Today the ALP launched its campaign. It didn’t of course – campaign launches are no such thing. The ALP’s launch was a pared-back affair, in great contrast to the hubris and self-congratulation of the Liberal launch last week. There were less jokes than the Liberal affair – this was a good thing, unless it was the Liberal Party’s intention for Warren Truss to be more memorable than Tony Abbott. It had the air at the start of more like a wedding reception than a political event.
It started with Anna Bligh as the matron of honour – she was off the stage quickly so as to not overshadow the bride. Wayne Swan played the role of Best Man. His speech had a bit of humour but mostly focussed on how good a sort was the bride. And then Bob Hawke stepped up to give the father of the bride speech.
Like all father of the bride speeches it rambled a bit – at times you wondered if he had indulged a bit too much in the amber fluid prior to getting up – such as when he slipped up 1953 for 1983. But most of all, like all father of the bride speeches it was full of passion – passion for the bride yes, but in Hawke’s case it was really a passion for the Labor Party. He extolled the party faithful to keep the fight going, and ripped into the “tories”:
We made the Australian economy much more competitive. We were a party who had the national interest of Australia in mind.
What about the other mob, the alternative? They were sitting in their usual posture, on their bloody hands, do nothing. No they were against doing anything. Is it any wonder my friends that Tony Abbott is playing the chicken?
We have the form, the record, the policies and the leader.
Then the woman of the moment spoke. No she didn’t come across all Shakespearean, for that type of speech never appeals to Australians – we are a humble lot and on any occasion where a speech is given – be it wedding reception or campaign launch – we don’t ask for great oratory, but what we do ask for we want. And Julia she did do what she had to do – she announced some policy which would get a mention on the 6 o’clock news – and then importantly she told us a story that grouped together the themes of the campaign and her vision for Australia. She gave us a narrative. A campaign launch speech without a narrative on the future is a waste of time.
Abbott in his speech last week announced no real policy of any note – some guff about asylum seeker laws – and when he looked to the horizon to paint a narrative he could only see three months ahead – a three months in which would spend most of the time not doing things.
Julia’s vision was based around jobs, education, health and broadband. It was a message many Labor supporters had been calling for for a long time – in point of fact Rudd needed to be making it 12 months ago:
Let’s have a look at the track record of creating jobs. In this country since 2007 we have created more than half a million jobs. In other advanced economies they have lost 16 million jobs – 16 million working people who are now struggling to find a future for themselves and their families.
And as Bob has rightly said, what do we hear from the other side of politics? We don’t hear about this great opportunity. We don’t hear about how we can build for the future as we emerge from these troubled economic times. No, all we hear from Mr Abbott is to be afraid, to be afraid as he goes around talking about debt, as he tries to sell you his slogans. But of course what Mr Abbott doesn’t tell you is he doesn’t tell you the simple facts. The simple facts that the global financial crisis caused debt and deficit for economies around the world and when we look at other major advanced economies, they have a debt, on average, 15 times greater than ours.
He doesn’t tell you that when you look at the debt of this nation, it’s the equivalent of someone who earns $100,000 a year having a $6,000 loan. That’s where our nation is positioned.
I ask you once again to imagine the power of this, in the middle of the night: a child with a rash, in the middle of the night a child with a swelling – you don’t quite know, is it not very much? Is it something really serious? Well imagine, in your own home, being able to show the child with the rash, the child with the swelling, being able to get assistance and help through the power of broadband, through the power of the internet.
Being able to get some guidance in that moment when you’re truly anxious, truly anxious and don’t know what to do next. About whether this is something benign and just staying at home with mum and dad and loving care is all that is required. Whether you need to see a doctor the next day in your own community or whether it’s something really serious and you should be thinking about calling an ambulance or driving to the emergency department of your local hospital.
Imagine being able to do that. Not by talking over the phone, desperately trying to describe what you see and anxious you’ve got the description wrong, but by being able to show a healthcare professional what it is you’re worried about and getting the advice you need. This is the future of healthcare, and for our GP After-Hours Line, it starts on the 1st of July 2012.
It is something that looks ahead. As someone who has rung up a health line late at night due to a sick child, I can say the idea of being able to talk on a video phone is appealing – it is something that should be common place. Yes it will require the doctors to be available and it will require training and funding, and it needs to be done sensibly. But it is something that at least we should aim for. It may not be the boldest ever sweeping vision of the future, but it is new – and if done well will be something that will change the way we do things. If it works it will stop people going to an emergency ward and waiting for 3 hours to be told to give you child some neurofen and fluids. And that is no small thing.
Her announcement of a Medicare rebate for online consultations also got approval from the AMA – never the ALP’s best friend:
AMA President, Dr Andrew Pesce, said in a statement that the $392.3 million investment would help doctors use technology to provide services to patients who would otherwise have limited or no access to them.
This is a recognition of the need to embrace communications technology to modernise our health system," Dr Pesce said.
"It will allow doctors to overcome the tyranny of distance when providing care and advice for patients in rural and remote Australia. Some patients will no longer have to travel long hours and incur significant costs to access medical care."
Yes it is disappointing that climate change got no mention – but today was not the day for that fight.
And then she ended with the closest you are going to get to a call for arms in Australian political rhetoric invoking Obama and the most Labor of Labor PM’s Ben Chifley:
Ben Chifley spoke to us about that light on the hill in a different age, in a different nation, in a different time. President Barack Obama inspired a nation by saying ‘yes we can’. Well friends, I’m too humble to compare myself to either Ben Chifley or Barack Obama, but I am asking you when you vote on Saturday, to say, as you cast that vote: yes we will.
Yes we will move forward with confidence and optimism. Yes we will keep our economy growing stronger day by day. Yes we will offer people the benefits and dignity of work. Yes we will transform our education system so every child, every child gets the benefit of a great education. Yes we will show care and concern for each other through a decent health care system. Yes we will work together and tackle the challenge of climate change. Yes we will embrace the technology of the future by embracing the National Broadband Network. Yes we will close the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and we will recognise the first Australians in our Constitution. Yes we will move forward together.
By way of contrast, Abbott’s big policy today was again about the bloody asylum seekers! His asylum seeker tourettes continued this time farcically announcing he would get the commander of the Navy vessel to ring him on the phone to make the final decision on whether or not to turn back the boat! It took about 00.1 seconds for this to become dubbed Boatphone and even the very Liberal friendly Daily Telegraph made fun of it on its front page.
It is a stupid policy but it is also potentially dangerous. Abbott is under political pressure to turn back the boats – the Navy’s job is hard enough without having some git back in Canberra deciding what they should do. What happens if he says turn back the boat and the people then scuttle it – does the Navy have to ring him up again to ask if they can rescue them?
You give officers in the Navy the ranks they have because they are able to make the decisions. The Navy is not Abbott’s own personal border patrol guard. Abbott today was unable to explain why, if as he says, he will always take their advice, they need to ring him.
Julia was right to mock him today:
And Mr Abbott says to you he wants to stop the boats but today we’ve actually found out what this plan means. Just imagine it – a Commander of one of our patrol boats out on the high seas. What Mr Abbott wants that Commander to do is to take their eyes off the safety of their crew, take their eyes off the ocean, take their eyes off people smugglers, go inside the cabin and give him a call. That’s Mr Abbott’s plan to stop the boats.
And then presumably, from the safety of Kirribilli as he watches luxury yachts go by, Mr Abbott is going to provide some advice to that Commander about how to stop the boats. Friends, this is a nonsense. This is a nonsense and every Australian will see through it I’m sure. I trust the skills, capacities, energy, decency and dedication of our hard-working Defence personnel. We put the nation’s safety in their hands. We do it for a reason and my trust is with them and for them. That’s what I believe in.
Abbott had a serious brain fart with that idea today. And he knows it. He also knows today’s Newspoll which shows the Liberal Party only in front by a mere 1% on the question of better economic manager (down from a lead of 12% last month) is not good.
It is why tonight at 7:40pm he held a snap press conference to announce he will now debate Julia on the economy. But of course he wants to decide the terms. Instead of debating at a town hall forum as Gillard had proposed, he wants a pathetic 30 minutes on the ABC with Chris Uhlmann as moderator and he then wants another separate town hall forum in Brisbane – where they do not share a stage together.
The ALP will be fools if they don’t say yes – BUT on the proviso that Julia goes last. The set up of the town hall forum is massively stacked in favour of the person who goes last. The person who goes last can see what was said earlier, can rebut it and also knows that anything he/she says will not be able to be challenged. It’s a format Abbott loves because he can play loose with the truth. If the ALP agrees to it with Abbott going last, they’re agreeing to a rigged game. They don’t need to.
Some in the media are saying this is Abbott upping the stakes. In fact he is asking for less than Gillard wanted – she wanted two hours in Brisbane in a town hall with the first half a debate on the economy, and the second half a forum with both of them on the stage at the same time. That would have been new and innovative. This is nothing new – it’s just another Q and A.
The fact is Abbott needs this forum more than Julia does. He was asked repeatedly yesterday and today about debating her, he said no. He would not have come out after the 6pm news to call for this debate and forum if he hadn’t started smelling the wind.
The problem is the biggest stench he could smell was his boatphone idea and his economic credibility wafting away.