I haven't been a political reporter all that long. But I've learnt pretty quickly, there's no point trying to predict what is going to happen next. Who will win the election? Umm... Pass. It seems right now, Tony Abbott could announce policy backflips on everything (except perhaps WorkChoices) and still win. Last week, I thought he had Buckley's - so did a few Liberals too.
The problem for Julia Gillard is that Kevin Rudd is sucking all of the oxygen out of her campaign. As I wrote a few days ago, personality is as much a part of modern politics as policy (rightly or wrongly - that's the way it is). The Prime Minister's policy announcements are all getting gazumped by the constant chattering about Rudd, and internal leaks against her that he's been blamed for.
Publicly (and no doubt privately), Ms Gillard spent most of her two days in Perth trying to shift the focus - to confront her problems, and "move forward". In doing so, we saw a new side of her. Gone was the tightly-scripted, slogan-riddled, robotic-toned media conference. In its place was a direct, passionate, genuine dialogue. Rarely do politicians speak in such a manner. Of course, Ms Gillard would have received advice suggesting she take this approach. But I suspect she has driven much of the transformation, aware that the public's tolerance for repetitive, focus-grouped garbage is well below zero.
There was a distinct sense of liberalisation too (bad choice of word when talking about Labor, I know) in relation to her office's handling of the travelling media. The fear that releasing too much information exposes the PM's events to the risk of protesters is legitimate. But almost completely cutting off the lines of communications makes it impossible for us to do our jobs properly. Fortunately, the campaign has "opened up" in the sense that trust has been established, and information (although still necessarily restricted) is flowing in a timely fashion. The consequence is that we can expect more of the unexpected, which will be welcomed by any observing this campaign.
Tonight, we arrive in Sydney, completing our tour of every state and territory except the NT within a week. Several memories will stick with me from Perth second-time-around... an overly-zealous safety manager at the National Broadband announcement who was slightly scary... the bombshell news that Kevin Rudd was in hospital... and of course, a great dinner with other media-types in Subiaco. It can't be all work and no play.
Tomorrow, I switch camps again, back on the Abbott trail for week three of the campaign. Having won the first week, then getting belted in week two, Labor's chances of winning the election are on the slide. I'm not sure the Nielsen poll which puts the Coalition ahead is accurate. But, it's clear that very little separates the major parties. While spirits are raising in the Liberal team, the all know that Tony Abbott is always just one slip-up away from disaster. We all know he's physically fit, but whether he has the stamina to remain disciplined for another three weeks is another question altogether.Days 14 & 15 down, 21 to go...
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