Campaign reading. Among a largely predictable and boring lot of election stories this morning, Dennis Shanahan and Paul Kelly provide one highlight. “Abbott to champion freedom of speech” records Tony Abbott telling the pair in an interview that he plans to roll back Labor’s laws that limit free speech on the basis of not “giving offence”, defend religious freedom and reform the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Opposition Leader said that, if elected, he would work with his attorney-general, George Brandis, to require the commission to champion, instead of restrict, the right of free speech in Australia.
“This would involve amending the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits remarks that offend others on grounds of race or ethnicity. This was the provision used to prosecute newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt.
“Signalling his belief that the current law is untenable, Mr Abbott said: “Any suggestion you can have free speech as long as it doesn’t hurt people’s feelings is ridiculous. If we are going to be a robust democracy, if we are going to be a strong civil society, if we are going to maintain that great spirit of inquiry, which is the spark that has made our civilisation so strong, then we’ve got to allow people to say things that are unsayable in polite company.”
For Mark Kenny in the Fairfax papers it’s post-mortem time — “Time’s up: Rudd had plan to beat Gillard but not Abbott“.
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“When this election campaign started, nearly five weeks ago, a narrowly trailing Rudd wanted as many election debates as he could get and Abbott wanted as few as he could get away with.
“They were both wrong. Abbott’s team angled to minimise the risk. Rudd’s team figured, on past performance, that he would easily defeat the aggressive Abbott in head-to-head encounters. Rudd’s working assumption was that the more voters saw of the unpopular Abbott, the more they’d shy away.
“In fact, the opposite has occurred. By the third debate, the two leaders had more or less switched roles and it was Abbott who appeared calm and reasonable, defending foreign investment and imparting a general sense of assuredness.”
A look at the campaign for the seat of Indi by Ed Gannon in Melbourne’s Herald Sun suggests an independent just might upset the sitting member Sophie Mirabella. “Shrewd Cathy might just end up smelling of roses” tells how Cathy McGowan has worked with a team of “savvy young campaigners, much like you would have found in the Obama campaign in 2008, even the Kevin07 campaign of Kevin Rudd back when he was popular”.
Gannon gives details of one of the stunts by these volunteers involving a local florist and an old people’s home with the result that “come Saturday night, Cathy McGowan might just come out smelling like roses”.
My sympathy goes out to those journalists who the party spinners lead blindly around the election trail with no idea where they are to be taken next to see what. Not an easy job trying to write sense of it all, but at least Jacqueline Maley’s “Hard hat on, Rudd works madly to avert the crash” makes a bold attempt this morning as she explains:
“It is hard to imagine Prime Minister Kevin Rudd turning the polls around before Saturday but such is the giant absurdist drama of an election campaign, he has to pretend it is feasible.”
In “To bee or not to bee, that’s the election“, Elizabeth Farrelly takes us via the waggle dance of bees described in Thomas Seeley’s book Honeybee Democracy to the way political parties elicit the worst in human nature: division, deceit and the elevation of tribal loyalties over those to the whole”. If only we would follow the example of those dancer-bees things would be different and better. Bees have trust, because they have trustworthiness. They have big-picture capacity, abstraction and altruism. At least it’s a different look at electioneering!
“Parties fighting to keep cash out” — Rowan Callick in The Australian finds the recent trajectory of the debate on foreign investment a tad depressing. He notes the Coalition’s policy of lowering the threshold that triggers Foreign Investment Review Board scrutiny of investment in agricultural land from $244 million to $15 million and for a register of foreign agricultural land purchases. While that sends a negative signal to our Asian and other economic partners, it probably won’t mean much change on the ground, since FIRB very rarely rejects investment bids, even though it does occasionally seek revisions”.
“The bigger setback comes from the Labor camp, with Kevin Rudd — who has always been instinctively critical of international markets — admitting he is “a bit anxious” about an “open-slather” approach to foreign ownership of farming land, and urging “a more cautious approach”, with joint ventures favoured over foreign acquisitions.”
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Campaign listening: ABC 91.7 Gold Coast. I can tell you that breakfast host Bern Young was fooled into thinking rain was on the way when what she observed on the radar was a cloud of aluminium shavings drifting north from some air force exercise down south around Newcastle. The surf today should be fine and Freddie Mercury would be 67 today, if he were still alive. As for politics, Bern had nothing to contribute, which I found quite a blessing, really.
The nightly television news. Surely the saddest image of mis-management for this election campaign — Labor officialdom grabbing back the T-shirts off the enthusiastic party walkers after the king of the kids bid them farewell. Not a good look and surely an accomplished spinner could have tried to use the recycling as an example of just how financially tough things are for Labor when you cannot even give your helpers a T-shirt.
Over in the Abbott camp the triumphal procession at the produce markets went on with only a passing critic to momentarily disrupt the script.
Political TV cooking. Tony Abbott just might be a very good actor, but I think I gained an insight or two over dinner last night into a complex, intelligent and seemingly likeable character. Chatting with Annabel Crabb while cooking and then eating encouraged the Opposition Leader to be franker, less obviously cautious, than the man seen in countless more orthodox political interviews over the past four years. There was something quite fascinating about watching a man grapple with questioning about his faith and attempt to explain the ups and down of the moods that mark his adult life. To me it made him seem far more interesting and far less frightening than my preconceived image of him.
The daily election indicator. Perhaps there’s still a believer in the underdog theory of elections left. Whatever the reason a slight movement back to Labor this morning. Now Labor 4.9%, Coalition 95.1%.