“He ain’t pretty, but he’s pretty effective.”

With these immortal words, Tony Abbott summed up the state Liberal campaign in a sentence;  Barry O’Farrell, the King of the small targets, will Get Things Done.

Thank goodness for Abo, though, as he brought a bit of life into what was this century’s most soporific election launch. You can tell he writes his own speeches, as no political staffer would dare to write a line like that.

“Let’s be very clear, NSW Labor and the federal Labor are the Siamese twins of Australian politics. Now, as you know, the Labor Party says it’s against privilege, particularly hereditary privilege, but a flowchart of the connections between the NSW Labor government and the Federal government looks like the genealogy of the Bourbon kings of Europe.”

What is particularly good about Tony is the way he rocks back and forth on the balls of his feet as he talks, as if he’s about to let fly with a left hook.

“Truly, truly, this is the worst government of NSW since Captain Bligh was deposed by the Rum Rebellion.”

The audience, bussed into Penrith from Liberal campaigns around the state, lapped it up, although I did notice that Malcolm Turnbull was clapping in the polite way you do when someone else’s child beats yours to the finish line.

Penrith is now officially the centre of the election campaign, thanks to Stuart Ayres’ incredible 25% swing in the by-election last June. Ayres, who is friendly and telegenic, will surely be rewarded with a Ministry, and yesterday morning’s policy leak included promises for more high-speed trains to the area.

Actually, I was the only member of the press corps who didn’t complain about going to Penrith, because I had been there since 6am, watching my daughter row at the Regatta Centre. I am now spending so much time in Penrith that I even buttonholed Ayres for a hotel recommendation, which he was happy to give. By the time the rowing season finishes, I’ll be eligible to vote there.

Apart from Abo, the other highlight was the new Liberal ad. One of them is excellent, showing a lot of video of Kristina Keneally apologizing for various Labor cock-ups, set to the tune of the Tracy Chapman song, Baby Can I Hold You.

Sorry
Is all that you can’t say,
Years gone by and still,
Words don’t come easily,
Like sorry,
Like sorry.

Forgive me
Is all that you can’t say,
Years gone by and still,
Words don’t come easily,
Like forgive me,
Forgive me.

The ad ends with a rousing chorus from that great Timbaland song, “It’s too late to apologize,” which had us all giggling. The second ad, however, is a shocker, showing a lot of ethnically-diverse, clean cut people nodding their heads to a campaign jingle that sounds like one of Singo’s beer ads.

Nationals leader Andrew Stoner followed Abo, but his speech was so predictable I quickly zoned out, focussing on what everyone was wearing. Margie Abbott’s black and white animal-print silk shirtdress was the outfit of the day, and Mrs Stoner has nailed the Eastern Suburbs real estate agent look — cream fitted jacket, pencil skirt and heels. But Mrs O does need some advice. Underneath that coral shirt and mid-calf, brightly-patterned A-line skirt is a very attractive woman; Carla Zampatti, make the call.

Then we had a couple of people who had done the Kokoda Track with Bazza in 2008 (“he’ll go the distance”) and finally the man himself took the stage. He received a standing ovation, but the minute he opened his mouth, the energy levels dropped. Is 16 years too long to wait for your heart’s desire? Is he now so terrified of blowing it that he’s paralysed?

Instead of a rousing call to action, we got a list of promises that were so dull I found myself longing for Barry Unsworth.

Power bills, fast trains, police stations, is this what state politics is reduced to — a laundry list of focus-group findings? Where’s the vision, the passion? Why is the campaign just “It’s Time” rather than “Vote for Us Because We are the Best”? With respect to the good people of Western Sydney, when it comes to a change of government,  I’d like to feel a little more excitement. At least God wasn’t mentioned, although considering the trouble the Libs have gotten into lately on matters of religion, that was probably deliberate.

Finally, Barry finished, he raised his index finger for the TV cameras (number one!) and a mere eight hours after watching the sun come up over the Sydney International Regatta Centre, I could go home. It’s good of Kristina to schedule the election on March 26, which is in fact the same day at the Schoolgirls Head of the River. This means that in only 33 days time, I will get to spend another very long day in Penrith. Actually, that high-speed train is starting to look like a winner.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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