After weeks to prepare, the Prime Minister’s performance at his election news conference was inexplicably poor. This is where incumbency is supposed to count, yet his speech was all over the place. It lacked any flow or thrust, and seemed composed of disparate elements hastily stitched together.

He tried to combat the age issue and Labor’s slogan with “it’s not about old or new leadership, it’s about the right leadership”, a line so clunky it recalled the splendid “incentivation”. He played up Labor’s union links, and then returned to that point later, in a manner that suggested not so much a desire to emphasise as a worry that he’d forgotten to mention it. And most bizarrely, he tried to deal with the leadership transition issue by noting how settled he, Costello and Downer were in their jobs.

His office also needs to get its act together. The press conference was held in the Ministerial courtyard on a day of swirling Canberra wind that occasionally distorted the sound, rustled his notes and threw him off. Poor planning.

The only interesting announcement was one of those faux-commitments, to an unemployment rate of ~3%, carefully expressed so that there was no possibility of future accountability. How this would be achieved wasn’t spelt out – though the most obvious way is a further round of industrial relations reform, which apparently is not on offer.

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Howard deliberately returned several times to his purported volte-face on indigenous issues. Like the claim that only Nixon could go to China, he appears to be claiming that only he can achieve reconciliation, by bringing conservative Australia along with him. Admittedly, Howard has always had the political morality of Nixon, if none of his strategic vision. But this doesn’t seem to be an argument that’s going to engage Daily Telegraph readers.

No mention of interest rates, however, until prodded a couple of times by journalists, at which point he claimed that he always took responsibility for what occurred “under my watch”. On that basis, we presumably can expect his belated resignation over children overboard and AWB.

In his response, Rudd started poorly, too – stiff and stilted, with seemingly pre-programmed hand movements and a compulsion to say “new leadership” twice every sentence. You hope they’ve rigorously focus-tested that “new leadership” line – it’s one of those phrases that makes less sense the more you think about it.

Eventually Rudd loosened up and got going on his main theme of the education revolution, but his speech ran like a Greatest Hits collection from the past six months, with favourite lines about the Prime Minister’s cleverness and Costello being out of touch. Further, he made the rather precious point of whingeing in advance about the Coalition’s negative campaign. Get over it, Kev.

His address had more direction and life than Howard’s, primarily because he had a simple list of key goals, but it is plain from both speeches that we are hardly living in an era of great political oratory.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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