Until John Howard came along, a bald-headed party leader had not won a general election in Britain or Australia since the television era began. It seemed to reflect, in the words of a BBC commentator, the potent cocktail of associations “that connects hair with power, attractiveness and vitality.”

With a receding forehead that met an expanding bald spot at an early age I was delighted that our PM broke the pattern but watching Peter Garrett on last night’s television debate, I could not help wondering whether his totally hairless look was just too disconcerting.

Experience studying focus groups has taught me how little television viewers actually take in the words they are listening to. Judgments are more likely to be made on how someone looks than on what they said.

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Not that it mattered to those looking at Garrett and the well-coiffed Malcolm Turnbull on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. There was nothing in the words that was particularly startling. Both men uttered their lines with calm assurance and the victory, like beauty, was in the eyes of the beholder.

The sceptics who think global warming is all a bit overstated would have gone for the distinguished grey look. The concerned citizens worried about the future of the world would have found the nude-nutted ageing rock star to their liking.

On balance, and with all the reluctance you would expect from a baldy, my vote goes to Peter Garrett not just because of this television appearance but because of memories of a music man with plenty of power, attractiveness and vitality.

During his first week in Parliament as a senior Labor spokesman, Garrett showed a serious concern about environmental matters without rhetorical flourish. There was no hesitation, however, about putting a scare in to his own constituents with a question to Turnbull about Sydney University research showing that rising sea levels could lead to erosion extending up to 70 metres inland from the promenade at Bondi Beach.

If there is going to be a global warming scare campaign between now and the next election, it will not only be looks that Labor brings to it.

The question is to what extent will people believe that such terrible things really could happen. Here, the credibility of the two major party spokespeople will be put to the test.

Dire consequences like the disappearance of Bondi Beach are years away but it’s only months until the election.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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