Mar 1, 2013

Keane’s week in review: Gillard journeys west, without Monkey

Labor's western Sydney strategy makes sense but isn't likely to be any more successful than the Howard government's last gasp efforts to save itself.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Why is the PM heading to western Sydney next week? Well, the answer is obvious, surely -- because Labor is badly on the nose there. With the current state of the the polls, you might wonder why Gillard is even bothering, particularly when the media is as febrile in its political reporting as it has ever been, or worse. News Limited is now engaged in virtually open warfare with Labor. One of its press gallery journalists this week devoted an entire article to discussing a Liberal Party attack ad, which helpfully autoplayed over the story. Liberally (sorry) quoting from the ad, which is simply a collection of out-of-context grabs from Labor figures, the journalist enthused that it was "powerful," that it could be "devastatingly effective" and that "Labor will be fighting itself". "The ad is by the same team that did the 'Kevin-o-Lemon' videos, which insiders believe played a role in Kevin Rudd's downfall as prime minister." And there we were thinking it was the faceless men and the miners who brought him down. But look more closely at the polls: based on the state-by-state polling done by Essential in January and February, Labor appears set to lose nine seats. It stands to lose five in NSW (add Dobell to that tally, even though it's on a 5.1% margin), three in Victoria (but I reckon Labor will get back Melbourne from Adam Bandt) and one in Queensland. To that, I'd add at least one in Tasmania, and maybe two. For some Labor figures, this is a decidedly optimistic scenario: they're looking at the polls and sensing a rout of the kind that voters inflicted on NSW Labor in 2011 or on Keating in 1996. Labor's primary vote has almost certainly deteriorated a couple of points since Essential did its state-by-state polling, but we only have national figures for that. The broader point is, all but one of those five NSW seats that will be currently lost are in western Sydney. Thus, if you're going to make the best use of resources, targeting western Sydney makes eminent sense for Labor. It's reminiscent of the Howard government's political strategy in its dying days -- try to hold on to targeted seats in the face of a big swing against it in the hope of losing the vote but staying in government. Add to that that Sydney is now the centre of the Australian media industry, and in the Daily Telegraph and 2GB's Ray Hadley, two of the government's foremost media opponents build their entire business model around purporting to represent the interests of western Sydney. Thus we now have our own political equivalent of the Chinese classic Journey To The West, with Gillard's Tripitaka in search of enlightenment as to how to save her government, though it's a rather uncertain cast after that, and certainly no stand-outs to take the role of the indomitable Monkey. But just in case Gillard succeeds despite the numerous enemies and heavy odds stacked against her, Tony Abbott has decided he'd better head to western Sydney as well, just in case the Prime Minister manages to make an impression. After all, he's now more popular, or less unpopular, than her. Abbott's decision to head west made for some discomfort amongst commentators who had been deriding the PM's trip as a stunt. But for Abbott it will be a return trip -- that's where he kicked off his "mini-campaign" earlier in the year, where the highly-paid Rhodes Scholar and Oxford and Sydney University graduate adopted the persona of anti-intellectual battler, presumably on the basis that it would go down well with voters out that way. Perhaps in preparation for this political pilgrimage out west, we had another round of asylum seeker-bashing this week, instigated by the loathsome Scott Morrison, best known for claiming refugees bring in infectious diseases and getting some caterer mates to give him a quote for reopening Nauru. To call Typhoid Morrison's statements "dogwhistling" is to let him off the hook: it was a blatant appeal to the ugliest elements in the electorate, reinforced when Eric Abetz threw p-edophiles into the equation. If this was typical of Morrison's deeply ugly style of politics, Arthur Sinodinos surprised with revelations that he'd forgotten about half a dozen directorships -- one is a misfortune, but six etc -- and, more interestingly, was unaware of the huge donations by the Obeid-connected "Australian Water Holdings" to the Liberal Party. This has to be one of the more bizarre admissions in recent politics -- the company of which Sinodinos was chairman gives over $70,000 to the party of which Sinodinos was treasurer, without Sinodinos having the foggiest idea about it. There's a certain resonance in Sinodinos' problem since one of the companies is linked to erstwhile Right-wing Queensland Liberal senator Santo Santoro, who got turfed from the ministry by John Howard late in that government's life after not just one but several successive revelations emerged about his failure to disclose shareholdings. If there are any further revelations about Sinodinos' undisclosed business activities, there'll be considerable pressure on Abbott to follow the Howard example and bench him, regardless of all the "rising star" stuff. But perhaps the more appropriate comparison is with Ian Campbell, the luckless WA minister who was collateral damage in the Howard government's efforts to exploit Kevin Rudd's links to Brian Burke in 2007. I warned early in February that the Liberals were risking a Campbell-type situation if any of their number had connections to Obeid. Sinodinos' efforts to run away from Eddie and the boys seem to have left him stuck in the mud.

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11 thoughts on “Keane’s week in review: Gillard journeys west, without Monkey

  1. mikehilliard

    If the attack add is the best the libs can cook up then I am confident in saying they have no artistic flair whatsoever. The same goes without saying for News Ltd., horrid low rent banal toilet paper.

  2. klewso

    So Obeid (that cause célèbre used to sully Labor) has sullied the Liberal image?
    You wouldn’t read about it – anywhere but here any way?

  3. john willoughby

    A propaganda theme must be repeated, but not beyond some point of diminishing effectiveness… J.Goebbels..
    the Libs seem to be stepping outside the playbook

  4. Patrick Brosnan

    On the Sinodinos fiasco,ABC new 24 news last night covered the story with a short intro that had less detail than Keene’s summary followed by an estimated 2 minutes of Artie’s mea culpa. Bizarre!

  5. Scott Grant

    If Ms Gillard is into op shops, she should check out the Minchinbury Salvo’s. It is walking distance from Rooty Hill (or Mt Druitt). If those Janet Howard era chesterfields are getting a bit worn, she might find up a decent sofa for the lodge.

  6. klewso

    While no one can speak in competition, of view, with comparable capacity and volume, Gillard and Labor are cowed by how the media is going to interpret what they do. Abbott has no such monkey on his back, he’s the conservative candidate, the boy they’re all promoting, selling to the electorate. While Gillard presents herself for evaluation, Abbott gets away with his low profile and no one who could, seems interested in chasing him up that hollow log he hides in.
    Our conservative driven media has become corrupted by it’s own (unelected) omnipotence.

  7. AR

    If the PM goes West, it’s a cynical stunt but when MM does the same thing it shows what a pan of the meeple he is. Or something…

  8. Salamander

    Interesting how you keep harking back to Abbott’s Oxford sojourn. Hawke had one also but it didn’t make him a silvertail.
    Abbott’s whole history is a reminder that he is not what he tries to appear. The Great Deceiver. (Google King Crimson for the lyrics!).

  9. jeremiahwuzza

    Also interesting also how you headline the article with Gillard’s activities. Then you devote five paragraphs speculating about Labor’s on the nose aspect. At least you didn’t use the term Toxic Brand.
    Then we get the real news, Morrison, Sinodis etc. Surely these are the headline items – racism, corruption. Put them first!

  10. Deirdre Ryan

    Mr Keane, Which Branch of the Labor Party do you belong too?


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