Two signs of desperation from the Liberals yesterday. Is panic finally setting in?

First, voters in marginal seats are to get pre-recorded phone spam from John Howard and Peter Costello. Now, admittedly, marginal voters can’t complain. They get showered with taxpayers’ money and exercise a disproportionate influence over Australia’s politics, due essentially to the fact that they’re selfish bastards who vote entirely with their hip-pocket. A few pre-recorded dinner time interruptions from Howard and Costello are a small price to pay.

Hopefully, like any half-decent marketing call, John and Peter will first assure the householder that they are definitely calling from Sydney or Melbourne, despite the clammer of Mumbai traffic in the background.

Someone, somewhere, must have research showing that this tactic – yet another iniquitous import from the United States – works. It’s counter-intuitive to think that someone would not merely not be enraged by this sort of thing, but would actually allow it to influence their vote. Then again, these are swinging voters we’re dealing with. Maybe the Liberals should just phone them and play the sounds of cash registers.

It also contradicts the purpose of the Government’s Do Not Call register (remember that?). However, given that Helen Coonan’s half-baked scheme exempts just about everyone from its operation, and most particularly politicians, it’s entirely appropriate the Liberals should be cold-calling people themselves.

Not that Labor can complain. It has phone-spammed voters itself in the past. Perhaps it should try some Julia Gillard calls. They might be popular. Better yet, get Paul Keating to make some. A lot of us would pay good money to pick up a phone and hear a good old-fashioned Keating spray. It’d feel just like being a Press Gallery journalist in the 80s.

Andrew Robb is also flagging that the Coalition will challenge successful ALP candidates who have resigned from government authorities. This looks defeatist and desperate. Robb, more than anyone else, should remember the example of Ross Free. Free in 1996 lost Lindsay to Jackie Kelly, the profoundly unpleasant Howard favourite who, coward that she is, is retiring this year before she can be booted out. Free won a challenge in the Court of Disputed Returns against Kelly, who promptly thumped him in the ensuing by-election.

Even the least informed and interested voters dislike parties trying to use technicalities to overturn the electoral outcome.

But in the end, this may be the Liberals’ only option. Yesterday was a wasted day. The evening news bulletins were again dominated by the Workchoices-conspiracy-that-isn’t. Memo to the Liberals – the last week of a campaign is for running your own scare campaign, not your opponent’s.

It’s bizarre that a long-running FOI case happens to culminate this week. But it’s entirely consistent with the rest of the election campaign, and the rest of the year. Pretty much every sin this Government has committed in the last eleven years has come back to haunt it in one form or another. That’s a key reason why a Government that should be cruising a resources boom to victory is facing a wipe out.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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