The election campaign is just days old, and the gaffes have already begun. The furious first weekend of campaigning proper produced plenty of clumsy moments — from awkward stumbles and snarky attacks, to cringey staged social media posts. And with Australia’s politicians under the media microscope over the next month, there is plenty more weirdness to come.
Ni hao to new problems
On Saturday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison approached a woman of East Asian appearance, and greeted her with a “ni hao”. The woman responded by telling the Prime Minister she was Korean. Morrison, a proud Sydneysider, ought to have known better — the interaction took place in Strathfield, a suburb in Sydney’s inner-west sometimes termed “little Korea”.
It was an awkward weekend for Liberal prime ministers past and present. In a now-deleted tweet, Tony Abbott declared that the most important political conversations “take place in the streets … away from the noise of the media and vested interests”. Unfortunately, the tweet also showed Piers Akerman, a regular News Corp columnist, standing right beside Abbott in a campaign t-shirt.
The former PM needs all the help he can get and, for the first time in his political career, may struggle to retain his blue-ribbon north shore seat of Warringah.
Peter Dutton also managed to grab unwanted headlines, accusing his Labor opponent Ali France of using her disability “as an excuse” for not moving into the marginal Brisbane seat of Dickson. France, who lost a leg after being hit by a car in 2011, said she had not yet been able to find a house that suited her disability requirements. In response Labor Senator Kristina Keneally — who has quickly emerged as one of Bill Shorten’s key attack dogs this campaign — laid into Dutton, calling the Home Affairs Minister “despicable”, “toxic” and “a thug”. Dutton eventually apologised.
Candidate withdrawals and the return of section 44
Section 44 of the Constitution wreaked havoc on the 45th parliament, forcing 17 MPs to resign, and giving us a flood of High Court judgments and byelections. But the section is still leaving parties stumped. Just days after the election announcement, the Liberals were forced to withdraw three candidates in Victoria over concerns they might be dual citizens. While the candidates in question were all running in seats the Coalition is unlikely to win, it’s yet another reminder of section 44’s disruptive power, and proof that even with heightened vetting processes demanded by the Australian Electoral Commission, candidates are still slipping through the cracks.
But Labor had to deal with an even bigger candidate withdrawal. On Friday night Melissa Parke, a former Rudd government minister pulled out of the race for Julie Bishop’s old seat of Curtin, following remarks she made in support of a Palestinian state that were critical of Israeli settlements.
Parke’s views on the Middle East are well known. She is a former human rights lawyer, a vocal supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction campaign, and one of the few unequivocal pro-Palestinian voices in Australian politics. But after the latest comments threatened to drag Labor into an unwanted Israel-Palestine debate, Parke stood down, saying she didn’t want her views to be “a distraction”.
Politicians eating stuff
Getting snapped doing strange things with food can be damning for politicians — just ask Bill Shorten, or former British opposition leader Ed Miliband. This weekend provided the first food moments of the 2019 campaign.
In an homage to Tony Abbott’s infamous 2015 stunt, resources minister Matt Canavan inexplicably decided to take a bite out of an onion, skin and all.
On Sunday, Jacqui Lambie, the outspoken former Senator for Tasmania ate a sausage. The picture, posted to Facebook, says it all.