If you’ve read any media reports from yesterday’s ALP launch, you’ll be aware it was a no-frills, unglamorous affair.
In fact, it’s hard to overstate just how unglamorous it was. They couldn’t have got any plainer than if they’d headed down to the nearest park and watched Julia Gillard speak from a bench.
“Launch”, by the way, is clearly a misnomer. This was more a campaign finale. Party launches have been creeping later and later to take advantage of taxpayer funding, but this one took the cake. I suspect, until our politicians change the way the public funds their election campaigns, we’ll see them as late as this on a regular basis.
But it was a plain room — no tiered seating, no adornments, none of the carefully-positioned stage furniture that provided the backdrop to Tony Abbott’s launch last week. Not even any audio-visual material. The only thing in common with the Liberals’ launch, apart from being located in Brisbane, was that both had children singing the national anthem. And no teleprompter for Gillard. Her media adviser Russell Mahoney had been into the media room before the event to assure journalists the Prime Minister would be speaking off-the-cuff (and, therefore logically, from the heart, but that remained unsaid). Transcribers were standing by in Canberra, Mahoney said, to take down the speech as quickly as possible and get it out to the press once it was finished. That turned out to be rubbish, as Fairfax revealed this morning when it showed the script of Gillard’s speech on the lectern. This lack of artifice was, it turned out, entirely artificial.
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The only real surprise, the one moment when something happened that didn’t look fully scripted, was when Kevin Rudd appeared and the room rose to give him a brief standing ovation, although I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that was led by volunteers with strict orders to get on their feet when the former PM entered the room.
It wasn’t actually a bad speech, even if Gillard’s delivery of it was hardly one of her better performances. None of it was new, but it cleverly wove together her own values with what passes for the narrative in Labor’s inept campaign, focussing on the value of work and education and the importance of health services. The combination of health and the NBN was a clunky attempt to maximise Labor’s advantage in those areas, but at least it’s sound policy and, compared to Tony Abbott’s central campaign launch vision of throwing the book at people smugglers and picking up the phone to the president of Nauru, it looked positively visionary.
Frank Sartor used to say, from his time as Minister overseeing oncological services in NSW, that one of the problems facing regional communities was that area specialists just didn’t see the volume of cancer cases that specialists in metropolitan doctors did, and that it was much better to aggregate health services and get people to come to them, because it meant better treatment from more skilled and knowledgeable specialists. Gillard’s announcement yesterday might at least partially expedite that process of better linking up patients from rural and regional communities and the best specialists in areas like oncology.
But rather than somehow contrast effectively with the jubilation of Tony Abbott’s coronation a week earlier, the affair seemed to sum up everything that has gone wrong with Labor’s campaign, indeed with this whole Government. The lack of inspiration, an assassination that not merely offed one Prime Minister but seems to have done the same to the old, fiery Julia Gillard, the careful contrivance that was quickly unmasked, the effort to find a clever “gamechanger” announcement. We’ve seen this from Labor so often.
Maybe, as Dennis Atkins suggested this morning, it was pitched at TV and much more successful in that medium. And at least it doesn’t look like actually slowing the momentum of Labor’s campaign like Tony Abbott’s launch did to his. But more than few in yesterday’s audience, whether senior minister or faithful party volunteer, must have wondered how it had come to this, five days out, victory in serious doubt.