“It was a terrible thing that that Julia Gillard did yesterday to that motel owner in Goulburn. Fancy making unfair allegations like that about a battling business without even bothering to check the facts. And as for that Kevin Rudd, he is a complete hypocrite. Carrying on about stopping the poor old worker being ripped off while his missus does away with the penalty rates and overtime of her own staff. Talk about double standards.”

“That sexist pig Hockey is putting the boot into Kevin Rudd’s wife now. What’s she got to do with federal politics? Making up bull about her not paying people what they should get under the award. A desperate attempt to cover up the truth about that Lilac Motel taking away penalty rates and things with one of those AWAs. It’s not Hockey’s fat face that’s ugly, it’s what he stands for!”

Those differing interpretations of the latest industrial relations news, given to me over coffee yesterday in suburban Canberra, were a valuable reminder not to get too excited about the significance of individual events when it comes to changing political opinions. The comments by my Liberal-leaning and my Labor-leaning friends, both charming and quite intelligent fellows, were a wonderful illustration of the way we all interpret events through the filter of our own prejudices.

For most of us, most of the time, the message we take from what we read and hear is exactly the one we want. We begin with a conclusion and very rarely are we influenced by argument to change it.

That’s the reason I believe John Howard is in so much electoral trouble with his WorkChoices changes. For whatever reason, a considerable number of people became convinced that the IR changes were unfair. Whether it was the drip, drip, drip of anecdotal evidence that flowed from the ACTU advertising or the real and imagined experience of friends and neighbours that caused the change I know not.

The evidence that the pollsters give us, however, is that changing that view now that it is formed, is no easy task.