Federal Election 2016: end of Week 1 Turnbull campaign off-track
Unplanned issues for both leaders saw a week of untidy politics.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.