Getting personal on the campaign trail


Did Mark Latham wake up grumpy on Sunday morning, or what?

He went after Laurie Oakes for not understanding how someone can be simultaneously better off on a weekly basis and worse off annually.

Latham accused him of ‘smart aleck’ commentary. Oakes smirked and chortled some more. ‘Mate, if you don’t get it… ‘ Latham continued.

Next to feel big Mark’s ire was the Australian’s Samantha Maiden, who copped it for supposedly dragging Latham’s boys into the campaign. ‘I’ve answered more questions about my personal life than any other party leader in the history of the country,’ Latham said.

An exasperated Latham then sought the intervention of gallery president, Karen Middleton, to ‘rein in’ the journalists. But Middleton explained that this wasn’t part of her job.

By this time the press gallery was tut-tutting out loud “ ‘Is Latham feeling the pressure?’ they wondered.

On Monday, the avuncular Daily Telegraph bureau chief Malcolm Farr was on radio pointing out that Latham had been happy (read ‘hypocritical’) to ‘use’ his kids as props in Father’s Day photo shoots and on other ‘private’ occasions.

Then on Wednesday, the Daily Telegraph‘s Ray Chesterton accused Latham of ‘moral elasticity’ because he allowed himself to be filmed with other people’s kids.

While the gallery ruminated about Latham’s sensitivity, some ‘big guns’ of media commentary were being swung around on its own flaws.

News Ltd’s Terry McCrann started his mid-week column with this moderate assessment: ‘The sheer, breathtaking and fundamental incompetence of the Canberra press gallery, particularly its supposed ‘leading lights’, is once again on display.’

He concluded his piece on the media’s repeated failure to alert readers to the margin of error in polling, by saying that it is all just ‘dreadful journalism’. So there!

Having said that, the polls did seem to prove anything you like this week.

Tuesday’s Newspoll showed that Labor had a winning national lead, while other polls showed that it had no chance of winning any marginals in NSW, or perhaps anywhere else.

Polls also showed that people are warming to Latham. Disturbingly, hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders are also apparently champing at the bit to vote for Pauline Hanson. Pauline delighted the media by explaining that she’s having one more go just for her much beloved dad.

On a serious note, the media briefly expressed concern at the prospect of her comeback. Could be terrible for our image in Asia and so on.

Then Pauline cried about her in-gaol relationship with a convicted murderer, and there was another burst of front-page coverage.

Midweek, the release of yet another poll (is anyone doing anything else?) has drawn our attention to the Sydney seat of Wentworth, where the seemingly unloved Malcolm Turnbull is locked in a deadly struggle with the largely unlamented Peter King.

Will Labor’s unlauded David Patch become the ultimate beneficiary of this fratricidal idiocy? The poll suggests this might happen, but it still seems improbable that King’s staunchly monarchist voters will carry through with their threat to preference Labor republicans.

Back on Sunday, the Greens announced a (partial) preference deal with Labor. ‘Announce’ seems the wrong word for something so bleeding obvious.

Nevertheless, an ‘outraged’ Democrats leader, Andrew Bartlett, (remember him?), fresh from a bungee jumping spree, accused the Greens of having ‘conspired’ with Labor to get rid of the only indigenous Australian in the federal parliament, the inconspicuous Aden Ridgeway.

The Greens retaliated by accusing the Democrats of striking a ‘faustian’ bargain (no less) with the ‘religious right’, in the form of the Family First party. Bartlett, predictably, found this charge to be ‘hypocritical’.

Meanwhile, the New England independent, Tony Windsor, claimed to have been the subject of a bribery attempt by persons ‘who know who they are’, as he helpfully explained.

Howard, who spent much of the week in the company of an out-sized rodent, said he would dismiss the claim as an ‘election stunt’ unless Mr Windsor named the person(s) allegedly involved.

The PM had what the wits described as a ‘ratty’ week, particularly over his use of the confusing pre-emptive strike policy to try and make Latham look weak and indecisive. Talking about our image in Asia, the Malaysians seemed unhappy but Howard said it would be OK once he ‘explained’ the policy to them.

Howard’s week got worse with Wednesday’s release of the hard-hitting Jackson inquiry report. This forced him to follow Labor’s lead, and announce that he would hand-over the coalition’s James Hardie donations to asbestosis victims.

There were also various billion dollar policy announcements during the week … but hey, everyone knows that it’s the personal stuff that makes campaigns so much fun.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.