The nation’s political hacks, well-rested after summer soujourns, launched into action yesterday following the Prime Minister’s shock announcement. While many of the pundits who gathered at the National Press Club regard their prognostication skills highly, no one expected to hear an election date.

Gillard’s spinners had leaked the key points of her speech to the newspapers the night before — minus the kicker lines about the election date. The Daily Telegraph‘s Simon Benson managed to scoop the PM by a matter of minutes, tweeting the election date while the PM was still clearing her throat.

Sky News, experiencing a collective wet dream, was quick to roll out its taking heads. Remarkably, Sky analyst and former Coalition staffer Chris Kenny thought Gillard’s move a mistake. “I’m bemused by it all; I don’t know what to say,” said Graham Richardson, before preceding to talk about the announcement at length.

Government ministers have complained loudly about the treatment dished out to them by The Tele, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. But it’s the Herald Sun that sticks the boot in on its front page by declaring the marathon poll a “227 DAY FARCE”. The nation’s babies, apparently, are on red alert.

Terry McCrann, set free from the business pages, was unimpressed. Tezza reckons an April poll would have been better:

“There’s no way that the next half-year can be anything other than an extended election campaign, with all its hyperventilation and suspension of substantive, sensible policy discussion and decision-making.”

Star columnist Andrew Bolt reckons it a “desperate” move:

“There is no way Gillard would have called an unprecedented eight-month election campaign if she’d thought Labor could win a snap election before then … Gillard is in awful strife, and has little to hope for with Parliament resuming next week.”

Over at Fairfax, copysharing went into overdrive. The news story by Mark Kenny and Lenore Taylor — both nominally from The Sydney Morning Herald — led The Age‘s front page, leaving doyenne Michelle Grattan to occupy the opinion page. Age veterans Tony Wright and Michael Gordon both popped up in the SMH. It appears to be the new normal for the broadsheets as they race towards a tabloid future.

The AFR, meanwhile, devotes a whopping seven pages of coverage to Gillard’s announcement. Political editor Laura Tingle can see the upside: “By putting the date out there, the Prime Minister maximises the time in which, as she put it she looks like she is governing rather than campaigning.”

The Oz gives the story two full pages but reserves pride of place for an exclusive on changes to new racial discrimination laws. Brisbane’s Courier Mail found a local angle by featuring a photo of Kevin Rudd holding a chainsaw on its front page.

The announcement of the election date, of course, had to jostle with the day’s other big story: Gillard’s hipster glasses. The prime ministerial specs, The Tele reckons, sent a message of “authority, intelligence and being in command”. Meanwhile her “bold but feminine” suit showed she is not “trying to be a bloke”. And her “fresh-faced and relaxed” make up was designed “not to distract from the main game”.

Fairfax’s Judith Ireland hopped onto Twitter to test the nation’s pulse, concluding: “Not since John Howard went rimless had Australia witnessed such a major politico-ocular event.”

The NT News, as is its wont, decided to pretend the announcement didn’t happen. The only mention of the bombshell appears on page 11, with a story noting the Greens were given a heads-up before the speech.

Peter Fray

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