Every election campaign throws up gaffes and stumbles, many of them magnified to the point of gross distortion by the media either for partisan purposes or just because it makes for more interesting coverage than whatever it is the parties had planned for them to cover that day.
This week, though, it was like a full-on gaffe war as the major parties went toe-to-toe trying to outdo the other in a knock-down-drag-out take-no-prisoners slugfest of morons.
First up on Tuesday was Treasurer Scott Morrison and his black hole-ridden black hole — which, impressively, Morrison tried to double down on yesterday. It’s speculated by physicists that nothing can escape the pull of a black hole, not even light, but having been caught in his own black hole, Morrison boldly turned his ship around and put the rockets on full into the hole, declaring victory over Labor because he had, he claimed, “flushed them out”.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who was sort of Spock to Morrison’s Captain Kirk effort on Tuesday, made a bid for the limelight himself on Wednesday morning when he lavished praise on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten by mistake, a relatively innocuous gaffe in the scheme of things but, as one Labor figure noted, illustrative of the fact that Cormann, as campaign spokesman, is so relentlessly focused on attacking Shorten that his name springs to his lips no matter what the question is about.
Doubtless rattled by this impressive gaffing from their opponents, Labor searched for a strong counterattack, and David Feeney boldly stepped forward. The Labor “powerbroker”, as it seems compulsory to describe him, has been like a combination of an unguided missile and the Loaded Dog, zinging around the Labor campaign causing chaos whenever he opened his mouth — whether words issued from it or, as on Wednesday afternoon during his interview with David Speers, nothing did. He then left his decidedly under-used talking points at Sky News for the following guest, who inconveniently happened to be Morrison, to find — leading, hilariously, to News Corp dressing up a document the entire point of which is to be conveyed to the public as a “secret plan”.
By yesterday, Shorten was suggesting Feeney, at least for the moment a frontbencher, just stick to trying to win his seat, something Feeney seems hellbent on failing to achieve. That might yet prove costly in the event of a hung parliament, meaning Feeney’s gaffes could yet be the kind of gift that keeps on giving for years.
But now it was the Coalition’s turn to be rattled, with Feeney’s epic performance making Morrison look relatively tame. Faced with a stunning Labor sortie deep into its territory, things looked grim. But good teams have big-match players they know they can turn to when the pressure’s on, and the Coalition turned to Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce to respond mere hours later at the regional leaders’ debate. The Big Red One didn’t disappoint, producing a vintage gaffe that not merely derailed his side’s message for the next day, but managed to offend Indonesia as well when he linked halting live meat exports (AKA systematic abuse and torture of animals) to asylum seekers arriving from Indonesia.
You know it’s a quality gaffe when you stand next to the Prime Minister the next day and have him explicitly contradict you. Malcolm Turnbull went on to lavish such praise on the Indonesian President that you briefly wondered if Turnbull was going to sink to his knees and praise Joko Widodo as God-made-flesh in the hope of minimising damage to our relationship with our neighbour.
Labor presumably sought out Feeney to try to hit back at Joyce, but the Labor powerbroker had accidentally locked himself in a cupboard somewhere and couldn’t be found. Instead, the brains trust reached back to an old favourite: the NSW Labor Party, which had done so much to ensure federal Labor went into the 2013 election with the noxious stench of corrupt figures like Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald lingering about it. Former state secretary Jamie Clements (a particular favourite of this writer, whom Clements has accused of having right-wing leanings) was yesterday charged with illegally accessing the electoral roll last year, something that, one suspects, happens a lot more often than one prosecution might suggest.
Shorten, meanwhile, this morning described United States Republican candidate Donald Trump as “barking mad”, something both some media types and the Coalition were trying to spin into a gaffe. The only problem is that Trump is indeed demonstrably barking mad. And in a week of such epic gaffery, Shorten doesn’t even rate.
The thing to wonder in all of this: will it have any impact on the polls? They’ve been stationary for weeks. Maybe next week will be the moment we finally start to see some shift. Or perhaps the electorate is so utterly uninterested in these frolics that they’re paying no attention, gaffe or not gaffe.