IAN KIRKWOOD: Monotony and missteps

I DON’T know if they slipped something into the water, but the second week of the election campaign seemed a lot quieter than the first.
Nanjing Night Net

Despite a plethora of politicians criss-crossing the country from Corangamite to Capricornia, and from Forrest to Fraser – or Fowler – very little of consequence seemed to eventuate.

Sunday night’s soporific leaders’ debate set the tone. The biggest controversy to emerge from the first, and possibly only, head-on clash of the campaign between the incumbent, Kevin Rudd, and the likely victor, Tony Abbott, was that Kevin ‘‘cheated’’ by taking notes into a supposedly ‘‘no-notes’’ arena.

Mr Rudd said he needed notes because there was a limit to how many of Mr Abbott’s ‘‘three-word slogans’’ he could remember without help.

But he was outdone in the (well-rehearsed) wit stakes by Liberal Senator Mathias Cormann, who said: “Last night Tony Abbott was looking like a leader; Kevin Rudd was looking like a reader.”

Score that as snappy slogans 1, Rudd 0.

As the days progressed – slowly – anyone looking for policy prescriptions would have been sorely disappointed. Time and again, Mr Abbott opened his mouth to say something serious only to put his foot in it.

First, on Monday, came the now infamous ‘‘suppository of wisdom’’ line.

‘‘No one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom,’’ Mr Abbott said to an audience of Liberal Party faithful in Melbourne.

Veteran Liberal MP Philip Ruddock, who is travelling with Mr Abbott as a campaign mentor and minder, reportedly ‘‘squirmed’’ at the reference.

The next day, smooth Tony was at it again, with his appraisal of the ‘‘sex appeal’’ of the Coalition’s candidate for Lindsay, Fiona Scott.

Asked what Ms Scott and a former Liberal holder of the same western Sydney seat, Jackie Kelly, had in common, Mr Abbott said: “They’re young, they’re feisty, I think I can probably say they have a bit of sex appeal, and they are just very, very connected to the local area.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the media pack also realised the Liberal candidate for nearby Greenway, Jaymes Diaz, was in the crowd.

Mr Diaz scored national coverage for all the wrong reasons in the first week of the campaign for a failure to know anything about the Coalition’s six-point asylum-seeker policy.

So, coverage of Tuesday’s campaigning was reduced to endless repeats of the Abbott-Scott moment – including her somewhat surprised reaction as his words sunk in – together with footage of Mr Diaz hightailing it for the safety of a campaign car.

On the surface, you’d have to score those events as negatives for Mr Abbott, who is already fighting to overcome an image of himself as supposedly too ‘‘blokey’’ for the Lodge.

Yes, I know I’m winding the clock back 30years to 1983. But being blokey never cost Bob Hawke too many votes, and he left Abbott in the shade when it came to inappropriate comments about women.

More relevantly, though, the real impact of Mr Abbott’s comments is that they focused almost all of the prime-time attention on him, and away from the message Kevin Rudd is still desperately trying to sell.

I’m not saying that was the Coalition’s plan all along – ‘‘get Abbott out there to make a fool of himself and we’ll suck all of the air out of Kevin for the day’’.

But it certainly wasn’t how Labor would have wanted this week to go.

And the ALP sure didn’t need former leader Mark Latham sticking his bib into things by suggesting Mr Abbott must have had ‘‘beer goggles’’ on to say what he said about his candidate.

For a man who writes insightfully about Labor in his regular newspaper columns, he certainly is a loose cannon in front of a microphone.

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