Getting a political message through to people is no easy matter. When the opinion pollsters tell us that, by and large, Australians are confident about the future despite the world being in its worst economic recession for 80 years, it is clear that more than words are needed to turn thoughts away from the everyday matters of work, family, friends and football. Which is why politicians keep trying to come up with gimmicks that will create the “cut-through” in interest that will let them improve their own career opportunities. I mean, how do you scare someone about government debt when people don’t regard it as anything to do with them?
This week the Liberal Party has resurrected an old idea that worked back in the 1990s in the hope that history might repeat itself. Welcome back debt truck, with its giant billboard that can be constantly updated to illustrate in dramatic fashion how a Labor Government is funding us all living beyond our means. Australians are paying a heavy price for Labor’s reckless spending, said Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull at the unveiling.
Within hours Labor’s Superannuation Minister Chris Bowen was outside Mr Turnbull’s electorate office in Sydney to launch Labor’s very own attempt to get a message on the television. He was launching “Labor’s Supporting Jobs Truck”. No doubt we will be all trucked out by the time this particular game is finished in 18 months time when the next election is held. And it will probably take that long if either message is to finally get through to voters, perhaps even longer. Labor had some success with one of its little political games before the last election Labor when it decided that the time was right to really develop the impression that Mr Howard was a man who, with his history of core and non-core promises going back to his initial electoral victory, was incapable of telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Yet again the side of a bus was the chosen medium for the opening thrust — not because the message would actually be seen by many people but because it gave that very necessary prerequisite for television coverage of a moving picture. The day a new interest rate rise was announced, Pinocchio Howard began touring the streets.
The message was reinforced later when the Labor Party kept bobbing up in Parliament with copies of advertisements that the Liberal Party ran back in 2004. The then Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd got a wonderful run on the nightly television news bulletins as he held up his little posters. There were no ifs, buts or maybes about the words in the ad; The HOWARD GOVERNMENT plan — KEEP INTEREST RATES AT RECORD LOWS.
Mr Howard, by choosing to ignore what his party’s advertisements so clearly said, and maintaining that his only promise was that interest rates under him would be lower than under Labor, managed to increase the credibility of Labor’s attack on his pile of non-core promises.
Using the opponent’s own words, this time dressed up to look every bit like a Liberal Party advertisement, was tried a second time when Labor Party research started showing that people hated what they thought was a constant claim by Mr Howard that “Working families in Australia have never been better off.” Well, in truth, the PM had said that once but in the year before the election it was members of the Labor party who kept repeating it ad nauseam. This little campaign worked a treat. Research showed that even those Australians who were better off did not like politicians reminding them of it.”
Not that all of these attempts to get a message across are successful. In 1988, I rather painfully recall, those of us running the NSW Labor Party campaign were in desperate trouble and needed to back a 1000/1 winner to avoid an ignominious defeat. John Singleton was given the task of devising the impossible television advertisement that would convince the people of Sydney that Nick Greiner as Premier would be causing them great pain as their benefits were devoured. The result was the ugliest octopus you have ever seen with its tentacles capable of reaching into everyone’s pocket.
We unveiled the beast to hoots of derision from assembled journalists and received a great deal of free air play, but all we proved is that 1000 to one winners are hard to find.