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?)

20150604001140771842-original

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.

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.