Tony Abbott made the big contribution to the election campaign yesterday but before getting too carried away with the significance of it all it pays to remember that what most people see, hear and read during an election campaign is what they want to see, hear and read. Staunch Liberal voters will dismiss the significance of events that staunch Labor voters believe should be turning points.  

The days up until 24 November are about influencing the views of a minority, who probably have little interest at all in political events, capable of changing an opinion or forced by compulsory voting to form one for the first time.

Now a Federal Health Minister verbally abusing a dying man equipped with breathing apparatus in his wheel chair is not a good look. There is no doubt who gets the sympathy vote under such circumstances but people are a forgiving lot as well and saying sorry gets merit marks.

Tony Abbott realised soon enough that describing the motives of terminally-ill asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton as being “not pure” wasn’t a good idea however accurate it was to call the attempt to present a petition as being “a stunt”. Being the decent man he is, Abbott picked up the phone himself and did the required groveling which Mr Banton, another decent man, gracefully accepted.

There the matter would have ended if this was not the middle of an election campaign where the interest of the press in the Health Minister was compounded by other events on the same day. The big sin of Mr Abbott was to stand up the National Press Club by being late for a nationally televised debate with his opposite number Ms Nicola Roxon MP. The audience for events like this during an election campaign might be minuscule but they are a big deal for the health reporters and second string talking heads of television.

That hell has no fury like a journalist scorned was demonstrated by last night’s television coverage of Ms Roxon debating the empty chair. And for good measure Mr Abbott gave those nasty television cameramen the bonus of capturing him using a very moderate swear word that surely in this day and age actually would offend no-one. In these days of directional microphones a politician cannot escape with even a “bullshxt” muttered under his breath.

So it was that swearing at a woman joined insulting a cripple in the litany of Abbott offences that made for a rattling good yarn.

But wait! There’s more! To round out a trio of mea culpas there was a need to explain the mess-up which was preventing the planned takeover by the Federal Government of the Mersey Hospital.

The combination guaranteed that the day ended as a damaging one for the Coalition but it is unfair to blame Mr Abbott entirely for that.

The debacle of being late for the NPC was clearly the fault of the geniuses who thought at the time it would be a good idea to pre-empt the announcement on health policy that Kevin Rudd planned to make in Brisbane with a Coalition announcement in Melbourne. Mr Abbott was ordered to attend to support the Prime Minister in announcing some seemingly sensible policies that would have nurses visit old people in their own homes so that they did not have to visit hospitals. No-one in the Liberal campaign planning team had the nous to realise that the timing was such that their man would be late for his debate and that this lateness would completely overshadow everything the PM said.

Mr Abbott, I suppose, should have realised that the PM’s team would get it wrong because they were the same lot who devised the takeover of the Mersey as a way of gaining support in the marginal Tasmanian seat of Braddon. He knew that was a silly idea at the time too but could do nothing to stop it.

And the end result is that all the good work Mr Abbott has done over many years to stop health policy being Labor’s strong point is coming undone. All the effort to stop people being concerned about a Coalition

Coalition ALP
Television 0.68 2.42
Newspapers 0.06 0.31
Radio 0.17 0.64
Internet 0.00 0.38
TOTAL 0.91 3.75

You will find details of the way the Daily Verdict is compiled, with the help of raw material provided by our friends at Media Monitors, on the Crikey website.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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