Mark down today as the day coverage of elections in Australian reached a record level of stupid.
Julia Gillard first met with Kevin Rudd – it was pretty stage managed; just one TV camera in to get the footage of the two of them with John Faulkner and a couple others looking at a map and discussing how they’ll go about campaigning. The media obviously wanted a joint press conference, but that wasn’t going to happen, and so they bitched as they are want to do. Fair enough.
Then Julia went to an old folks’ home in Brisbane where she announced her seniors’ policy. It contained the announcement that seniors on the pension will be able to earn up to $6,500 a year before losing any of their pension.
She also announced a tightening of regulations regarding reverse mortgages. For those of you who don’t know what a reverse mortgage ie (and I have to admit I am one of them) essentially they are as bit like a bridging loan taken out against your house until the day you die. You get a loan of money against your home which you can use to live on. And like a bridging loan you don’t need to repay the capital and interest, it just gets totted up until when you die and then the house is sold and the payment due to the bank is taken.
You can see how doing this could be greatly beneficial if you are in your 60s or 70s and you have paid off your house, but you don’t have much other than a pension to get by on (ie asset rich, cash poor). But I gather the regulations on it are a tad loose. I would love to give you more information but alas I cannot even tell you if the policy is any good, what regulations will be tightened, who, what, when, where, why etc etc, because the press conference she gave yielded only one question on her policy announcements, and that was essentially a “can your afford this” question.
The press conference was dominated but the appearance of Mark Latham, who is being paid by Channel 9 to play the role of “journalist” in an upcoming episode of 60 Minutes. Yep Channel 9, which through Laurie Oakes’s exclusives has arguably been the must watch news program of this campaign, decided to flush any vestige of credibility down the nearest toilet and pulled out Latham to cover the campaign. It’s actual journalists must feel so valued.
Before we get to the press conference, bear in mind Channel 9 is the only one paying him. Every other media outlet has zero to gain from making a point of the fact except to give Channel 9 a free plug.
Remember as well she has just announced a policy that will cost $100 million and is targeted at a key group of the electorate – a group who apparently were annoyed by the report two weeks ago that she had queried the cost of the rise in the pension.
OK, here we go:
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you promised to show us the real Julia Gillard the other week. At this morning’s meeting with Kevin Rudd why the secrecy, why a couple of cameras in the meetings why not come out and speak publicly if you’re all one happy family at the moment?
Look I’ll be kind. You gotta expect a question about Rudd – but seriously it’s a bit of a “why did you not let us in” whinge. But I’ll let it pass.
JOURNALIST: How does footage of you and the Prime Minister looking at a map help to convince Australians not to let Tony Abbott slide into power?
Well I don’t think she does think that. Really just another bitch that they weren’t allowed in the room.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister we saw about 60 seconds of footage of that meeting and it appears that there was no interaction whatsoever between you, not even eye contact. Was there any direct dialogue between you and Kevin and what was it about?
Probably was too hard to ask – “What did you and Mr Rudd discuss”?
JOURNALIST: What will be Mr Rudd’s involvement in the campaign? Could you please tell us exactly? Will you be appearing with him? Just take us through it.
Fair enough question to ask – should have been the first one asked really. Because it is the only one about Rudd and Gillard that is of much relevance.
JOURNALIST: Will you be campaigning with him and secondly was there any agreement on how you’ll handle lines like: the Government’s lost its way? How are you going to both handle those?
OK, yeah I guess the first part is ok, but the second? Really? You think she’s going to tell you? Do journalists like asking questions that are easy to avoid? Here’s how she tackled that probing question:
PM: In relation to the second half of your questions, no we didn’t discuss that matter.
JOURNALIST: Will you be happy about him being at the official launch and also is that the only time when you’ll be together?
Gee I really wondered if she would say, actually I hope the little bastard falls under a bus on the way to the launch. I mean seriously, what was the point of that question? What did the journalist expect her to say?
JOURNALIST: It was seven minutes I think into his statement the other day before he actually mentioned your name. He spent a lot of time defending his legacy and speaking out against Tony Abbott. Isn’t part of the problem here that, not that you can’t find agreement on disliking Tony Abbott but he won’t come out and say that you will make a good Prime Minister?
Seven minutes? Oh Geez that’s bad, because we all know 6 minutes is the time period in which you have to mention someone's name in a speech before we all know you hate them.
JOURNALIST: Normally when you meet with a candidate you see a handshake, someone stands behind your shoulder while you’re talking. You get all those sorts of pictures. Yet you and Kevin Rudd didn’t even look at each other. Why didn’t you shake hands with the cameras? And two, do you think that voters are going to get confused that there’s maybe two leaders of the Labor Party when you’re both campaigning?
This journalist obviously sees him or herself (I can’t recall who asked it) as a bit of a PR expert. Which is good really, because they’re certainly not a policy whizz. Will voters get confused? Depends – if they only get their information about politics in this country from the media, then yes they probably will be.
JOURNALIST: Prime minister, you have spoken several times about your understanding about how difficult these past weeks have been on Kevin Rudd and obviously his family, as a person, but today you had the opportunity, sitting next to him in a room. Did you say sorry, or do you think you don’t have anything to say sorry for?
For those of you who have come in late to proceedings, this is the ninth question of the press conference and all nine have been on Kevin Rudd. We’re now onto whether or not Julia should apologise for the spill? Seriously. We’re talking about who will lead this country and these guys are worried about someone's hurt feelings. Wonder if anyone has asked Abbott if he apologised to Turnbull? Or perhaps everyone assumed that they are adults, and know the job and the risks that come with it.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there’s another former Labor leader just standing over there, in Mark Latham, why should Australians vote for you when you have one leader who, who has just been dumped, who won’t say you’re a great option for PM, and another former leader wandering around, criticising you and your key policies?
PM: With the greatest respect to the question, Malcolm Fraser, former Liberal Prime Minister, directly asked -
JOURNALIST: He didn’t turn up at any press conference -
Notice that? Yep it was the complete absence of any reference to the fact that Channel Nine are paying Latham to be there. The journalist is suggesting his being there is Julia’s fault!
JOURNALIST: You have used all those examples in the past to attack the other side, and say they’re unelectable?
This question referred to Julia listing off all the ex-Liberal leaders who think Abbott is a fool, it was a bit of a waste of a follow up I have to say.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can we go a bit more broadly, today your campaign is centred on your reunion with Kevin Rudd. You can’t deny that Mark Latham is here. Things aren’t ideal for you are they?
JOURNALIST: But you can’t campaign effectively –
PM: Well, I can’t when you’re interrupting me, Latika, no.
No, she can’t deny Mark Latham is here – and you can’t deny he is there because Channel Nine paid him to be there – yes paid by the media. And no she probably can’t campaign effectively when the media are so asinine as to ask her about people who are there only because they have been paid by the media to be there.
JOURNALIST: Did you communicate with Mark? You used to be quite close friends
Yes please do tell us if you talk to this idiot who is only there because Channel Nine paid him to be there, but whatever you do please do not tell us about anything to do with a policy would affect every person in this country over the age of 65.
JOURNALIST: When does Mr Rudd start work?
Yep back to Rudd – because there is a rule in the press pack that you only ask 6 questions in a row about stunt paid for by rival media outlets.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) the media? Will he (inaudible)?
PM: What a ridiculous question. In what sense? How is that possible? Kevin will be campaigning as a member of the team. Kevin will be campaigning as someone who, if we are re-elected, will be a senior Minister in my Government. What that means is Kevin will be campaigning around the country, the way other members of the team are campaigning.
I can’t recall what the question was here, but I can’t believe I would be able to improve on the PM’s first response.
JOURNALIST: How will people really believe that he’s going to work with you as part of your team, if you’re talking about how much you have in common, but you won’t hold media interviews together and he won’t really even answer questions at a media conference environment about what’s happened and how he will work together?
Question number 18. By the time the press gallery gets around to asking about aged care funding, I’ll be eligible to receive it.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just to follow up on my earlier question, I understand what you’re saying about policy and that is your focus, the problem is when you try to put out policy and you are just distracted by other mixed messages like about Kevin Rudd and Mark Latham, is that difficult for you and your campaign, and keeping Tony Abbott out of the Lodge?
Yes my previous question about Mark Lathan (who is only here because Channel Nine are paying him to be here) didn't fully show that I don’t care about a policy that actually affects people’s lives, so let me ask another question to fully demonstrate that I don’t want to focus on policy that actually affects people’s lives.
Seriously, you couldn’t make this up. One brilliant person on twitter suggested The Chaser could get some easy laughs by showing up to press conferences and asking policy questions.
JOURNALIST: When was the last time you spoke with Mark Latham?
Oh yes, Australia needs to know when was the last time our Prime Minister talked to a person who hasn't been in the parliamentary Labor Party for 6 years.
JOURNALIST: What was the meeting about?
Now just to explain how utterly stupid this question is, it is in response to Gillard’s answer to the previous question. She answered: “a number of years ago”. Yes we need to know what was discussed a number of years ago between these two people, one of whom is utterly irrelevant to the lives of every one in Australia excepting his own family.
Would love to know who that journo was.
JOURNALIST: Did you discuss today what sort of role, which jobs Mr Rudd might get if you are re-elected?
A fair enough question, though given Rudd’s role post election has been stated about a gazillion times, it is pretty pointless.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in the past month we have had a toxic interaction between Paul Keating and Bob Hawke in the form of a letter, we’ve had the situation with Kevin Rudd over the past few weeks, and today Mark Latham is standing up at your press conference. What does this say about Labor’s culture and are you concerned what this means for you when you decide to leave politics?
Words just fail me. A question asked by a person who is either completely ignorant of Australian political history or… no I think I’ll leave it there.
JOURNALIST: Would you have a message for people in Labor who seem to be not taking it quite as seriously as you are, for example, Mr Latham. Are you annoyed that he showed up here today? Is he distracting essentially from what you want to talk about and what would you say to people in Labor who don’t seem to be having quite the same view as you?
Ok, let’s say this in small words so you can all understand it: MARK LATHAM WAS PAID BY CHANNE NINE TO BE THERE.
JOURNALIST: On policy, did you talk to Kevin Rudd today about how he will campaign in support, or if not, for your position on asylum seekers, and also climate change?
The really sad thing is that this journalist think this is a policy question. A question of how someone will campaign on a issue is not a policy question. Look, here, I’ll help. Here’s a policy question on those two issues:
“On policy, do you have any anticipation by how much will a regional processing centre in East Timor reduce the number of people attempting to come to Australia by boat? Do you think it will halve the number? What number will you judge as being successful?”
“On policy, you have said you need consensus before moving to putting a price on carbon. How will you judge that consensus has been reached? Or is it a moveable figure that you will shift depending on the political situation at the time?”
Ok… now get ready… here it comes…
JOURNALIST: You questioned if we could afford a pension increase, do you think we can afford this with such an ageing population?
Yes ladies and gentlemen: Question 26, the last question of a press conference held to announce a policy on aged care is about aged care. A soft one granted, but at least it was on it. Well done.
Now as to Latham, many journalists on twitter seemed content to blame Labor for the farce that we just read. A few like Annabel Crabb tweeted when I asked her about Latham’s appearance at the press conference:
I think it is most inappropriate. ac
But when footage emerged of him approaching Gillard at the Brisbane Ekka, it seemed to spur the gallery to slam the entire stunt – perhaps realising that this was not exactly casting their profession in a decent light (can’t imagine why).
The best tweet I saw was by The Oz’s Matthew Franklin (and regular readers would know I am not one to usually hand out bouquets to him, but on this issue he got it absolutely spot on:
For nine to use latham as a 'journo' is deplorable and makes a mockery of their approach to journalism
Yep. Channel Nine a credible news organisation? Sorry, that bridge has now been burnt. Well done to you.
Laurie Oakes must feel so chuffed that he has been used as the warm-up act for a buffoon.