We’ve gathered together Christian Kerr’s series “Life on the Margins” as they appeared in Crikey’s daily subscriber emails during the first week of the federal election campaign:

Tuesday, 31 August (second email)

The snippets are already flowing in from the marginals with plenty of on the ground campaign colour.

Voters in Herbert are already calling Labor candidate Anita Philips the world’s unluckiest pol, “she who resigned her superannuated safe state seat before it disappeared to run in the very marginal seat of Herbert after the pollies’ superannuation changes”.

From Parramatta comes the interesting theory that Ross Cameron’s Good Weekend confessions were a complicated form of political suicide.

Meanwhile, one blogger is already pursuing Fran Bailey, the Liberal Member for the Victorian marginal of McEwen. Read the Fran Files at DailyDave.

Wednesday, 1 September

Queensland is the most important state to Mark Latham’s hopes to govern. Labor hopes it will be able to pick up seats in Brisbane and the regions.

One of these is Herbert, centred around Townsville, which Liberal Peter Lindsay holds by just a 1.5 per cent majority. There, however, punters are much more interested in the North Queensland Cowboys making the NRL finals than the election.

The local Greens took the initiative yesterday with an attack on a proposed industrial estate in the electorate, but the postal vote application from Labor candidate Anita Phillips that arrived in the mail was unlikely to distract from the football.

And will yesterday’s helicopter decision help Lindsay? In the past, he always seems to have been a Blackhawk man.

In the Brisbane seat of Dickson, Liberal Peter Dutton, who ended Cheryl Kernot’s political career with a massive swing back in 2001, is distributing a carefully targeted brochure taking credit for new local child care places. It comes complete with a survey Dutton asks voters to complete “so we can better understand which areas of Pine Rivers still need more places”. Not that, we imagine, he can do much before October 9.

In case child care doesn’t do it to you, other voters in Dickson are receiving a personally addressed full colour letter from Dutton enclosing a postal vote brochure and explaining “We must choose between careful economic management which will allow Australia to continue to grow, or risk it all by putting an inexperienced and unproven leader in charge of Australia’s $800 billion economy”. And all this in a seat that is six per cent Liberal – on paper, anyway.

In New South Wales, Australia Post must just love Malcolm Turnbull. Look at these two messages from Wentworth readers:

“I got home from work tonight to find 2 letters from the PM and 1from Turnbull. Decided to open only one of them to read I have a real concern that the seat of Wentworth could be won by the Labor Party at the next election. Wentworth is not (underlined) the safe Liberal seat that many people imagine’. Well, bless me and I thought this was a blue ribbon seat!”

“Just thought I’d let you know. Yesterday we received FOUR letters from the Prime Minister at this address. TWO people live here – myself and my partner. I received two copies of the same letter and so did she. It mentions that the mail out is not Govt funded and how the PM is worried about Labor winning Wentworth if Peter King stands against Malcolm Turnbull.”

This missive also arrives from New South Wales:

“Ross Cameron is off and running. He has mailed out his personally addressed fliers with the motto ‘Protecting’, ‘Securing’ and ‘Building’. There is not one photo of his wife or any children on the flier or his website.

“Apart from the usual Medicare, aged care etc he has bolded ‘We must choose between careful economic management which will allow Australia to continue to grow, or risk it all by putting an inexperienced and unproven leader in charge of Australia’s $800 billion economy’.”

A familiar line?

It’s going to be a long six weeks to polling day.

Meanwhile, an intrepid Crikey reader in the crucial Western Australian seat of Swan, held by Labor’s Kim Wilkie by two per cent is jumping online with their own campaign diary, swancampaign.blogspot.com. Will others follow?

Thursday, 2 September (first email)

The election campaign has well and truly reached Tweed Heads, in the vital New South Wales National marginal seat of Richmond. Sitting Member Larry Anthony is everywhere – from huge highway billboards lit up at night to illuminated ads in bus shelters.

In South Australia, though, voters in Makin are feeling ignored. Sitting Member Trish Draper got caught up in a nasty travel scandal earlier this year and faces a credible Labor challenger in local Labor mayor Tony Zappia – but they didn’t seem get any political propaganda in their letterboxes yesterday.

Not so the householders of Grayndler, in Sydney’s inner west. Grayndler is safe Labor territory. If anything, some pundits claim that sitting Member Anthony Albanese’s biggest threat comes from the Greens, not the Libs, but that hasn’t stopped a mailout from the Prime Minister lobbing into the letterboxes – much to the amazement of locals.

There’s been a rush mail-out in the Queensland Liberal marginal of Longman. Either Mal Brough didn’t have time to proof-read a page and half or there’s been a snap reshuffle that’s created the position of “Assistance Treasurer”.

In Tasmania Liberal candidate Michael Ferguson has fired the first shots in the battle for Bass with an expensive looking mass mailout in an envelope is colourfully adorned in striking yellow with an attention grabbing bold and underlined “IMPORTANT ELECTION INFORMATION” label. Inside is a lovely letter, decorated with the beaming face of Michael (nice teeth Mike), that reinforces how great the Libs are with key terms such as, strong, responsible, disciplined and careful use of bold type.

Over in the West, in Stirling, Senator Sue Knowles is giving Liberal candidate Michael Keenan a hand. She’s done a maildrop, complete with survey, and as contact points gives her office or her “community representative” – Michael Keenan.

Thursday, 2 September (second email)

Mick Mitsubishi writes: “If you go to the web page of the Labor candidate for Boothby, Chloe “I’m Mem’s daughter” Fox, you find that she’s pretending to be a local.

She lives outside the electorate but her web page has her address as a post box at the Mitcham Shopping Centre in the electorate. And another thing. Her biography has her down as teaching at “an Adelaide secondary school”. Why is she hiding the fact that she is working at one of Adelaide’s more prestigious private schools, Loreto College? Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t sit well with Mark Latham’s attack on funding independent schools.”

Another South Australian, Patti Zan, has this to say: “Has the Labor candidate for Hindmarsh joined the Liberal Party? Why is he putting out flyers printing in the traditional Liberal blue colour? He’s not trying to trick unsuspecting Liberal voters is he?”

Friday, 3 September

Here’s something in Wentworth that Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t need to worry about – but instead suggests that the New South Wales Labor machine is losing some of its much-vaunted gloss. Labor MP for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek, appears to have just sent postal vote applications to a whole lot of households in Paddington on the Wentworth side of Oxford Street. The bright purple colour is, er, curious, too. Something to do with the gay vote?

The Liberal Party is on the offensive in the South Australian seat of Wakefield – significantly altered by the redistribution. The electorate was held by Speaker Neil Andrew, but is now notionally Labor by 1.3 per cent. Andrew is retiring and Martyn Evans, the Labor member for the now abolished seat of Bonython who has seen the new Wakefield absorb much of his seat, is seen as the favoruite.

Liberal David Fawcett, however, is waging a fierce poster war – and the mail is flooding in. One local punter says he has already received three pieces of mail from the Libs – while his newly enrolled daughter has clocked up four.

Staying in the South, Labor candidate for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas, seems to have changed his colours once again. All the Labor posters featuring Georganas in the electorate seem red today – while all those that show Mark Latham look very blue.

In Bass in Tasmania, Labor’s Michelle O’Byrne has fired back with her own postal ballot application form – but it lacks the pizazz of the Liberal offering. Rather than full gloss, she seems to have gone for Home Brand style packaging. Perhaps that plays better in Launceston.
In Macquarie, in the Blue Mountains, Liberal MP Kerry Bartlett has letter-boxed voters with a double-sided cardboard cutout that goes for the subtle approach. The front depicts $431.25 in cash and the reverse tells the sad tale of the Keating years. Hasn’t he heard of the “fistful of dollars” saga?

Peter McGauran is staring down the barrel in Gippsland. The Nats can ill afford to lose any seats, and the Science Minister has been busily telling local punters how much his heart bleeds for the Latrobe Valley. He’s been pork-barrelling like crazy with announcements of $7 million of Natural Heritage Trust funds for the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and a mobile phone tower for Boolarra.

McGauran has also been talking about low unemployment enjoyed by Gippslanders under Howard. “That’ll be the 6.6 % unemployment for the March 2004 quarter, relative to 5.6 % for rural Victoria and 5.7 % for all of Victoria,” our man on the ground says. “Unemployment for Gippsland is up from 6.0 % in the March 2003 quarter, but numbers are such tricky little buggers to understand, especially for a Science Minister.”

Still, McGauran’s message is probably going down better than the policies of the local Greens candidate, Madelon Lane, who spent the first days of the campaign defending Bob Brown’s plan to abolish brown coal-derived energy. That will do wonders for local unemployment. Her alternative industry will do the same. Lane wants to bring a proposed wind farm from Ararat to the Latrobe Valley – the same Latrobe Valley that is notoriously foggy during its many very still winter days.

Saturday, 4 September

A debate? Good Lord! Accountability? The first major skirmish of the campaign, a debate in the nation’s most marginal seat, Solomon, will take place in Parliament House, Darwin, this evening – thanks to a local defence industry based organisation.

Solomon MP Dave Tollner, the Labor Member for the Territory’s other Reps seat, Lingiari, Warren Snowden, and Democrat candidate Duncan Dean will all participate.

The defence industry is vital to the Territory economy and Solomon has the country’s highest percentage of defence personnel, so full marks to the organisers. Here’s hoping for more similar events.

A similar spirit of openness wasn’t present yesterday when the Prime Minister visited the key National marginals of Richmond and Page in northern New South Wales. It was all secret squirrel stuff indeed, with everything kept under wraps. Fear of cheese, no doubt.

The PM didn’t have time to do the local ABC, either, because he was off for tea and bikkies with Ian Causley in his two per cent seat of Page. Causley, however, managed to take time off from setting out the doilies to tell listeners that if they wanted to join him and the PM for a cuppa, all they needed to do was ring his office by 10am and register their name “for safety and security reasons” and that’d be fine. Fine – presumably as long as they weren’t called Bin Laden.

The Labor candidate in Hindmarsh, in South Australia, Steve Georganas, has been telling the electorate for months that he is running a modest campaign with the help of his wife from the kitchen table. That may be so, but the kitchen seems to be in an odd place – a lavish new building on one of the electorate’s busiest intersections. We wonder where Steve’s bathroom is.

Monday, 6 September

Mark Latham was talking up security in Tasmania over the weekend, with his regional airports announcement – and we hear that security is also becoming a significant issue for the state’s most marginal Labor MHR, Bass MP Michelle O’Byrne. Talk claims that O’Byrne is feeling that Bass has been forgotten when Labor strategists have drawn up their campaign road maps.

The election fairy has been sprinkling the voters in the South Australian marginal of Makin with mail that says “The Howard Government’s Trish Draper believes that families are the most important part of our community”. In the wake of her much publicised travel troubles the sheer gall of the idea must have left her political helpless with laughter, because they don’t seem to have got anything of their own into local letterboxes.

Meanwhile, what’s going on up in the top end in the nation’s tightest electorate, Solomon. Our sweaty Darwinite remarks that it’s all
unusually quiet on the northern front: “I guess much of the CLP machinery has dissipated since its loss in the Territory election in 2001,” they put down their Darwin stubby long enough to write. “As a result, it now relies mostly on volunteers rather than the 70-odd advisers it used to have on hand from ministers’ offices.

“Solomon has the highest proportion of Defence workers in the country, so Our Boys are being bombarded by some serious schmoozing raids. Crikey’s favourite dill, Dave Tollner, pushes the ‘Our Boys liberated Iraqi women and kids’ line at every spare moment, while Labor’s Jim Davidson, the engineer who built many of Darwin’s bases, pushes his links to the khaki comrades at least as often.

“At this stage, though, it’s hard to know where the votes are going. The Territory is omitted from most published polling, so the political mood is hard to pick. One thing’s clear: Tollner’s problem with tippling and his support for a nuclear dump hasn’t helped the CLP.”