With so much ammunition available to both sides, it comes as no surprise to find the WA election campaign dominated by negative advertising.
Liberal mailouts have depicted Alan Carpenter projecting Brian Burke’s shadow onto a wall, while the six radio ads on the party’s website feature one Whingeing Wendy after another (in an interesting inversion of the situation in the party room, two-thirds of the voices are female).
For a party caught on the hop by an early election after a term consumed by leadership turmoil, such tactics might have been an operational necessity.
The positive side of the Liberal campaign has won few admirers: policy announcements have been either re-heated or half-baked, with this week’s showpiece tax cut package criticised as both too modest and lacking in detail.
The one television ad promoting Colin Barnett’s leadership qualities is either a conscious attempt to project an image of bland competence, or it indicates of an even greater personality deficit than first feared.
The party’s newer ad is more consistent with the tenor of the campaign, inviting viewers to spend a silent 30 seconds trying to think of “three good things Alan Carpenter’s Labor has done in eight years of boom”.
However, it’s been Labor’s tactics that have emerged as an election issue as the race enters the home stretch.
On Wednesday the party launched an online dirt sheet called TruthAboutTroy.com, focusing on the colourful life and times of former leader and current Shadow Treasurer Troy Buswell.
This was hardly the first time a made-to-order website had been used to attack political opponents, or even enemies within (most memorably in the case of the anti-Ted Baillieu website that was traced to Victorian Liberal Party headquarters).
A Liberal-authorised federal election site called unionbosses.net continues to greet visitors with tales of “union thuggery”, “dirty tricks” and “Labor’s union links”, along with audio of former ALP member Dean Mighell employing intemperate language while addressing ETU members.
However, the intensely personal attack on Buswell came at a time when concern over the campaign’s increasingly negative tone was ready to crystallise.
It took only a short sharp talk radio backlash for Alan Carpenter to order that the site be pulled, with state secretary and safe seat candidate Bill Johnston sent out to face the music from a hostile Russell Woolf on ABC Radio.
It was a different story earlier on in the campaign, when Labor took advantage of the Liberals’ unpreparedness to saturate Olympics schedules with ads promoting the government’s past achievements and future plans.
With the website episode threatening to reinforce perceptions of arrogance and cynicism, it might be time for Labor to dust off its positive message in the final week of the campaign, shop-worn though it may be.