Wendy Wedge rates Robert Doyle’s performance in Friday night’s election debate with Steve Bracks…and finds him wanting.

Now Wendy admires young Robert. On the conservative side of politics it’s hard to get good help and any petty bourgeois who knows his place and can be relied on to do the right thing to keep Wendys investments growing, trade unions down and investment bankers up is to be admired. Robert seemed to fit the bill.

But they must be able to convince the punters that they are genuine populists actually acting in the interests of the general population rather than that of Wendy and her friends. They need, in short, to be credible.

Sadly, Robert has failed his first major test – the debate with Steve Bracks on the ABC.

Sure, Robert probably won the debate on technical grounds, but on just about every other he was a total disaster.

First, he confused populism and humanity with a madman’s grimace which looked a bit too much like Humphrey Bogart in the Caine Mutiny. Sadly Robert appears to have an asymmetric face; great in some film roles but not too good when you leap into people’s living rooms during an election campaign.

Second, he let his advisers (that has to be Brian Buckley’s fault doesnt it?) persuade him that it would be a great idea to stand on a box to make him seem taller. There’s nothing wrong with that; Alan Ladd made a Hollywood career on the basis of it. But it tops all kinds of ineptitude to let the TV cameras catch the reality and expose it.

Third, he muffed the answer on the Otways forest ban. Well, he gave the correct policy and scientific answer but absolutely the worst possible political answer. Asked to give a one word reply to whether or not he would ban logging he launched into a dissertation only to fess up to the reality in response to Ian Henderson. At least it made the Greens preference decisions less likely to be interminably debated by the Gallery.

Fourth, he left a few hostages to fortune. He promised to look at legislation to ban government advertising; committed to not reducing the number of teachers, nurses, ambulance drivers and other parasites while simultaneously promising to slash public service numbers; claimed the speed limit legislation was all about legislation; and, agreed to fully fund all extra nurses in all country hospitals.

Now none of these policies are going to help Maynes, private schools or the private nursing industry, and will obviously need to be abandoned at some point in the unlikely event that Robert wins. Unfortunately he was so fervent in his protestations on these subjects that even the Press gallery might hound him about them at some stage.

Finally, he seemed to think he was George Dubya and launched into some embarrassing patriotism about loving Victoria. George can get away with it because it is the US of A and there is no sick-making emotionalism which is too tacky in that market.

What a disappointment.

Peter Fray

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