The three battles that defined the Coalition’s rally

Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign speech confronted the challenges that Labor or a hung parliament pose, but it’s the spectre of Tony Abbott that could prove to be his greatest political battle.

Less than a week from polling day, the Coalition’s deliberately low-key campaign “launch” on Sunday confirmed two of the three political battles in which Malcolm Turnbull hopes to prevail.

While the third was not overtly mentioned, it could prove to be the most dangerous if Turnbull is re-elected on July 2.

The first battle for the PM is with the alternative government led by Bill Shorten.

The Opposition has all but abandoned the economic debate since launching its “Mediscare” campaign just over a week ago, having found a scare campaign has more impact than telling voters Labor is a responsible economic manager that also cares about people.

The PM’s speech on Sunday suggests Coalition strategists believe this is a misjudgement on Labor’s part, particularly now that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has increased economic uncertainty.

Claiming “this is no time to pull the doona over our heads”, Turnbull homed in on the Opposition’s unashamedly big spending budget, saying Labor could not “pretend that the good times will just keep rolling no matter how much you tax, no matter how much you borrow, or how much you spend.”

“That is just not how it works in the global economy of the 21st century,” the Prime Minister proclaimed.

Of course the Coalition is not above a blatant scare campaign either, particularly given the former Coalition prime minister Tony Abbott essentially rewrote the negative campaigning rulebook when opposition leader to fight the Gillard government’s “great big new tax on everything”.

The scare tactic being used by Turnbull against Labor is based on another Abbott favourite, border protection, due to the issue’s ability to tap into a broad range of voter prejudices and anxieties.

Shorten has fought hard to keep party dissenters inside the tent on border protection and asylum seekers, even managing to get the Labor Party’s national conference to agree to boat turnbacks, thereby reducing any policy difference between Labor and the Coalition.

Nevertheless, the Coalition has seized upon every utterance by Labor MPs and candidates against offshore detention or mandatory detention as “proof” the Opposition is not only a poor economic manager but also “soft” on border protection.

The PM hammered this point in his speech, comparing the strength of border protection policies under the Liberal’s John Howard with the weakness of those introduced by Labor’s Kevin Rudd.

“We must never forget how Labor in government failed Australia at the border,” Turnbull intoned, noting that “Labor’s abandonment of John Howard’s proven border protection policy opened the door to the people smugglers” and that “today marks 700 days without a successful people-smuggling venture to our country.”

Turnbull’s speech also made it clear the Coalition is awake to the need to not only prevent Labor from securing government, but also minimise the opportunity for minor party and independent MPs to hold the balance of power. This is Turnbull’s second battle.

The PM urged the electorate to think twice before lodging a protest vote, arguing that “if you only really know the leader of a minor party, but you don’t really know their candidates, and you don’t really know their policies then don’t vote for them.”

According to Turnbull, “only a Liberal or National vote ensures stable government, a clear economic plan, real funding for the aged, Medicare and education; more jobs and strong borders.”

“If your local vote is for Labor, Greens or an independent, and you are in one of the 20 or so key battleground seats across the country, it is a vote for the chaos of a hung Parliament, a budget black hole, big Labor taxes, less jobs and more boats.”

If Turnbull is successful in getting Australians to “back a strong and stable Coalition majority Government that can press ahead with our plan for a stronger new economy” he will be faced with a third battle that could be even more important to his future than the election.

The man who Turnbull replaced as prime minister, Tony Abbott, attended the Liberal launch in what could be seen as a provocative or conciliatory move depending on one’s preference for the past or present Liberal leader.

Turnbull has praised his vanquished predecessor in the past after having succeeded Abbott, and yesterday the PM uttered similar words to recognise Abbott’s role in bringing an end to “the chaos and dysfunction of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years”.

While the audience was predominantly made up of NSW Liberal Party members, and therefore the home base for both Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, it was a subdued crowd that seemed reluctant to break into the spontaneous applause that usually characterises such events.

It was as if they were distracted by the sound of teeth quietly being clenched behind the former PM’s grim visage as his successor laid claim to Abbott government achievements such as stopping the boats and landing a clutch of important trade deals. As a result, Turnbull’s speech seemed to be awkward and badly paced at times despite his confected enthusiasm.

Not only did Abbott’s presence loom large at the Coalition launch, it will do so in a re-elected Turnbull Government. At no time did Turnbull mention the consequent battle between the two men that threatens to tear the future Coalition Government asunder – the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

In recent days Coalition conservatives have said they will not be bound by the outcomes of the intended plebiscite if the Australian community votes in favour of same-sex marriage.

This is despite Malcolm Turnbull’s claim he is confident that legislation to formalise the plebiscite’s intent will “sail through” the Parliament. The Cabinet and then the Coalition’s joint party room must first approve any such legislation, providing at least two opportunities for conservatives to slug it out with progressives on the matter.

The last time such a battle between the philosophical extremes of the Coalition occurred, Turnbull lost the Liberal leadership to Abbott by only one vote.

Clearly some of those MPs changed their minds and voted for Turnbull to replace Abbott, but that choice would have been based on who had the best chance of leading the Coalition to an election victory.

Turnbull may be in a weaker position after the election due to conservative MPs being less focused on their immediate re-election prospects.

Labor is correct in suggesting that peace within the Coalition’s ranks is only paper thin. Granted, a similar observation could be made of the Opposition if reports are true that Labor strategists shelved plans only four months ago to replace Bill Shorten.

At least if Labor is elected, which is looking increasingly unlikely, Shorten would be relatively secure as prime minister thanks to the Labor leadership voting rules initiated by Kevin Rudd.

Turnbull will enjoy no such security of tenure.

Even after delivering an expected election victory for the Coalition, the PM will continue to be at risk from the conservative forces that resent and distrust his leadership.

The good, bad and dodgy at Labor’s launch

Labor Leader Bill Shorten’s election “launch” speech was a rally-cry for party faithful, but it also took a turn towards another scare campaign that just made the party look desperate.

Defiant and inspiring. Desperate and maybe even mendacious. These are the two sides of the coin that describe Australian Labor’s federal election campaign launch on Sunday.

Of course the word “launch” is a misnomer these days, given the event ostensibly meant to kick off an election campaign is now held as close to polling day as possible.

This is because ministers and opposition frontbenchers claim a taxpayer-funded travel allowance for every night they spend away from home during the campaign up until the so-called launch. After that, political parties foot the bill for travel and accommodation from their precious campaign resources. Postponing the launch therefore maximises the taxpayer subsidy and minimises the cost to the parties.

A coincidental benefit of the late staging of this year’s event was that it provided Labor with the opportunity to regather its forces in preparation for the final fortnight of the campaign.

The thousands of volunteers upon which every party depends as ground forces in marginal seats are testing the limits of their endurance now the campaign has moved beyond the usual 33-day timeframe into the 40s. Only by ensuring the ground forces remain motivated and mobilised, manning the phone banks, door-knocking electorates and handing out how-to-votes does Labor have any chance of winning.

There are still two weeks to go; two weeks during which supporters must maintain the belief Labor will emerge victorious if they are to make it to polling day. This is a particular challenge when a growing number of political journalists and commentators have already called the election for the Government.

Labor Leader Bill Shorten’s election “launch” speech was therefore as much a rally-cry for faithful volunteers as it was a sales pitch to undecided voters who will determine the election outcome.

Shorten’s pitch to the undecideds was consistent with what we’ve already heard – the promise of a government that will realign its spending to support the community and economy through better health, education and infrastructure.

It’s an approach that depends on voters suspending their distrust of Labor’s ability to capably run the country and economy, electing instead to trust Shorten’s word that the party now has its priorities right and will eventually bring the budget back into balance.

Labor knows this is a big ask, and so has tried to level the playing field by damaging the trust that voters have in Malcolm Turnbull.

Even with the precipitous fall in his approval ratings, Turnbull remains the preferred prime minister. According to today’s Newspoll, 46 per cent of voters nominate Turnbull as the preferred PM, compared with 31 per cent for Shorten. This suggests voters may be disappointed with Turnbull, but they still trust him with the top job.

Labor’s election campaign has in part been about severing that cord of trust between voters and the PM. The Opposition has tried to crimp Turnbull’s credibility as a self-made millionaire by depicting him as a tax dodger. It’s tried to turn the PM’s wealth against him by claiming he’s an out-of-touch silvertail.

And yesterday’s launch unveiled Medicare as the platform from which Labor hopes to deliver the killer blow against Turnbull’s trustworthiness.

The Opposition has run two lines in particular this campaign that are an over-reach at best and mendacious at worst. One is the $50 billion “giveaway to big business”, which invites voters to think only big corporates will get a tax cut and when they do it will be $50 billion.

In fact $50 billion is the full amount of tax cut announced in the recent budget that will be given to all businesses – small, medium and large – over a 10-year period. However, this fact does not assist Labor in its efforts to paint the PM as only being interested in helping the big end of town.

Shorten placed a similar deception about Medicare at the centre of his campaign launch on Sunday, claiming a Turnbull Government would privatise the universal health care provider and that only Labor could save it.

“Jobs. Medicare. Education” was the three-word slogan emblazoned on the stage backdrop, even as the Labor leader derisively noted that hope could not be found in a three-word slogan.

Shorten’s accusation is based on the Government having established a taskforce to explore the privatisation of Medicare’s payments system, which Labor has deliberately conflated to mean Medicare in its entirety.

Arguing that Turnbull merely pretends privatisation is not part of his plans, the Labor leader claimed his opponent would not rest until Medicare had been torn down, “piece by piece, brick by brick”.

Shorten’s determination to frame his opponent as a future oath-breaker was likely intended to tar Turnbull with the same brush as Abbott. But inconveniently for the Labor Leader, the accusation may also have reminded voters of two former Labor prime ministers sitting in the room who were hounded out of office, at least in part for breaking post-election commitments.

Voters of a certain age would have been reminded of Paul Keating abandoning his L-A-W tax cuts. Others would have remembered Julia Gillard reversing her opposition to a carbon tax to form a minority government.

And then there was the former Labor PM who did not attend the launch, Kevin Rudd, who also said one thing and did another when he called climate change the great moral challenge of our time and then walked away from his vaunted emissions trading scheme.

Shorten’s campaign launch speech was inspiring for the party faithful, and it was undoubtedly defiant in the face what increasingly looks to be defeat on July 2. Yet on balance, Labor’s resort to mistruths in an attempt to damage the Prime Minister can only be seen as an act of desperation.

Labor’s big target strategy was meant to provide voters with an honourable contest of ideas at this election. Yet the centrepiece of its campaign launch was a scare campaign based on a misrepresentation of the facts.

In this last desperate effort to win the election, the Opposition has chosen the less than honourable path. Labor may succeed in further tarnishing the Prime Minister by crying wolf over Medicare, but voters who see through the lie will end up trusting Labor even less.

Why we need a quota for women in parliament

Only 30 per cent of members of the Australian Parliament are women and that’s just not good enough.

Australian women have had the right to vote and run for parliament for over 100 years. Yet it was not until 1943 that the first woman was actually elected.

Here we are, more than 70 years later, and still only 72 out of 226 members of the Australian Parliament are women – that’s three in ten.

It’s been a long, slow haul, and there’s clearly much more to be done. Women make up half the Australian population and we should also be half the elected politicians.

Why is it important to have more women in parliament? Because without women having a greater say in the making of laws that govern our country, governments will never really tackle the matters that are of greatest concern to women.

Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult for male politicians to understand many of the issues facing us such as women’s health, the challenge of juggling work and family duties, or the difficulties faced when trying to re-enter the workforce after raising a family.

And then there is the struggle by older women to cope financially as they approach pension age, sometimes even being forced into homelessness. Well-paid male politicians may not even be aware of this issue, let alone be motivated to do something about it.

Domestic violence is a good example of an important issue that has been continually overlooked because men are less likely to experience it than women. And so the money provided by male-dominated governments for legal assistance and women’s shelters has been woefully inadequate.

It’s probably fair to say that if not for the tireless efforts of family violence campaigner Rosie Batty, who faced an unbearable tragedy when her son was killed by his father, we might not have even had the promises made this election of additional funding to support affected women and children.

Another example is the fact that the grand Parliament House building in Canberra, which houses up to 4000 MPs, staff and journalists at any one time, did not have a childcare centre until some female MPs started to have babies and wanted to have their small children nearby. And so the staff bar was converted into a childcare centre in 2008, nearly 20 years after the building was officially opened.

So what are the political parties doing to increase the number of women in parliament?

Malcolm Turnbull declared after he became Prime Minister that no-one was more enthusiastic than him about “seeing more women in positions of power and influence in parliament” and in the ministry. He delivered on that promise by making six women senior ministers, compared to only one appointed by Tony Abbott.

That was an important step by the PM, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that his government’s Liberal and National parties have a disappointingly low number of female MPs, and that this number is likely to get worse after the election.

At least three of the Coalition women who are retiring this year will be replaced by a man, whichever of the major parties win the seat.

One of those women, Sharman Stone, has called for her party to have a quota that would ensure 50 per cent of all Liberal candidates in winnable seats were women. This would increase the number of Liberal women being elected.

So far, Dr Stone’s suggestion has been pooh-poohed by the men in her party, who say that a target of 50 per cent is good enough. The difference between a quota and a target is that a quota can be enforced, while a target is something that would be nice to have.

In contrast, the Labor Party has done much better in getting women elected to parliament, having met its quota of 40 per cent female MPs in the current parliament.

Labor has set a new quota of 50 per cent female MPs by 2025, but it is difficult to accept why the party needs 10 years to raise the number of women in its ranks by from 40 to 50 per cent.

Perhaps this is because many of the unions that have a large say in who is chosen by Labor to run for parliament also have overwhelmingly male union members and are run by men.

That would explain why a number of talented young Labor women were replaced by male union member candidates for this election.

As we have noted before, there may not be enough women in parliament, but that does not mean that women’s voices cannot be heard.

Pay your local MP a visit in the lead up to the election, or give them a call. Ask them what they’re going to do for Australian women if they get your vote. And if they don’t give a satisfactory answer, make contact with their opponent and ask the same question. Your vote counts, so make sure you use it.

Originally at The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Liberals’ preference ploy about strategy, not ideology

Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to preference Labor ahead of the Greens helps his campaign to undermine the minor parties, but it also suggests Coalition strategists are increasingly confident they have the election in the bag.

After protesting for weeks that it was a matter for the party machine, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed credit on the weekend for the decision to preference Labor ahead of the Greensin every lower house seat.

The decision, which Turnbull claimed was “taken by me” in conjunction with the Liberal Party federal director, Tony Nutt, and was “in the national interest”, stymies the minor party’s march on Labor in several inner-city seats. It prevents a repeat of the situation that led to the first ever Greens MP, namely Adam Bandt, being elected to the House of Representatives on Liberal preferences.

At first glance the decision could be seen as a sop to the Coalition’s right wing, which would have been horrified at the prospect of the Government aiding and abetting the rise of the Greens.

After Bandt’s election in 2010, the former prime minister and demigod of the right, John Howard, warned about giving preferences to the Greens. Howard claimed the Greens were “worse than Labor”, “fundamentally anti free enterprise” and had “terrible foreign policy attitudes”.

Accordingly, opposition leader Tony Abbott made a “captain’s call” in 2013 to preference Labor above the Greens in every lower house seat at that year’s federal election. The move was also designed to contrast the Coalition with Julia Gillard’s Labor, which Abbott’s opposition claimed had sold its soul to the Greens in order to form minority government.

Howard repeated his counsel more recently, around the time Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger floated the idea of giving preferences to the Greens in those inner-city seats where the minor party had a good chance of knocking off Labor.

Noting that the principal beneficiaries of reforms to Senate voting were the Greens, the former PM said he hoped the Greens’ support for the reforms did not “presage some kind of understanding about preferences in House of Representatives elections between the Coalition and the Greens.”

Interestingly, Government supporters did not necessarily hate the idea, with Newspoll finding 47 per cent of self-described Coalition voters approved of putting the Greens ahead of Labor on how-to-vote cards. Then again, perhaps this was simply a case of preferring “my enemy’s enemy”.

And now the Prime Minister has emulated his predecessor, making his own decision about giving preferences to Labor over the Greens. Admittedly, Turnbull claims there was a lot of discussion with colleagues and state divisions of the Liberal Party before the decision was made, so it was not necessarily an Abbott-like captain’s call, taken in isolation from the party’s wiser heads.

A closer consideration of the decision also suggests it is more about election campaign tactics than a nod to the philosophical leanings of Liberal conservatives.

In recent times, the Prime Minister and his key spokespeople have ramped up their rhetoric against minor parties and independents, warning “chaos lies that way”.

This is clearly a shot across the bows of voters considering a “pox on both your houses” protest vote. It is also intended to give pause to Coalition voters reportedly confident the Government will be returned and possibly contemplating a protest vote with a non major party on the assumption it will not result in the election of a Labor Government.

The Government could ill afford to be warning off voters from directing votes to the Greens if a preference deal with the minor party resulted in the Coalition doing the very same thing. The announcement to put Labor ahead of the Greens on how-to-vote cards could therefore be seen as a necessary alignment of Turnbull’s deeds with words.

However the announcement also suggests Coalition strategists are increasingly confident their parties will be returned to government.

If the hard heads in campaign HQ thought the Coalition would lose, they would likely have no compunction stacking the parliament against a new Labor Government with an obstreperous and obstructionist crossbench.

In putting Labor ahead of the Greens, and in some cases all but ensuring the election of Labor candidates, the Government is clearly unconcerned about losing its majority.

It is concerned however about being beholden to a crossbench of minor party and independent MPs in the lower house.

Considered in this light, Kroger’s gambit takes on an entirely new dimension.

In making little effort to hide his “dalliance” with the Greens, Kroger not only forced Labor to redirect precious campaign resources to threatened seats. The wily campaigner’s moves may have also softened up Labor to give the Government a better preference deal than it would have otherwise, had it not had to “bid’ against the Greens for the right to Coalition preferences.

Parties pivot to capture pre-poll votes

With nearly a third of people expected to cast their vote before election day, campaign strategists are tweaking their messages now and giving us an insight into what is biting in marginal seats.

In just over a week, Australian voters will start to cast their ballots in the 2016 federal election. Early voting in the “pre poll” is meant to be done only by voters who can’t get to a polling booth on election day.

But getting the chore done early, given it’s mandatory to turn up to a polling booth in Australia, has increasingly become a lifestyle choice for busy voters. And the parties’ campaign strategists are adjusting their campaigns accordingly.

At the previous election in 2013, more than three million people, or 26 per cent of eligible voters, chose to visit a pre poll booth before election day. Another 1.3 million applied to vote early by post. That’s almost 30 per cent of the vote.

And this year, due to constitutional constraints in holding a double dissolution election, polling day falls in the school holidays for all but one of the states. This is likely to lead to an even larger proportion of voters choosing to make their big decision before the final stanzas of the campaign have occurred.

The parties’ respective teams are well aware of this phenomenon. Campaign strategists will increase their election advertising from a trickle to a steady flow in the hope of influencing those voters who will grapple with their choice as well as those who will give the task almost no thought at all.

A precursor to this change in advertising frequency is the tweaking of campaign messages that we’ve recently seen from the two major parties.

Perhaps more than anything else that the broader public sees or hears during the election campaign, it is this message modification that gives us an inkling of what is biting in the election-deciding marginal seats.

Labor’s claims that Malcolm Turnbull is a silvertail only interested in helping out his rich mates are likely contributing to the ongoing deterioration of the PM’s approval ratings.

Accordingly, we saw the PM change gear last week, firstly on company tax cuts, then on superannuation, and finally in response to claims that he’s out of touch.

Deflecting Labor’s accusation that the tax cuts would benefit the Opposition’s favourite punching bag, the big banks, Turnbull emphasised that the biggest companies would have to wait eight years for a tax cut. The PM stressed last week:

The beneficiaries of our tax cuts in the near term over the next six or seven years are all smaller companies, and particularly over the next three years, they are overwhelmingly Australian-owned family business.

He then stared down wealthy retirees and soon-to-be retirees, many of whom would have worked for the big corporates, and told them to stop whinging about paying a bit more tax on the super schemes they’d been using to avoid tax in the first place.

The third attempt by the Turnbull camp to re-position the PM in the eyes of voters was the most intriguing.

Early yesterday evening, a video link was sent via email to Liberal supporters and posted on the PM’s Facebook page. Simply entitled “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dad” the video is ostensibly a tribute from our self-made multi-millionaire Prime Minister to the dad who struggled to raise him single-handedly after his mother left them.

As such it is a touching gesture, but in reality the video is a cynical attempt by Liberal strategists to pull on voters’ heart-strings and inoculate the PM from further accusations that he is not able to understand the hardship and insecurity that low-income families experience.

Nevertheless, the ploy may have merit. At the time of publication the video had been watched more than 330,000 times, more than triple the views attracted by Labor’s most popular campaign video, “Where’s Mr Turnbull’s leadership on climate change?

While Labor has been busy telling voters that Turnbull has too much money, the Government has been saying the Opposition does not have enough – or at least that Labor is spending more than it can afford.

This message seems to be sticking in the minds of at least the media, with journalists pressing the leader of the Opposition yesterday about how Labor would pay for the $3 billion childcare package that it announced yesterday, along with its other big-ticket campaign promises in health and education.

Shorten and his team have chosen to brazen it out, refusing to apologise and claiming to commit no more in spending than the Government but, in Labor’s case, on the “right” priorities.

Having earlier argued that Turnbull wanted to give a “bonus” of $50 billion to his mates in big corporations instead of funding hospitals and schools, Shorten re-positioned the message this week, honing in on the bounty to be enjoyed by the companies that voters love to hate.

According to the Labor Leader, the choice at this election is now between recklessly throwing money at the big four banksmining companies and multinationals, or responsibly allocating it to working families, particularly women.

In short, Turnbull is deflecting Labor messages that are biting in the marginal seats by talking more about himself, whereas Shorten is warding off criticism of Labor by … also talking about Turnbull.

Labor is essentially trying to double the scrutiny of the PM in the hope there will be less attention on its own leader and budget bottom line.

This may work as a medium term strategy, at least benefiting Labor in the pre poll voting.

But the two thirds of voters who will wait until polling day will want more than an assurance from Labor that it has its priorities right. These voters will want to see both the Government and the Opposition fully account for their election promises before marking their ballot papers.

Lazy ‘gotcha’ journalism ruins political debate

Gotcha journalism is, in large part, responsible for politicians not being allowed to utter a single unscripted word.

For better or for worse, one of the elements that may come to characterise the 2016 federal election is the “gotcha” moment during political interviews.

It’s not that gotcha journalism is a new phenomenon — Richard Carlton famously confounded and infuriated Bob Hawke by asking if he had “blood on his hands” after replacing Bill Hayden as Labor opposition leader in 1983.

Ten years later, Liberal opposition leader John Hewson was similarly confronted with a less obvious but apparently equally tricky question about the application of his proposed GST to a birthday cake.

Both interviews proved to be journalistic gold and have stood the test of time as significant moments in their respective election campaigns.

Other journalists have sought to replicate that success, resorting to questions about the price of petrol or a loaf of bread in the hope of “catching out” politicians with an ostensible measure of their connection with the concerns of everyday voters.

Since the advent of mobile phones, it has also become commonplace for competing political camps to text suggestions for curly questions to journalists travelling with leaders from other parties, or for journalists to ask questions about comments made elsewhere around the country that their interview subject would not have yet caught up with.

And then there is the relatively new gotcha tactic, subjecting naïve and unseasoned candidates to questions about the detail of their parties’ policies in the hope of finding one who can’t robotically recite their side’s manifesto like most serving parliamentarians can.

Liberal candidate Jaymes Diaz was the epitome of this type of hapless candidate in 2013; he stumbled badly during the campaign when asked to list the six points of the Coalition’s plan to stop asylum seeker boats.

The Liberal Party delivered again this election with candidate Chris Jermyn, who either couldn’t or wouldn’t explain the Coalition’s Medicare rebate policy after gate-crashing one of Bill Shorten’s media events.

It’s arguable whether the media’s exposure of Diaz and Jermyn as less than knowledgeable, before being elected to Parliament, actually serves the public interest. Falling victim to a gotcha interview should not mean a candidate is not capable of being an effective parliamentarian.

Senator Ricky Muir became the poster child for hapless candidates after being subjected to a car-crash interview back in 2010 (incidentally by the same journalist who asked Hewson the birthday cake question, Mike Willesee). Yet today, Muir is widely considered as one of the more thoughtful and valuable members of federal Parliament.

It could be argued that it’s another matter when an established parliamentarian falls for a gotcha question. Attorney-General George Brandis was rightfully skewered by his interrogator, Sky’s David Speers, for not being able to explain what metadata was during an interview in 2014 about, well, the government’s metadata policy.

Speers struck again in recent weeks, catching out Labor frontbencher David Feeney on the opposition’s plans to scrap the schoolkids’ bonus.

In this year’s campaign we’ve also seen government backbencher Fiona Scott caught unprepared for a question about being a traitor to former PM Tony Abbott when she appeared at a media event with Malcolm Turnbull.

And Foreign Minister Julie Bishop not only failed to explain the transition-to-retirement element of the Coalition’s superannuation policy, but attempted to minimise the damage by protesting her interlocutor’s query was a gotcha question.

It’s arguable whether the Foreign Minister should have been across the detail of every Coalition policy, and a similar excuse could be levelled for Labor’s Feeney. Scott has no such cover; she should have anticipated the ambush.

However, beyond exposing that some candidates and MPs are not infallible policy-regurgitating automatons, the public interest value of gotcha journalism remains questionable.

It’s real purpose is to add colour and movement to campaigns and interviews that have become mind-numbingly boring due to the risk-minimisation tactics of media managers (such as this writer, in a previous life).

Somewhat ironically, gotcha journalism is, in large part, responsible for politicians being drilled in the art of (not) answering the question. And also for the tightly choreographed visits to classrooms, shop floors, and shopping centres that make it almost impossible for a party leader to meet a member of the public who hasn’t already been background-checked and briefed, or utter an unscripted word.

Gotcha journalism is an attempt to break through the bubble that risk-averse campaign teams construct around their leaders, and in this respect it could be a more legitimate form of journalism.

But only if the unexpected and unsettling questions pursue and elicit information that is of greater value to the public interest than the demonstration of an interview subject’s lack of photographic memory.

Originally published at Crikey.

What Shorten’s election promises mean for women

Everything you need to know about Bill Shorten’s campaign and how it will affect you.

In comparison to the Turnbull Government’s focus on the economy this election, the Shorten Opposition’s pitch to women is about fairness and “putting people first”.

This is partly because the Labor Party traditionally believes government funding for the services people depend upon, like health and education, is just as important as having a strong economy.

But Labor also hopes that, when it talks about fairness, voters will be reminded of the unfair budget that Tony Abbott delivered in 2014.

That was the budget where Abbott broke a pile of election promises and then increased costs or reduced payments for students, the elderly, the unemployed and the sick, while doing very little to make the wealthy pay their fair share.

When Labor leader Bill Shorten and his team talk about fairness, they want voters to be worried that if Malcolm Turnbull is re-elected, he might also break his election promises and turn out to be just like Tony Abbott.

Apart from trying to scare voters away from the Government, the Opposition is also trying to lure them to Labor. According to one opinion poll, Labor has been very successful in getting men to switch their vote from the Government to the Opposition. But when women are abandoning Turnbull’s team, they are going to the Greens and other parties as well as Labor.

What’s more, three in ten Australian women haven’t yet decided which party they prefer.

This means Labor has to capture the hearts and minds of a lot more women if it is to win the July election.

So what does the alternative government have to offer us?

For women with families, Labor has promised to deliver increases in funding for education and health promised by Julia Gillard when she was prime minister.

In fact, education is the central theme of Labor’s election pitch. It’s an expensive commitment that aims to fund every school according to the needs of its students.

Labor has also promised that computer programming will be taught in all schools, teachers will get better qualifications in science, technology, engineering and maths, and there will be additional support for Indigenous students and students with disabilities.

There’s also program to help young people in areas with high unemployment get into work.

In health, Labor has committed to lift the freeze on Medicare rebates that doctors say is putting pressure on them to give up bulk billing, scrap a plan to increase prescriptions by $5, improve the system for helping people with mental health issues, and fund local initiatives aimed at reducing suicides.

When it comes to Australia’s working women, Labor’s election commitments focus on those at the lower end of the pay scale. The Opposition promises to crack down on employers who exploit workers, as well as those who re-arrange their businesses to avoid paying out employees when a business shuts down.

Under Labor, new mothers can receive paid parental leave from their employer in addition to payments from the Government.

Labor also has additional funding for women experiencing family violence, including more funds for legal services, grants to help women be safer at home, and better information sharing between the police, courts, child protection and other government agencies. It has also committed to introducing five days’ paid leave for people who experience domestic or family violence.

If this sounds like a lot of spending, it is. The Opposition says it will pay for its promises by making big business and high-income earners pay more tax, scrapping negative gearing for established homes, and not going ahead with some of the Government’s election commitments such as the company tax cut.

But at the end of the day, Labor says some types of spending, like health and education, are more important than balancing the budget.

It will be in the hands of female voters on election day to say whether Labor is right.

Originally at The Australian Women’s Weekly.