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.

Peter Fray

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