Towards the end of Week 2 of the campaign the parties and their leaders have settled into a steady, stoic rhythm. After a spectacular first week which put the media at the forefront of the campaign, News Corp editorial bias under real scrutiny, and which culminated in the first live TV debate, the last few days have been less interesting from the media perspective. Apart from a Coalition verbal gaffe or two, which predictably took up much more journalistic effort than they warranted, there has been little to chew over.
Apart from a few policies - remember them? - dished out like fresh-baked Lamingtons to assembled locals and media packs around the country. Rudd declared the Northern Territory a special economic zone - something of an indictment of a couple of centuries of Australian history, you might think, but it’s never too late to say you’re sorry. I ‘love’ the territory, he insisted.
Abbott calls the Tasmanian economic situation ‘dire’ and offers money to improve airports, build highways and research the Antarctic. I ‘love’ Tassie, said Tony. Actually, I made that up, but you know it’s the kind of thing he might have said, were the Coalition leader not so obviously convinced that, following the Sunday debate, he can’t lose this election. So he told them they were in a mess, and he was going to fix it.
On the great debate debate, was Paul Murray right earlier in the week to demand that the ALP leader take part in the mooted ‘people’s forum’ to be hosted by Sky? The one that Kevin turned down because, he argued, it was pay TV and not free-to-air?
Whatever the strength of Rudd’s fair dinkum logic here - and it isn’t very strong, given that Sky offered to allow transmission on free to air channels - it’s not a good look for the man who made so much of his opponent’s early reluctance to debate to now display the same resistance. To a confident politician, sure in the command of his arguments and record, honest in his vision for Australia’s future, a people’s forum should be a gift. Assuming fairness in the rules, what would Kevin have to lose, given that he’s behind in the polls?
The first rule of election club, Kevin, is: when you’re behind, take any opportunity you can to expose your opponent’s weakness. When offered a relatively unscripted people’s forum format, grab with both hands. This approach worked wonders for Tony Blair in the UK, his apparent ease with a live studio audience contributing substantially to the image of approachability and directness which underpinned his premiership.
Could it be that after Sunday’s debacle Kevin Rudd fears such an encounter? That he’s lost confidence in his capacity to engage Tony Abbott al fresco, as it were? Does he fear the kinds of questions a genuinely representative studio audience might ask him? That’s certainly how Murray and others have spun it.
For now, the media are on the campaign trail, focused on both leaders’ efforts to demonstrate their relevance to the whole of Australia. Policies are emerging, and not before time, though one senses a general lack of trust in the figures being bandied about, the projections and the excuses made. PEFO was treated as piffle by the Coalition, and will now be ignored. Opposition numbers, in turn, are treated by the ALP as if they were fiction. The ordinary public look on in bemusement, unable to distinguish bulldust from campaign gold.
Thank goodness for TC’s Fact Checker section. We need more of that, and throughout the media, and before it’s too late!