Ho hum. Repeat.


Tuesday, Apr. 19, 2022

The Easter weekend, over which this column was crafted, was a campaign quiet spot. Every election campaign should have at least one buzz-free zone. This one’s got two, courtesy of ANZAC Day. A bonus! Thank goodness for small mercies. Though we always knew the big guns would recommence rattling the windows and the china as soon as the Easter bunny had hopped off. It wasn’t quite a ceasefire, but it did provide some thinking space. That’s needed on either side of the main political divide. It hasn’t quite been all gaffes and stumbles, though some of the more breathless media mastheads and their television comrades apparently think so. And there’s still a bit over five weeks to go before the votes are counted. It would be nice to hear about some new policy and see evidence of vision in the campaign to-and-fro. Ah well, best not to wait up.

Greens MP Adam Bandt gave every politician a lesson last week with his brilliant shoo-off of a gotcha question from a journalist: “Google it, mate!” The journalist in Bandt’s sights at the National Press Club in Canberra was Ronald Mizen from the Australian Financial Review. Mizen must have decided to chase the clear lead of the doyen of gotchas, Andrew Clennell of Sky News Australia. It was Clennell who got Scott Morrison in the 2019 campaign with the price of bread, and who ruined Anthony Albanese’s day in Tasmania last week by asking him what current cash rate and unemployment rates were. Well, in fact, Albo ruined his own day by taking the bait. But that was only a momentary lapse. It was negligence, not malfeasance, though it was political idiocy. He didn’t ruin his whole election bid, which is what the Liberal campaign headquarters would like us all to think. Few voters have the cash rate or unemployment rate mirror-printed on their retinas. Or the price of a loaf of bread, for that matter. Or care very much, frankly.

Mizen had asked Bandt what the current WPI was. Bandt might have been tempted to divert into a discussion about whey protein isolate (another WPI; just not the wage price index, or indeed the wholesale price index) but as he says, elections should be a contest of ideas. They’re not about dietary supplements. Vacuity might rule, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. The excellent online journal of satirical record, The Shovel, suggested in the aftermath of the Albo upset that he should just Bing it. That brought many readers a smile. In these dark days, you must find your giggles where you can.

They’re around. Leading giggle George Christensen, retiring National Party MP for Dawson in Central Queensland, is among them.. He’s more widely known as the member for Manila, since in pursuit of personal interests the Philippines’ largest city was where he was often seen for a lengthy part of his parliamentary service. He has switched to One Nation and is No. 3 on their Queensland Senate ticket. It won’t get him a seat in the salmon pink chamber, but it may boost the ON vote via his name recognition factor. 

However, since he will not now be a retiring member but instead a defeated sitting parliamentarian, it will get him a $100,000 taxpayer funded retirement fund. George might like to consider what SA Labor upper house member Russell Wortley said after he was dumped to an unwinnable fifth spot on the party ticket in the recent SA state election – that he’d donate to charity his public compensation payment for losing. Think about it, George. There’s a good sport.

Still in Queensland, and still on the loopy fringes, Clive Palmer is spending a fortune (hopefully this time it will be his own) on advertising his United Australia Party. He’s now its chairman. Its leader is the former NSW federal Liberal and leading conspiracy theorist Craig Kelly. Their advertisements are a giggle. Freedom forever! Regulate the mortgage rate! Vote UAP and save Australia! 

Meanwhile, back on centre court where the top seeds play, Morrison has now completely walked away from a federal integrity commission – he promised one in his 2019 election platform – and blamed Labor for this since it failed to agree with everything in the government’s outline proposal. Apparently, with Morrison, it’s either his way or he’ll block the highway with the wreckage of his special operation. He even managed to call NSW’s ICAC – a body that has earned widespread and deserved respect – a kangaroo court. 

Albanese is also on the back foot, in a confected argument over whether Labor’s sensible proposal for urgent care clinics is or is not fully costed. Here’s the deal: not much of the government’s pitch is fully costed either, if you look at the small print, which no one ever does, and if you can find it, of course. They’d rather you didn’t. 

It will be interesting to see where opinion polling takes us as the campaign gains momentum, or at least some longevity. Adam Bandt made the mistake last week of spinning the Greens’ “growing support” levels a step too far for ABC TV’s Breakfast News’s feisty co-host Lisa Millar. She shut him down. They all do it, politicians that is: gilding their lilies and making outrageous claims about their brand of snake oil.

FOOTNOTES: (1) The first leaders’ debate of the campaign is in Brisbane on Wednesday (April 20). It will be televised from 7pm AEST and is being staged as the Sky News-Courier Mail People’s Forum, at which 100 selected undecided voters will have a chance to put questions directly to the prime minister and the opposition leader. (2) Nominations close on Thursday (April 21).

This commentary is also available on the seniors’ website Startsat60.com, where I write a fortnightly column on politics and current affairs.

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