In the battle of Rooty Hill, Tony Abbott came out on top.
Nestled amongst the marginal seats of Western Sydney, Rooty Hill RSL was the destination for a town-hall style public forum, with both leaders facing questions from the Galaxy-picked swinging voter audience. The audience voted with gaming chips, with Abbott grabbing the win with 71-59 votes.
Most of the commentariat was glowing in its praise of Abbott’s performance but some questions were raised about the balance of the audience and how Gillard was drilled.
Abbott was a man with confidences, argue Tom Dusevic and Sid Maher in The Australian:
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“Tony Abbott casually took to the floor at the people’s forum at the Rooty Hill RSL Club last night and won over some undecided folk of Sydney’s west. In a spirited and confident performance at a venue where he once boxed, the Opposition Leader marked himself as a man at ease in the suburbs and a leader who would not only listen, but would solve their problems: from health to congestion, drug abuse to the rising cost of living.”
Abbott’s best move was stepping off the stage to stand amongst the audience. “The night belonged to Tony Abbott as soon as he stepped off the stage, a moment of pure theatre, and declared he ‘did these sorts of meetings all the time.’ Time and again he was applauded by the audience, time and again Mr Abbott sounded more direct, more straightforward, more empathetic,” writes James Massola in The Oz.
Were the audience already in Abbott’s favour? “He got a wolf whistle from a far more receptive crowd. Joining the participants on the floor rather than on the stage drew applause — and cynical groans,” says Samantha Maiden in The Oz.
Gillard can blame the NSW Labor government for the bad response. “Tony Abbott tapped deep-seated anger towards the NSW Labor Government in a town hall forum in western Sydney last night that could deliver him much-needed momentum in the final week of the Federal election campaign,” writes Shane Wright in the West Australian.
He got easier questions from a more enthusiastic crowd, suggests Tony Wright in The Age:
“Ms Gillard found herself assailed by hostile questions about Kevin Rudd’s removal as prime minister, why she wouldn’t support gay marriage, how it was possible to believe she might serve a full term considering Mr Rudd’s short time at the top, and why her promise of yesterday to build a railway in Sydney’s west should be believed, considering all the broken promises of the NSW state Labor Government.
Ms Gillard handled the fusillade with her grace, but there was no doubt she wasn’t getting rave reviews from this crowd.
Mr Abbott didn’t have it all his own way either, but if he was a crooner, his manager would be rushing out to sign him up for more shows in front of audiences like this. The very first question was a gift, concerning the cost of living and whether it would get worse under an emissions trading scheme (which, of course, Mr Abbott opposes). The next questioner noted he was a Rhodes Scholar. Abbott’s only real critics seemed unimpressed by his opposition to and lack of understanding of a National Broadband Network, one fellow was upset about video games censorship and another who wanted to know whether Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull could return if there was no action on climate change by 2011.”
Perhaps voters are still trying to figure out the real Tony Abbott, wonders Dylan Welch in The Sydney Morning Herald. “The audience took a more inquisitive line with Abbott, less interested in the finer details of policies and more keen for him to elucidate who he was.”
It’s not easy to get a true swinging voter audience, says Annabel Crabb at The Drum: “Monitors of the soft-ball questions, who did not fail to clock the young Liberal, were quick to claim the audience was weighted against Ms Gillard.”
Going first didn’t help Gillard, says Nikolaos Stavrou in the local rag Penrith Press:
“I personally believe Ms Gillard was disadvantaged by the structure of the forum — with her inquisitors allowed to waffle on a bit too long. Of course, she was guilty of that herself — using a bit too much jargon and political speak that made her answers way longer than they should have been.
By the time Mr Abbott was being addressed, organisers had worked out a way to speed up the questioning process thus allowing him to answer many more questions than Ms Gillard did.”
The only time political spin disappeared was when normal voters asked questions, not when the pollies spoke, says Paul Kent in The Daily Telegraph: “Political campaigns have long stopped being about determining the best candidate. They are about theatre. Image. Slogans. This one breaks new ground for being light on even that. Witness the dull imaginations of the two party leaders.”
But it’s these people, the swinging voters in the audience, who will decide our next PM. “There are times when it appears that this election campaign is no more than a contest to win the hearts and minds of a handful of drunks in the front bar of a pub in the western suburbs of Sydney,” laments Mungo Maccullum in The Age.
But it wasn’t just the audience who named Abbott as winner, reports Simon Benson and Gemma Jones in the The Daily Telegraph:
“And while a post-forum secret ballot of the 200 swinging voters gave Mr Abbott a narrow victory by 35.5 per cent to 30 per cent, it did not give him the knockout blow he was looking for, with 34.5 per cent still undecided. But the margin among the 39,000 readers who watched the forum on The Daily Telegraph‘s website was overwhelmingly in Mr Abbott’s favour, with 74 per cent of respondents giving him the victory.”
Too bad for Abbott that only a tiny percentage of Australians watched. “Tony Abbott will be regretting last night’s town hall forum was not on prime time free-to-air television. He easily outshone Julia Gillard but only a small pay-TV audience saw it,” notes Andrew Probyn in the West Australian.
Rooty Hill wasn’t the only battle of the day, with the health debate between Nicola Roxon and Peter Dutton also garnering some attention.
“Nicola Roxon was considered by some the favourite to emerge the victor from yesterday’s clash with the more laidback Peter Dutton,” writes Adam Creswell in The Oz. “In fact, the event was a strangely subdued affair, lacking any knockout blows or even many particularly telling lines — perhaps a minor victory for Dutton in itself.”
Betting agencies still have Gillard on to win the election. “Which means, close though it may prove, Labor should get home in its own right by at least one seat which is why Julia Gillard is favourite to win,” reports Stephen Senise in The Oz.
If the result is a hung parliament the three sitting independent MPs Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott will meet to decide the PM, reveal Dennis Shanahan and Brendan Nicholson in The Oz. “The decision will be made in a ‘lockdown’ meeting based on demands that include a ban on banana imports and breaking up the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths.”
As if this election wasn’t already bananas.