Health Minister Tony Abbott has a wonderful way with words. Consider this offering in three parts about the nature of the forthcoming election campaign. Mr Abbott, appearing yesterday morning on the ABC program The Insiders said for a start: “I don’t think it’ll be a personal campaign.”

Clear and to the point and totally in accordance with his next statement: “I think it’ll be about policies.”

So there, you might think, we have the definition of an intelligent campaign where the debate will be all about the issues. But then Mr Abbott added his definition of policies, which just happens to be “about a person’s character and capacity to govern.”

So now we know that the campaign, which will not be personal, will be about a person’s character and capacity! Doublespeak at its very best.

I thought Stephen Loosely, the former Labor apparatchik turned Senator turned corporate lawyer, put it very nicely in his Sunday Telegraph column. He reminded us of the stories about Rudd’s account of his young life in Queensland being questioned; then the suggestion that the Rudd family’s eviction from the family farm was a fabrication. Move on a month or two and his wife Theresa Rein’s business interests were probed away at. A drunken night at Scores nightclub and then a reminder about the Labor leader’s heart surgery. Then Loosley put these attacks in to context:

The Karl Rove playbook for the Republican Party Right in America always focuses on questioning a candidate’s character. Trawl through an opponent’s past, then seek to destroy the opponent personality.

The political culture in Canberra is utterly toxic.

Just how toxic was displayed in the same newspaper that day under the headlines: “PLAYING DIRTY —
Labor under fire over gay smear”.

Glenn Milne, once again showing a propensity to dive to depths that most press gallery journalists find too dangerous, wrote how Labor has been accused of circulating a dirt file alleging a married Coalition minister visits gay bathhouses and s-xually harasses other men. “The Federal Government is blaming the Opposition for distributing the document, which also claims the minister’s wife is known within the Liberal Party as a ‘beard’ — a term for someone acting as a cover for a gay man”, Milne wrote.

I must say that the story surprised me because when I was told the gossip weeks ago about a male minister engaging in a little homos-xual hanky-panky, the gossiper was not a Labor Party man. On Nine’s Sunday program Laurie Oakes said he was given details by a Liberal.

That seemed to make Prime Minister John Howard quite angry. “I’m not interested in that sort of politics,” Mr Howard said. “I’m interested in a debate on this country’s future and I won’t be responsible for any smear and I reject completely any suggestion that I have or my government has.”

Mr Howard has good reason to be concerned about all of this talk of smears and personal attacks. For several months now Labor has been predicting that a government dirty tricks campaign is on the way. It is a tactic that probably has more people believing that the Government is to blame than would have been the case without the predictions.

That is not good politics. Clearly negative politics costs votes rather than winning them.

Perhaps Mr Howard should get his Health Minister to change his definition of “policies” before it really is too late for a Coalition revival.