Leaders’ debate: They looked more like puppets than PMs

It wasn’t the most scintillating of Sunday night television viewing, but at least last night’s election debate between the two major party leaders gave engaged voters their first close look at the two men who want to run the country.

Both leaders emerged relatively unscathed from the encounter, which will be a relief to their respective camps. A stumble even this far out from polling day can shape how the rest of the campaign is reported, while putting a huge dampener on the morale of campaign workers and party supporters.

Having said that, it’s difficult not to be disappointed with both leaders’ performances on the night.

Given the relatively high stakes involved, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten had clearly been drilled by their strategists and minders to provide carefully scripted answers that ticked off the main talking points without divulging much else.

Having had any trace of spontaneity or candour stripped from their performances, both men ended up as marionette versions of themselves, awkwardly posturing on the stage with stilted voices and pantomime expressions.

There was no trace of the former barrister Turnbull, the most skilled and compelling orator in the Federal Parliament, or any sign of the former union leader Shorten, whose inspiring stump speeches could deftly rally the troops.

Even more disappointingly, the over-engineering of the leaders’ performances treated debate viewers to an hour-long display of contemporary journalism’s greatest frustration: the non sequitur interview, in which politicians answer every question with a totally unrelated set of talking points.

A question to Turnbull about disappointing progressive voters, for example, was met with an answer about his business background and the importance of company tax cuts. A query about trust was met with a similar homily.

Asked how Labor planned to pay for its health and education policies, Shorten similarly responded by framing the Government’s $48 billion program of tax cuts for an increasing number of small, medium and large businesses over 10 years as a “$50 billion giveaway to big business”.

And on the question whether he could be trusted given his role in the deposition of two prime ministers, Shorten deflected by listing the policies on which Labor could be trusted instead.

Regrettably, the debate format provided little time to challenge the leaders on this evasion tactic. Similar time constraints often apply in media interviews, forcing journalists to choose between covering a range of issues or chewing up precious airtime by insisting that a politician actually answer the question.

At least there was one interesting element that emerged from the debate for political junkies, and that was the evolution of the messaging being used by the respective leaders.

Turnbull not only mentioned his business background on a couple of occasions to bolster his economic credentials, but also referred to his modest upbringing to bring authenticity to his comments about the importance of education in creating opportunity for all Australians.

Whether by plan or accidental osmosis, Shorten appeared to start referring to Labor’s “positive policies” as “positive plans”, perhaps in recognition of the fact that voters respond well to the idea that their political leaders have a plan of action. Shorten’s adoption of the term is somewhat awkward, however, given Tony Abbott also promoted his “positive plans” as opposition leader in 2013.

Shorten also added “risky” to his campaign lexicon during the debate in an attempt to frame Turnbull’s company tax cuts as a “very expensive gamble”, and thereby undermine voter confidence in the PM as a superior economic manager.

In the post-debate mop-up, the leaders’ strategists will now be weighing up the value of any additional head-to-head encounters. Given Shorten showed more aptitude for the people’s forum, in which “real people” asked questions predominantly about Labor’s issues, it’s likely his camp will press for more of that kind of debate.

Turnbull’s camp may have assumed the more formal debate format at the National Press Club would have suited the PM more, but that wasn’t obvious on the night.

In reality, Shorten has very little to lose, whatever format is chosen for any similar events during the election campaign. Every time he shares a stage with the current PM, Shorten is elevated in the eyes of voters from Opposition leader to alternative prime minister.

The PM’s people know this, and likely would have preferred to reserve the right not to agree to another debate in case Shorten needed to be brought down a peg or two.

However, this option has become fraught since political commentator Peta Credlin unhelpfully suggested after the debate last night that the Turnbull camp should refuse any further encounters of this kind.

This leaves the PM exposed to making a choice that potentially benefits Abbott by affirming the views of the former PM’s key strategist, or one that potentially benefits Shorten by again elevating him to alternative PM status.

It’s an invidious choice, for sure, but one that Turnbull could still turn to his advantage – but only if he can work out how to be less wooden and more engaging.

That would require sticking less to the script, answering more questions directly and injecting at least some candour into his answers. By adopting this admittedly more risky strategy, Turnbull could rekindle at least some hope in those voters pining for The Real Malcolm to return.

This support could be critical if Turnbull is to avoid being saddled with a hung parliament after polling day.

What Turnbull’s election promises mean for women

What Turnbull’s election promises mean for women

It’s still early days in the federal election campaign, but even now one thing is clear: the Turnbull Government is convinced the best thing it can do for Australian women is deliver a strong economy.

Malcolm Turnbull and his team are relying on what voters tell opinion pollsters are most important to us. Jobs and the cost of living are always high on the list. And we want to know the economy is being managed by a government that knows what it’s doing.

The Coalition’s pitch to Australian women this election is that the current government is better at running the economy than the other mob.

Even if you haven’t paid much attention to the campaign, you may be aware the Coalition has a “plan for jobs and growth”. That’s because government MPs can’t stop talking about the plan every time they see a camera or a microphone.

Constant talk of a plan is meant to make you feel confident the PM Malcolm Turnbull and his Treasurer Scott Morrison have everything under control.

There are a lot of parts to this fabulous plan, but the biggest and most expensive element is tax cuts for business. The Government plans to give smaller businesses a tax cut right away, and then give it to bigger and bigger business over the following ten years.

The Government hopes business owners will invest the extra money to expand their businesses (that’s the “growth” part of “jobs and growth”) and take on additional staff (that’s the “jobs” part).

All Australians are expected to benefit as businesses supposedly flourish and pour dollars back into the economy. Not everyone is convinced, however, that this will actually happen.

Aside from trying to deliver a strong economy, the Coalition has a number of other election promises that it says will benefit women.

For women with children, there are improvements to childcare subsidies, but these won’t kick in until July 2018. The Government also plans to restrict new mothers to accessing only one form of paid parental leave, either the government’s or their employer’s.

There’s a job training program for young people to prepare them for employment, which includes temporary placement in a real workplace.

There’s also increased funding for health and education, but not to the same levels being promised by the Labor opposition.

The Government has however promised a new scheme that will give young adults with cancer, who were previously considered either too old or too young to participate in clinical trials, the opportunity to also access the latest cancer-fighting treatments.

There’s money to subsidise a glucose monitoring device for children and young adults with severe Type 1 diabetes, and to extend the free government dental scheme to all children and young adults.

On women’s health, the Government has offered modest increases to funding for Medicare to cover the use of MRIs to detect certain types of breast cancer, for an online tool to help women with perinatal depression, and to treat Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

On domestic violence, there’s a Women’s Safety Package that includes an advertising campaign, GPS trackers and an expansion of the national family violence counselling and information service. But the Coalition has not committed to restoring the funding to legal centres and services that were cut by the Abbott Government.

For working women, the Government has promised to strengthen laws that punish employers for underpaying and exploiting workers, and provide a small tax cut to people fortunate enough to earn over $80,000.

The Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, has also promised to release a “comprehensive policy” to boost women’s workforce participation during the election campaign.

There are some good changes to superannuation proposed by the Government, such as providing around two million women on low incomes with a refund of the higher taxes they pay on some super contributions.

Women with less than $500,000 in super would also be able to make “catch-up” contributions and high-income spouses would be allowed to put more funds into their low-income spouse’s super.

These are the main elements of the Coalition’s election pitch to women so far. Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to campaign promises. We know politicians tend to give with one hand just as they take away with the other.

So it is wise to expect that for every promise from the Coalition of a new scheme or increased funding, something else will be scrapped or cut to pay for it. The trick is to get the balance right.

In preparation for election day, which falls on July 2, it’s worth checking to see if you are on the electoral roll and your details are correct. If you’re not yet registered to vote, you can enrol online at the Australian Electoral Commission.

Originally at The Australian Women’s Weekly.

AFP raids: Turnbull’s undoing or a non-event?

A corner of the internet went into meltdown last week when the Australian Federal Police raided the office of a federal Labor politician and a staffer’s home as part of an investigation into a series of leaks from the Government’s NBN Co.

It was the confluence of progressive concerns that whipped up the social media frenzy. Not only did the raid dramatically pit the physically intrusive powers of the surveillance state against the high morals of an apparent whistleblower, it was a reminder that Malcolm Turnbull had snatched away the dream of fibre-optic cable to every Australian home when he was Tony Abbott’s communication minister.

The moral outrage was further leavened by the reminder that the leaks had exposed the hollowness of Turnbull’s “fast, affordable and sooner” broadband alternative. Turnbull had not only cancelled the order for Australia’s broadband pony, but it turned out the perfectly serviceable rocking horse he had proffered instead was actually an expensive but nevertheless poorly cobbled-together hobby-horse.

Even so, Turnbull might have been forgiven for this apparently heinous crime if he had delivered on other progressive issues once becoming Prime Minister. But no, the PM also disappointingly squibbed on gay marriage, the Republic, climate action and asylum seekers.

Today’s Newspoll shows the extent of voters’ disappointment. The Coalition’s primary vote has dropped from 46 to 41 per cent since the beginning of the year, while Labor’s has increased two percentage points to 36 per cent. After the hypothetical allocation of preferences, this gives Labor a 51-49 lead for the third fortnight in a row.

More alarmingly, Turnbull’s net approval rating has dropped 50 percentage points from the peak of +38 in late November last year. Newspoll says it is now -12 per cent. Meanwhile, Shorten has improved from a low of -38 per cent in early December to match Turnbull at -12.

As for the everyday voter, who at this stage is barely paying attention to the election, do they care about the raid or whether the PM knew in advance?

The precipitous state of the PM’s drop in approval ratings suggests increasingly restive progressive voters are seriously considering bringing Turnbull to account come election time. His failure to deliver the NBN is on the list of crimes.

Accordingly, at least in these progressives’ eyes, the AFP raid quickly became less about the state’s intrusion on civil liberties and more about whether the former communications minister knew about it.

In reality, it matters little whether Turnbull knew about the AFP’s investigation into the leaks, or that the raid would take place when it did. It would matter if the Prime Minister directed the AFP to search an Opposition MP’s office during an election campaign; however, there is no evidence that any such direction was made or that the federal police would accept such an order.

Labor has nevertheless implied the PM’s fingerprints are all over the raid by claiming NBN Co, which asked the AFP to investigate the leaks, is a government entity and therefore at the Government’s command.

In saying this, the Opposition gives the impression NBN Co should not investigate the leaks because the leaked information was in the public interest.

This of course assumes the motivations of leakers are always pure. But as we have seen with others who have made private information public, ostensibly for the public good, there may be other motivations at play that the public should also know about.

In the case of Treasury official Godwin Grech, only by investigating a leak did it become clear he had fabricated information against then PM Kevin Rudd, which was then used by Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull to wrongly accuse Kevin Rudd of misleading parliament.

And then there is former adviser to the Speaker, James Ashby, who allegedly provided excerpts from Peter Slipper’s diary to Mal Brough. The AFP investigation of this leak may also demonstrate that the partisan settling of scores can be a key factor behind political leaks.

It’s just not as black and white as the champions of the NBN leaks would like to have us think.

As for the everyday voter, who at this stage is barely paying attention to the election, do they care about the raid or whether the PM knew in advance?

Most likely not: the NBN doesn’t rate as an influential election issue, and the community is cynical about politicians at the best of times.

In one recent poll, only 17 per cent of voters rate our elected representatives as ethical and honest. In another, only 39 per cent of voters said they found Turnbull more honest than most politicians, compared with 26 per cent who made that assessment of Shorten.

So despite progressives’ gasps of shock and horror about the raid, and demands that the PM ‘fess up to his role, many voters would have been left nonplussed.

It may have been seen by the left as a jack-booted attempt by Turnbull to suppress the truth, but most voters would have seen the event as just another skirmish among the disreputable, about an issue that wasn’t particularly important.

AFP raids: Turnbull’s undoing or a non-event?

AFP raids: Turnbull’s undoing or a non-event?

A corner of the internet went into meltdown last week when the Australian Federal Police raided the office of a federal Labor politician and a staffer’s home as part of an investigation into a series of leaks from the Government’s NBN Co.

It was the confluence of progressive concerns that whipped up the social media frenzy. Not only did the raid dramatically pit the physically intrusive powers of the surveillance state against the high morals of an apparent whistleblower, it was a reminder that Malcolm Turnbull had snatched away the dream of fibre-optic cable to every Australian home when he was Tony Abbott’s communication minister.

The moral outrage was further leavened by the reminder that the leaks had exposed the hollowness of Turnbull’s “fast, affordable and sooner” broadband alternative. Turnbull had not only cancelled the order for Australia’s broadband pony, but it turned out the perfectly serviceable rocking horse he had proffered instead was actually an expensive but nevertheless poorly cobbled-together hobby-horse.

Even so, Turnbull might have been forgiven for this apparently heinous crime if he had delivered on other progressive issues once becoming Prime Minister. But no, the PM also disappointingly squibbed on gay marriage, the Republic, climate action and asylum seekers.

Today’s Newspoll shows the extent of voters’ disappointment. The Coalition’s primary vote has dropped from 46 to 41 per cent since the beginning of the year, while Labor’s has increased two percentage points to 36 per cent. After the hypothetical allocation of preferences, this gives Labor a 51-49 lead for the third fortnight in a row.

More alarmingly, Turnbull’s net approval rating has dropped 50 percentage points from the peak of +38 in late November last year. Newspoll says it is now -12 per cent. Meanwhile, Shorten has improved from a low of -38 per cent in early December to match Turnbull at -12.

The precipitous state of the PM’s drop in approval ratings suggests increasingly restive progressive voters are seriously considering bringing Turnbull to account come election time. His failure to deliver the NBN is on the list of crimes.

Accordingly, at least in these progressives’ eyes, the AFP raid quickly became less about the state’s intrusion on civil liberties and more about whether the former communications minister knew about it.

In reality, it matters little whether Turnbull knew about the AFP’s investigation into the leaks, or that the raid would take place when it did. It would matter if the Prime Minister directed the AFP to search an Opposition MP’s office during an election campaign; however, there is no evidence that any such direction was made or that the federal police would accept such an order.

Labor has nevertheless implied the PM’s fingerprints are all over the raid by claiming NBN Co, which asked the AFP to investigate the leaks, is a government entity and therefore at the Government’s command.

In saying this, the Opposition gives the impression NBN Co should not investigate the leaks because the leaked information was in the public interest.

This of course assumes the motivations of leakers are always pure. But as we have seen with others who have made private information public, ostensibly for the public good, there may be other motivations at play that the public should also know about.

In the case of Treasury official Godwin Grech, only by investigating a leak did it become clear he had fabricated information against then PM Kevin Rudd, which was then used by Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull to wrongly accuse Kevin Rudd of misleading parliament.

 And then there is former adviser to the Speaker, James Ashby, who allegedly provided excerpts from Peter Slipper’s diary to Mal Brough. The AFP investigation of this leak may also demonstrate that the partisan settling of scores can be a key factor behind political leaks.

It’s just not as black and white as the champions of the NBN leaks would like to have us think.

As for the everyday voter, who at this stage is barely paying attention to the election, do they care about the raid or whether the PM knew in advance?

Most likely not: the NBN doesn’t rate as an influential election issue, and the community is cynical about politicians at the best of times.

In one recent poll, only 17 per cent of voters rate our elected representatives as ethical and honest. In another, only 39 per cent of voters said they found Turnbull more honest than most politicians, compared with 26 per cent who made that assessment of Shorten.

So despite progressives’ gasps of shock and horror about the raid, and demands that the PM ‘fess up to his role, many voters would have been left nonplussed.

It may have been seen by the left as a jack-booted attempt by Turnbull to suppress the truth, but most voters would have seen the event as just another skirmish among the disreputable, about an issue that wasn’t particularly important.

Originally published at ABC’s The Drum.

Campaign tricksters make their presence felt

Campaign tricksters make their presence felt

It may not look like it at times, but election campaigns are planned to the tiniest level of detail.

Yet they can be easily derailed by an unexpected appearance by a ghost or two from the past, as we dramatically saw this week.

A calendar of campaign events and announcements is developed months before the election date is even confirmed.

Campaign staff called “advancers” travel to every announcement location, well in “advance” of the actual event, to scope the location for pesky exit signs or shops with unfortunate names that could easily ruin a camera shot of the politician in question. (Remember Tony Abbott and The Reject Shop?)

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Who could forget this doozie? Photo: AAP

Every campaign team also has a dirt unit, which conducts “opposition research”.

This involves poring over the histories of the other side’s candidates in search of even vaguely incriminating comments, photos, videos, tweets or Facebook posts.

By raising the spectre of past behaviours, election combatants hope to inflict maximum damage on the competition.

We saw this strategy in action during the first week of the campaign, when old photos and statements of Labor candidates opposing the offshore detention of asylum seekers made their way to the media.

According to the government, more than 20 Opposition candidates have at some point opposed what is currently their party’s policy.

This dissent is doubly difficult for Labor; it not only fuels voter suspicion that the Opposition might not be as firm on “border protection” as it claims, but reminds us of the bad old days when Labor was riven with internal disputes and unseemly public squabbling.

Bad headlines force resignation

This week, it was the Prime Minister’s turn to face uncomfortable questions about the inconveniently unearthed comments of one of his team’s candidates, opposing gay marriage and constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians.

Mr Sufi announced his resignation on Friday. Photo: Supplied

Mr Sufi announced his resignation on Friday.

Unlike Bill Shorten, who appeared with a couple of his rogue candidates while they affirmed support for “the current Labor policy”, Malcolm Turnbull chose not to share a platform with Liberal candidate Sherry Sufi, and made a point of noting that he did not share those views.

It was also alleged that Mr Sufi was caught mocking the accent of his ex-boss, Michael Sutherland – now Speaker of the West Australian Parliament – using graphic sexual references in 2013.

Mr Sufi resigned from his post on Friday in the fallout to his week of bad headlines.

Before Labor strategists even had time to be relieved that the negative spotlight had moved from them, another remnant from the past arose to give one of the party’s factional heavyweights, David Feeney, a bit of a scare.

Given the Opposition has put considerable effort into making home affordability a key point of differentiation between it and the government, the news that Mr Feeney had forgotten to declare his third property and that he drew negative gearing benefits from the investment, were particularly unhelpful for the Opposition.

Greens boss also accused

The Greens leader was accused of not declaring a property. Photo: Getty

The Greens leader was accused of not declaring a property. Photo: Getty

It was Greens leader Richard Di Natale who was confronted with a media report towards the end of this week, accusing him of having failed in the past to specifically declare his family farm.

Much worse, however, was the additional contention in the story, claiming that Dr Di Natale, a champion for penalty rates, had offered below minimum pay rates to young backpackers who worked for his family as au pairs.

While the Greens leader has rebutted this attack as untruthful, it may nevertheless leave a stain on the party’s otherwise squeaky-clean reputation.

Labor will be hoping its expensive but popular Medicare announcement this week will stick more in voters’ minds than the apparent forgetfulness of a forgettable Opposition MP.

Similarly, the government will likely be grateful for the “look over there” tactics of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who managed to distract the media and the commentariat with inflammatory comments about refugees taking our jobs.

Originally published at The New Daily.

He who wins women, wins the election

He who wins women, wins the election

Back in the nineteenth century, Australia led the way in giving women the right to vote and stand for parliament.

Yet here we are 114 years later and still only around 30 per cent of politicians in Australia’s parliaments are women.

Political parties say they’re doing everything they can to get to 50-50, but so far only Labor and the Greens have managed to get close. Labor has 45 per cent women MPs in the national parliament, while the Greens have 45.5 per cent. The Coalition parties have 27 per cent, and may have even less following the upcoming election.

This is not just a matter of balancing things up for appearances sake.

Without enough female voices in the nation’s decision-making forums, there is an increased chance that governments will make poor or bad decisions that have a negative impact on women.

That’s because it’s easier for a bunch of men on comfy incomes to cut funding for frontline domestic violence support, women’s health services or child care without thinking through the implications for women, families, the economy or the broader community.

In the absence of there being enough female politicians to stand up against their male-centric colleagues, it’s up to female voters to remind politicians what our half of the population wants from elected representatives when it comes to identifying priorities and allocating government funds.

The power of women voters cannot, and should not, be underestimated. Hell hath no fury like a female voter scorned.

Some politicians are alert to this, and while some have tried to pitch themselves as the supporter of women’s interests, many have failed.

Who could forget Tony Abbott trying to neutralise his “women’s problem” with an expensive, badly-targeted and poorly defended paid parental leave scheme.

And then there was Julia Gillard who, on the same day that she delivered her blistering speech about Abbott’s misogyny, also cut payments to single mothers when their youngest child turns eight.

So it’s hardly surprising a major opinion poll found more women supported Labor after Kevin Rudd replaced Julia Gillard in 2013 federal election, even if he did eventually lose to Tony Abbott.

Opinion polls are now showing the Government first led by Abbott and now Turnbull has lost its lead on the Opposition, with at least one poll suggesting this is because women have shifted their votes from the Coalition to Labor.

This may be in part because of decisions in the federal budget, which we highlighted last week as pretty unsatisfactory for women. But female voters have also gone off the Prime Minister, who failed to deliver on the high voter expectations he encouraged before challenging Tony Abbott for the top job.

Back then, 68 per cent of men and women approved of Turnbull, now that has dropped to 46 per cent for women and 49 per cent for men. The PM’s disapproval rating has increased accordingly.

Even so, despite their disillusionment with PM Turnbull, male voters seem to be sticking with the Government.

Accordingly, the outcome of the federal election rests in the hands of Australian women.

That’s why we’ll be providing you with analysis of the parties’ election policies, in light of their track records to date, and an assessment of what each party has to offer Australian women.

In preparation for election day, which falls on July 2, it’s worth checking to see if you are on the electoral roll and your details are correct. If you’re not yet registered to vote, you can enrol online at the Australian Electoral Commission.

Originally published at the Australian Women’s Weekly.

Good cop, bad cop: The Abbott and Credlin campaign strategy?

Around the time the Ipsos and Morgan polls reported that Labor had drawn even with the Government on a two-party preferred basis, and Newspoll had the Opposition maintaining a modest lead, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott caught up for a chat. Or a beer, according to one media report.

The Prime Minister confirmed this apparent rapprochement in a radio interview, telling his host “yeah I had a good chat with him just the other day” about “life, politics, everything”.

The discussion, with or without beverage, also occurred around the time the former prime minister conceded he had made mistakes while in the top job.

Whether Turnbull used previously untapped powers of persuasion during the meeting with his predecessor, or Abbott’s introspection led to a change of heart, the ex-PM’s behaviour appears to have changed since that time.

Up until then, Abbott’s post-leadership existence was seemingly focused with laser precision on two aims – defending the conservative cause and protecting his legacy. There were speeches, articles and even a world tour in aid of these objectives.

There was even talk of Abbott running his own race during the federal election campaign, strategically leaked to a favoured tabloid journalist who wrote the former PM would “launch his own DIY national election tour, campaigning in marginal seats across Australia, after the Liberal Party failed to organise him a formal role”.

This was considered even by some of Abbott’s staunchest supporters as a bridge too far. One arch-conservative, Cory Bernardi, expressed hope Abbott would play a positive role in the election campaign because “the country is going to be better served by a Liberal government than a Labor one”.

Another right-winger was concerned Abbott would be “enormously disruptive” if he campaigned in other seats. And yet another supporter worried the former PM’s campaign was “not necessarily about the election of Malcolm Turnbull”.

That was in late March. Abbott now appears to have accepted his fate, telling the number one cardholder of the Tony Abbott fan club, Andrew Bolt, the “Abbott era has been”.

He accepted “the party made a decision back on the 14th of September last year” and he didn’t expect it “to ever go back on that decision”.

The former PM also stressed that any role he played in the election campaign would be a positive one, saying he was “running to support the Turnbull government and whatever the campaign thinks I might be best doing, that’s what I’ll be very happy to do.”

When asked whether he accepted Abbott’s apparent relinquishment of leadership ambitions as genuine, PM Turnbull noted, “That’s what he said, so I’m sure he stands by his words.”

Whether genuine or not, Abbott should find it easier to play nice now that his former chief of staff Peta Credlin has joined the flock of political commentators circling for election campaign carrion.

Even after only one week as an election commentator for the Murdoch press and partly-owned Sky News, Credlin appears to have taken up where her former boss left off.

The long-time political operative has made no attempt at objectivity, stating she’s proudly a Liberal and will be providing observations and analysis from that perspective.

Accordingly, Credlin has championed Liberal conservatives’ causes and fiercely defended the Abbott government’s legacy. At times it has been spooky to hear the lines about boats and taxes that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Abbott come tumbling from Credlin’s lips instead.

Just one week into the campaign, there are also hints that Credlin aims to do more than garner a few more subscribers for Sky News and rehabilitate her career. She may also have political revenge on her mind.

It first appeared that Credlin in this new public role might not indulge in the payback for which some detractors say she is famous. Even when invited by fellow panellists to criticise the PM and the Government’s election campaign, Credlin initially replied with a straight bat.

That changed towards week’s end when Credlin labeled Turnbull as “Mr Harbourside Mansion” and then wrote in her weekend column that the Government looked devious with its superannuation changes, asking, “Why should people trust a government that raids their personal, private savings whenever it needs money?”

Both interventions played straight into Labor’s hands, reinforcing two of the Opposition’s lines of attack on the Prime Minister: that he’s out of touch, and that he can’t be trusted.

Even more significantly, Credlin’s undermining of the superannuation changes continues the resistance that Abbott first raised against such reforms. Originally labeling the tax concession cuts as a “seniors tax”, Abbott has now toed the line, telling his local paper the changes were a “gutsy call” by the Government.

In his place, Credlin is flying the flag for conservatives who are aghast at the move.

Defenders of Credlin and Abbott will likely claim the former adviser is simply calling it as she sees it, but given Credlin has declared herself a partisan it’s difficult to see how giving Labor a free kick helps the Liberal cause.

There are also ample grounds for her wanting retribution. Turnbull moved Credlin out of the chief of staff role when he inherited her from Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson in 2008, and later drew to a premature close the prime ministerial career of the man who reinstated her to that role, Tony Abbott.

It’s therefore very tempting to conclude Credlin is acting as proxy mud-slinger for Abbott, as well as tossing a few sods at Turnbull on her own behalf.

For his part, the former PM is not inclined to criticise his former adviser and current Canberra-landlord for making Turnbull’s campaign for re-election more difficult.

Describing her commentary to date as “riveting”, Abbott interestingly insisted that Credlin spoke for herself, that she’d “made some pretty powerful calls this week”, and that we’d “continue to see her being a very important and interesting commentator this election”.

What Abbott means by “important” and “interesting” is yet to be seen. But the odds are on Credlin continuing to play bad cop while Abbott remains beholden to his good cop commitment.

Turnbull campaign off-track

Turnbull campaign off-track

One week down, seven to go. That’s what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is probably thinking after this week’s choppy start to his re-election campaign.

Sure, it’s early days and most voters won’t really start paying attention for another month, but it will be weighing on the prime ministerial mind that this first week of the extended election campaign did not go much to plan.

In case you missed it, this week was meant to be all about the budget, the much-feted economic plan for jobs and growth.

Chris Bowen kept a straight face. Photo:AAP

But the government ran into early trouble when Labor and the conservative rump of the Liberal Party attacked the budget’s changes to superannuation, which reel in concessions for the wealthy, as retrospective and therefore verboten.

Labor’s Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen even managed to keep a straight face during his budget reply this week when denouncing the changes, even though they soak the rich in much the same way that Labor’s super changes do.

PM challenged on super trust

By week’s end, the notion had been successfully challenged, but only after several days of Labor saying Mr Turnbull could not be trusted on super. This is the sort of message that could stick in the minds of voters.

The Prime Minister’s trustworthiness potentially took another hit when it emerged this week that he was mentioned in the Panama Papers.

While there was no suggestion Mr Turnbull was one of the tax avoiders also named in the leaked documents, Labor’s calls for the PM to make a “full explanation” could have encouraged voters to judge him guilty by association.

That’s not to suggest the campaign so far has been stress free for the PM-in-waiting, Bill Shorten.

The cracks in party solidarity over asylum seekers that Mr Shorten managed to paper over at last year’s ALP National Conference re-emerged this week, causing the Labor leader a few anxious moments during campaign press conferences.

Refugee “cruelty” put on the agenda

Boat people sailed into the campaign: Photo:AAP

The first ALP candidate to go rogue on the issue was Sophie Ismail, who is running against the Greens’ Adam Bandt for the seat of Melbourne.

Political observers with a Machiavellian bent might suspect Ms Ismail was given unofficial permission to call for an immediate end to “the cruelty on Manus and Nauru”, given Labor’s support for offshore detention will likely stop progressive voters from supporting Ms Ismail.

If this is what occurred, Labor strategists may now regret the decision. A succession of the party’s candidates followed suit, ensuring that most of Mr Shorten’s press conferences this week inevitably included an interrogation of the featured candidate and their position on Labor’s asylum seeker policy.

This was an unhelpful diversion from what was meant to be Labor’s campaign message of the week: the importance of a properly-funded education system. It not only made the party look ill-disciplined but reminded voters about the last time Labor started to look untidy, namely the Rudd and Gillard years.

“Traitor” question caught Turnbull off guard

When former Abbott supporter Fiona Scott was asked about being called a traitor for switching her support to Mr Turnbull last year, the PM went to her defence and later cancelled a visit to the Penrith Westfield to make up with Ms Scott.

Mr Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, ridiculed Mr Turnbull for calling off the public appearance, calling him Mr Harborside Mansion and suggesting he was out of touch with everyday voters.

Peta Credlin

But it is equally plausible the shopping centre walk had been cancelled because Labor had worked out the location and was planning to plant a few “everyday voters” to challenge Mr Turnbull in front of the television cameras.

This a regular tactic in election campaigns, and the reason why journalists travelling with the leaders are usually not told where the next media event will take place.

Consider the everyday voter “Melinda”, who declined to give her last name when she gate-crashed a prime ministerial press conference this week. The single mum berated Mr Turnbull with an impressive amount of detail on the Government’s plans to cut the Family Tax Benefit, including how the cuts will make it even more difficult for her to give her sons a good education.

Sound familiar?

Whatever the reason for Mr Turnbull vacating the field, he would have been hard pressed anyway to beat the television images generated by the Shorten camp that day.

Accompanied by a handsome piece of chocolate cake and a glowing Chloe Shorten, the Opposition Leader marked his 49thth birthday looking relaxed, comfortable, and unnervingly happy.

Both leaders had their share of campaign challenges this week, but only one seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself despite the turbulence. If good nature was to lead to success in this election campaign, the end of this first week sees Bill Shorten moving in to the lead.

Originally published at The New Daily.