Impact of a natural disaster on campaigning. Bob Hawke was a politician who knew how to handle himself during a natural disaster. Back in 1983 he gained real electoral momentum from the bushfires that ravaged Victoria and South Australia just as the campaign was getting under way. And he did it by doing virtually nothing.

While Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was rushing hither and thither trying to look in charge, Hawke the challenger just made one dignified statement before retiring from public view. He extended his sympathy to those who had lost family, friends and possessions and said he would postpone campaigning for as long as the Prime Minister had to be prime ministerial.

I remember at the time there were some of his advisory team who wanted their man to be seen out at the front with the fire fighters but that masterful reader of the public mood knew there was more to be gained by not grand standing. In the United States with the hurricane crisis, neither candidate seems to have handled things as well as Hawke did.

Senator John McCain clearly wanted to avoid reviving memories of just how badly a Republican administration handled the last flooding of New Orleans but by attempting to look presidential by flying to the scene and postponing the Republican convention he probably achieved just the opposite.

Calling off the convention circus was clearly the right thing to do but letting President Bush get on with things on his own would surely have been the better strategy. Barack Obama also had two dimes each way. He kept to his pre-planned schedule (a Hawke would have scrapped it) while avoiding direct criticism of his opponent.

A plodder and a thoroughbred. Two first speeches in the Senate yesterday.

Senator Mark Furner, Labor Queensland. He might have held paid positions in three trade unions but the new Senator Furner but he worked in the transport industry for 12 years before being elected to the first of them. After stints as an organiser with the Transport Workers Union and an industrial officer with the Queensland Police Union (his father had been a policeman, his mother a nurse), he became first an organizer and then branch secretary of the National Union of Workers. His was a maiden speech without much flair, just the predictable thank you to family and friends and those who helped him along the way in the trade union movement and the Labor Party. Senator Furner is unlikely to be one of the intellectual heavyweights of the Parliament.

4 out of 10.

Senator Michaelia Cash, Liberal, Western Australia. Here the Parliament clearly has a new member of substance. Senator Cash’s was a well rounded speech combining all the requisite niceties while getting on with some substance. Clearly she is in the well established West Australian tradition of federalism. She believes in it and while, as a trained lawyer, she accepts the change in powers of the Commonwealth due to High Court interpretation:

I believe that we, as senators, must always pay proper regard to the constitutional compact as it was originally conceived. Wherever it is consistent with good policy, we should seek to make decisions that, whilst reflecting the national interest, uphold and respect the interests of the states. As former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies was heard to say after a fiery and contentious Premiers Conference, ‘Six state premiers send me up the wall, but I would not have it any other way because it is our insurance against dictatorship’.

That Senator Cash promised to do her bit to subject legislation to rigorous impact analysis was not surprising, the interest she displayed in renewable energy perhaps was. She told the Senate she is convinced that the huge tidal movements in the Kimberley region make tidal power a feasible energy option for the region. The Greens Leader Bob Brown will at least have something to talk about with someone at a different end of the political spectrum as he too would argue that:

“…what is currently missing in the tidal energy option is the necessary start-up support at a national level—support which will be repaid many times over once tidal power is producing competitive energy.”

8 out of 10