing is attempting to move forward with this issue in a realistic and prudent fashion.

QUESTION: What will the Government do to curb carbon emissions in this country?

ANSWER: Well, what we'll be attempting to do is move forward with this issue in a realistic and prudent fashion.

QUESTION: What will... well, you get the idea.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, did not come up with a snappy slogan of his own in reply, declaring in fact that the election 'was not about glib slogans, but about competent government.'

Given the Government's recent record of mismanagement and policy backflips - the abandoned ETS, the move right on asylum seekers, the disastrous home insulation and green loan schemes - Gillard and the Labor party hierarchy will hope that their slogan sticks and sticks hard.