Jeff Kennett

For those of a conservative bent and of a certain age — say, over 40 — Jeff Kennett is a sort of Dark Prince of Australian neoliberalism. As Liberal premier of Victoria in the ’90s he trumpeted a damn-the-torpedoes approach to debt management and social policy that — mostly for good reasons — we’ve not seen the like of since.

For some under 40, Kennett is the high-profile voice of Beyondblue, which does good work raising awareness about the terrors of the mind that is the Black Dog. For others, he is the noisy president of the Hawthorn AFL Football Club.

No doubt some of the 150 or so faithful who turned out at the Charles Darwin University theatre yesterday lunchtime for the Country Liberal Party’s 2016 election campaign launch would have been asking themselves — in response to Jeff’s opening lines — “Yes, Jeff, what the bloody hell are you doing here?”

Was he here to boost his footy club’s fortunes or was he was playing “Jeff, I’m here to help” — reaching out from the deep south to political fellow travellers in the north in dire need of friends and support? And just a few might have thought that he was there to provide much needed succour and pastoral support to a political party in a deep, dark funk all of its own making.

For the rest of us, the choice of a very former politician from very far away to launch the CLP’s campaign was more than passing strange and says as much about how well the party is travelling in the NT and the likelihood of its success at the NT general election in two weeks’ time — terribly and remote — as it does about how the party is viewed by its conservative colleagues in the rest of the country.

[‘Soft as, bruss!’ Tony Jones flogs Adam Giles with a feather]

In the CLP’s 2012 campaign, then-leader Terry Mills (dumped by Giles in one of the ugliest coups in recent Australian political history and now running as an independent) attracted southern luminaries like Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett and the soon-to-be-PM Tony Abbott — who came to Darwin during the campaign and spoke at the CLP campaign launch in early August 2012. Mark Textor and now-Senator James McGrath made strong contributions to the CLP’s 2012 election campaign, particularly in tactics, strategy and professionalism.

During last month’s federal election campaign, no shortage of southern federal politicians — Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop come first to mind — campaigned in support of the CLP’s Solomon MHR Natasha Griggs. That she lost her seat was not so much due to any lack of effort on the part of her federal colleagues as the electorate’s manifest disenchantment with all things CLP. That there is little apparent support or advice from the south this time around — either from prominent Liberal politicians or back-room workers — bolsters the widely held view that, right now, Adam Giles is the Typhoid Mary of Liberal politics.

Whether Liberal luminaries like Tony Abbott (he is still held in high regard in some circles here) or eminence grise John Howard (long a friend of the CLP and the NT) were approached to help this year is unclear. But both Howard or Abbott would have been a better pick than Kennett, whose name I suspect was at the end of a very long list of people otherwise unavailable. “Sorry, got to wash my hair”, “Love to, but …” You get the drift.

Kennett’s speech was pitched to — and well received by — the local small-“L” liberals but would have been poorly received by the agrarian socialist rump that makes up at least part of the party outside of the bright suburban lights of Darwin.

Kennett would be a good speaker for a Chairman’s Club luncheon — his delivery was mainly ex tempore — and he had briefed himself well but was dull and predictable and didn’t have much to say outside of heaping praise on Adam Giles and the CLP and ordure on the local Labor Party. Kennett took a not-unexpected but gratuitous swipe at the ABC and local media for their coverage of the Don Dale juvenile detention disaster but made no mention of the kids as the subjects of the Four Corners program. He took up Giles’ theme that the Four Corners program was timed to damage the CLP at a crucial time of the campaign.

[The most shocking thing about the Four Corners footage is that the abuse was legal]

Adam Giles’ speech was as scripted and torpid as Kennett’s was free-flowing but dull. Giles started off flat — “It hasn’t always looked good and Territorians are tired …” — and repeated his standard stump speech with a few extra paragraphs grafted on. He read nervously from an autocue and was occasionally distracted by his young son Robert crying from the front row. He said all that was expected of him but Giles was surprisingly flat for a politician making what will most likely be the last set-piece speech of his political career; his body language was poor, he didn’t have a narrative flow or arc and didn’t hit his applause points. Giles occasionally looked surprised when the audience had the temerity to applaud spontaneously off-cue.

Giles looked as tired yesterday as Territorians apparently are of his government. In two weeks’ time, locals will — barring some disaster for Labor or outrageous good fortune for Giles and the CLP — condemn this government to a footnote in local political history as the first NT government to be sacked after one term.

It might be slightly out of context, but, as Giles said yesterday, “Territorians are tired …”

*This article was originally published at Crikey blog The Northern Myth

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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