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Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison on the campaign trail.

Campaign Countdown: Space Invaders, disappearing candidates and climate change

We’re now less than two weeks out from the Australian Federal Election and the action is really hotting up – the two prime ministerial hopefuls have gone head-to-head twice in debates, while candidates keep disappearing out of the race after social media gaffes.

In the third of our weekly installments tracking the campaign, we take a look at the who, where, why and what (on earth!) of the political happenings ahead of a May 18 polling day.

Head-to-head

Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten squared off again in a televised debate on Friday, with commentators divided on who won: the audience narrowly gave it to Mr Shorten (43) over Mr Morrison (41), while 16 voters remained undecided. It was an interesting format, with far more audience interaction than its predecessor in Perth, but many of the same themes emerging. Mr Morrison continued to go hard about franking credits and Labor taxes, while Mr Shorten was clearly keen to project a more personal touch – asking questions of the audience and suggesting he’d talk one-on-one with some afterwards. Oddly, climate change ended up being thelast question on the agenda and getting less air time than might have been expected, while Mr Shorten drew laughs when he referred to his opponent as a “classic Space Invader.”

 

While you were playing (weekend wrap)
Labor officially launched its campaign in Brisbane on Sunday with a simple key message: the party is united behind a big agenda of change. Key talking points:

  • A fresh crackdown on multinational tax avoidance
  • A new jobs tax cut offering small businesses (those with a turnover of less than $10 million) who take on a new person aged under 25, over 55, or a parent or a carer, an additional 30 per cent tax deduction on the salary for up to five employees
  • An increase to the number of case workers in the national redress agency to speed up child sexual abuse compensation payments
  • $500 million to cut waiting times in emergency departments
  • $6 million for Kids Helpline

The Coalition won’t officially launch its campaign until this Sunday and if you’re wondering about the delay, it’s convention that ministers (and shadow ministers) don’t claim taxpayer-funded travel allowances between the launch and the day after polling day. With the cost of having a leader, frontbench MPs and their staff all over the countryside being potentially plentiful for parties, the government tends to push the launch out as far as it can – in this case, just six days out from polling day.

WA spotlight

WA started the week in the national focus because of the historic first leaders debate between Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten last Monday and stayed top of mind – initially due to Louise Stewart’s issues with THAT poll and then due to Clive Palmer’s visit to town. While in the West Mr Palmer was forced to field questions about offensive Facebook posts attributed to candidate Tony Hanley and tried to win the local vote by insisting he’d spent 15 years out West.

A Seven West Media poll of three key marginal seats in Western Australia suggested the primary vote for the Liberals has slumped, and the Liberals’ two-party preferred lead over Labor in the state has narrowed from 54:46 in 2016 to 51:49.

Scott Morrison joined Andrew Hastie in the seat Canning to make a $20 million pledge to clean up crime hotspots in suburban Perth (Liberal/6.8 per cent margin) and also visited the seats of Cowan (Labor/0.7 per cent) and Pearce (Liberal/3.6 per cent).

Bill Shorten travelled to the seat of Swan to announce a $1 billion plan to power schools with solar roof panels (Liberal/3.6 per cent). He also pledged a review of Australia’s defence capabilities while visiting shipyards in Fremantle (Labor/7.5 per cent).

Everybody’s talking

A hot topic of conversation coming out of the Perth leaders’ debate was costings for Labor’s climate change policies – and it remained on the agenda for the week. The release of modelling by economist Brian Fisher and his consultancy BAEconomics raised the spectre of declining gross national product and job losses. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten hit back by labelling the modelling propaganda (akin to doctors in the 70s and 80s defending smoking) but is still to reveal a projected cost for Labor’s policy.  He indicated during Friday night’s debate that costing of all Labor policies would be revealed late this week, although polling by The West Australian seems to indicate that people are less concerned by the cost of tackling climate change than what they might perceive to be inaction on the issue.

Both major parties lost candidates to social media gaffes last week: Liberal Jessica Whelan exited as a party candidate in Tasmania (although she’s staying on the ballot as an independent), while Labor’s Melbourne candidate Luke Creasey fell on his sword after the revelation of offensive Facebook posts of a sexual nature from several years ago. In the Northern Territory, Labor senate pick Wayne Kurnorth was dumped for posting about “about Jewish lizard shapeshifters ruling the world.”

 The searchers
What voters are looking for online is always a talking point during elections – and this campaign is no exception. Pauline Hanson and One Nation have been getting plenty of traction (albeit not for the right reasons), while Clive Palmer himself is a strong search topic but not so his party. Of the two major parties, Labor is generating the most interest.

Meanwhile, we’re not sure what “who should I vote for Australia 2019?” being the third most-searched phrase might suggest about political awareness in our country.

Poll position

Newspoll remained unchanged this week at 51 per cent to 49 per cent in Labor’s favour. The Ipsos poll shows a slightly stronger lead for Labor at 52-48.

It’s estimated a record 40 per cent of voters nationwide will have their say before election day on May 18th.  A Roy Morgan poll this week found three-quarters of those surveyed had already decided who they would vote for when the election was called back on April 11. Generally, when such a large number of people are decided and keen to vote, that’s not a good sign for the incumbent.

On the road again

Surely both leaders are going to be sick of the sight of airplanes by the time this campaign is done!

Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten started last week in WA with their live debate and also came together Friday night for the Sky News/Courier Mail People’s Forum from Brisbane. Additionally:

  • Mr Shorten – spent time in Melbourne and Sydney
  • Mr Morrison – visited Townsville and Forde in Queensland, where he decorated some cupcakes, NSW’s Central Coast and Sydney.

Head scratchers

Everything about Louise Stewart and the ReachTel poll that initially was and then wasn’t was truly bizarre. It’s still not clear exactly what transpired but fair to say it’s the weirdest moment in this campaign since Matt Canavan bit into a raw onion.

So far, 11 candidates – yes, 11 – have been disendorsed for incidents of racism, sexism, religious vilification and homophobia. Another low was reached on Saturday when a billboard of Liberal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, whose relatives survived the Holocaust, was defaced with Nazi imagery.

If the world is looking for someone to blame for the Donald Trump phenomenon, then Clive Palmer might be keen to take credit. Speaking on Perth’s Radio 6PR, the United Australia Party head honcho declared his own electoral exploits of 2013 had helped inspire the US President’s shock rise to office three years later.

Tweets of the week

It pays to thoroughly spell check all your campaign material!

Spare a thought for Perth comedian Joel Creasey, who has reluctantly lived through the Luke Creasey social media saga every step of the way.


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