Monday, August 9, 2010

Election 2010: Day 24 (or, the last-question face)

An interesting thing surfaced today on twitter. Journalists following Tony Abbott, after a bit of bubbling under the surface in the last week, started to make their feeling known about the fact that Abbott was answering bugger all questions at his press conferences. This feeling has been around for most of the campaign – one commenter on my blog post of last Friday wrote:

As for asking questions, anyone who has seen a live, unedited version of one of these press conferences should have seen that Abbott, particularly, will answer just the smallest fraction of questions journalists want to ask.

It's a battle to get noticed, get a question in, and the leader will pick certain people and ignore others, and only seven or eight questions are allowed before the conference is abruptly terminated.

Now anyone who has seen any of Julia Gillard’s press conferences will know that she has pretty much ended the mad scramble approach: she takes control like a teacher and goes round the room letting everyone have a go – and usually lets a few have more than one question. It is a pretty civilised affair – a times jovial when a journalist falsely claims to have not yet asked a question. And even when I was criticising the media for their questions to her on Saturday, one thing that you would have noticed is the number of the questions – there was 26 of them.

Today Abbott gave a press conference on insulation, but pretty quickly the questions got on to the economy: in fact the press gallery was very much on its game. I don’t have the transcript, however these were the subjects of the questions:
  1. The surplus (he was asked if his paying it back was “the Gospel truth”)
  2. Costello’s reaction to him being in the ALP adverts
  3. Stimulus – did it help GDP growth?
  4. What will the debt reduction taskforce do, and what about Warren Truss spending about $40b in his speech yesterday?
  5. Abortion
  6. His small target approach
  7. Insulation – what will he do and how much will it cost
  8. Truss’s spendathon
  9. Costello advert
  10. Surplus
  11. Costings of promises
  12. How much have you spent?
  13. How much have you spent?
  14. Debt reduction taskforce is different from the Expenditure Review Committee how?
Yep, 14 questions. And let me tell you, by the 9th his face was already adopting the look of “When the hell is my minder going to yell out LAST QUESTION!?” His “Last-question face”, comes out pretty quickly when the subject turns to economics, as does the umming and ahhhing and the coughing.

The press conference revealed that Abbott didn't seem to know how much money the Liberal Party had pledged to spend. Forgivable perhaps, but still a bad look – especially when Hockey later in the day at the National Press Club was able to give a figure – one that was $7b different to the one Abbott finally gave. 

The issue of Peter Costello is an interesting one. The ALP have began running an advert attacking Abbott as being a dud on economics – and using quotes from John Hewson and a grab from Peter Costello. Costello was not impressed saying today that the advert was “deceptive”.

Julia Gillard countered at her press conference later in the day by reading out the full quote of Costello’s":

"Journalist: 'Who do you think will preserve your economic legacy now you're leaving?'

"Costello: 'Well I was pretty interested to see that a lot of comment in the last 24 hours has been coming from my good friend Tony Abbott'.

"Journalist: 'Do you think, do you look at Tony Abbott as the next stalwart?'.

"Costello: 'Not on economic matters'."

Hard to take that out of context… (but the ALP must be thanking Costello for making the advert an issue – and it is their best attack ad yet).

But to go back to the issue of questions at press conferences, I thought I’d have a look and compare the performances of the two leaders. I went through the transcripts on the ALP and Liberal Party websites. Now firstly, the ALP has all of the transcripts of Julia’s press conferences – even the one given in Perth today; the Libs haven’t got any since the 28th July. So my analysis does not include any Abbott press conference since then (though I will bet good money he hasn’t improved).

Now Gillard has given 10 press conferences since Friday a week ago. In chronological order she has answered this many questions:

26, 17, 15, 21, 21, 21, 45, 26, 22, 24  for an average of 23.8.

She also gave one short press conference up in the rainforest in Cairns, though it did not include the full press pack and only 7 questions were asked (and she had already given a press conf just an hour or so earlier and where she answered 21 question). But even if we include that she averages 22.3. And that 45 question effort? That was the press conference regarding the Orgill Report – so a pretty policy and economics heavy one. Simon Crean was there but he only answered two of them.

Now of the 8 press conference transcripts the Liberal Party website has going back to 15 July, Abbott answered this many questions:

17, 23, 18, 13, 12, 10, 14, 14 (and add his 14 from today as well) for an average of 15.

But the “huge” 23 question press conference was a joint one with Scott Morrison on immigration and asylum seekers so not really a heavy economic issue – and one on which he would feel he’s on sure ground, and Morrison answered 5 of them.

As I say, I don’t have his most recent ones – I have no idea why the Liberal Party wouldn’t put them on their site.

So each time they front up Julia answers on average over 8 more questions – and if you compare their answers hers are also much longer and detailed than Abbott’s. AN interesting point of difference form the two people interviewing for the job of PM…

resizer.aspx Today in contrast to Abbott’s quick in and out press conference, Julia gave a press conference where she answered 24 questions – all but one on policy (the press gallery was again doing a great job) – and she also had Q&A session at a school in Perth. She began this session by giving a pretty dull power point talk on her education policy, but then she sat down and let the parents and teachers ask whatever they want. Sure some were pretty soft, but such occasions are ripe for traps – especially when a parent asks about an issue close to her heart like one did today about her son with autism. Julia was engaging, and allowed follow up questions and seemed in no hurry for the session to end. The Last-question face was never sighted.

Today it was also revealed that both Abbott and Gillard would be in Rooty Hill on Wednesday to have a “town hall” style meeting. Except it won’t be a debate – they will answer questions separately. The entire thing is a bit of a mockery of Abbott’s excuse for not having an economic debate with Gillard because of timing issues. As Julia tweeted today:

@tonyabbottMHR and I will both be in Sydney on Wednesday and I think it's time we debated the economy. JG


Today we did see an economic debate – between Wayne Swan and Joe Hockey at the National Press Conference. r600881_3911415

It was a good debate, both were fired up, and both actually debated each other rather than had joint press conferences. Swan started best, but Joe was passable as well – despite his idiocy about crowding out, and also his rather odd wish for everyone in the mining industry to run faster. Given the impact of the two speed economy on inflation, I’m not sure if the Reserve Bank would be so desirous for that industry to speed up.

r616305_4107676 Swan was pretty gee’d up and looked very confident in his address. Hockey by contrast did his level best to keep “Angry Joe” at bay, and talked about the bountiful bounty that Australia has to offer to all bountiful peoples of the world divided into 3 time zones (or words to that extent).
He then started talking about Australia needing to complete with low paid labour in Vietnam, Thailand in a manner that almost had me thinking he was going to announce a new policy to encourage sweat shops.

He also seemed at pains to make it clear that Andrew Robb was there to support him; his comparison with the fact that Swan was on his own perhaps did not suggest what he hoped it would.

But it was a good debate – refreshingly free of sound bites, and the only last-question face was that made by Chris Uhlmann when he reluctantly had to wrap things up.


BigBob said...

A much better day for the media.

Perhaps the weekends idiocy has woken them from the slumber.

It's also the pointy end of the campaign now, the launches are underway.

I suspect (and fervently hope) that the media focus will be 90% policy from now on.

Anonymous said...

@bernardk here

Regarding Abbott's pres conference transcripts you say
"As I say, I don’t have his most recent ones – I have no idea why the Liberal Party wouldn’t put them on their site."

how far out your cheek was your tongue poking when you said that???

Anonymous said...

A great wrap as always Grog.

Several sites I've seen today have suggested a Labor ad showing Abbott walking away from a presser when asked economic questions, and your analysis adds weight to the suggestion. It's another gimme, like the Costello/Hewson ad.

Gillard did an excellent job with the education policy today.

Agnes Mack said...

Apart from, or probably partly because of, disgraceful Saturday, there has been a remarkable shift away from the trivial in journalists' questions.

It seems you are the "Giftie" who "gied" the travelling media the gift of seeing themselves as others see them.( borrowing freely from Robbie Burns).

Casablanca said...

Grog, I have already posted this on LP but your unique followers may also like this:

Joe Hockey concluded his debate with Wayne Swan today by calling for the replacement of the Labor Government with “a grown-up” government.

See this picture of the very model of a ‘grown-up’ Shadow Treasurer (and potential Treasurer):

Popular advice years ago, when confronted by an over-bearing boss was to visualise him (it usually was a male boss) sitting on the loo with pants around his ankles. Joe with crown, wand and tutu can serve the same therapeutic purpose.

Can a fool change the colour of their tutu in government?

SM said...

Again you succinctly summarise it. I missed the NPC debate, but following the twit-stream I got the impression it was indeed a solid debate, one that didn't hurt either participant.

I find myself coming back to JWH's masterstroke at carefully taking over the language so debt=ALP & Economic management =Coalition. Despite the lack of evidence.

Really Breshnev would of been proud to have JWH and his mates in the Ministry for Propaganda

Malcolm said...

In your list of questions to Abbot, I'm guessing the third one was about debt reduction, rather than debate reduction. A whole taskforce to ensure there are even less debates in the next election seems too obviously wasteful to be a campaign policy.

Grog said...

Malcolm - lol yes, it should be debt reduction rather than debate reduction! (Fixed now) Bit of a slip there - perhaps though given Abbott's penchant for avoiding questions, it wasn't too far off the mark

Michael said...

During the Swan/Hockey debate, Hockey claimed on two occasions that "here" (at the National Press Club) when he addressed the members of the Press previously, following on Abbott's Budget Reply Speech, that he had announced details of 46 billion dollars of savings. He did no such thing. In fact, he was lambasted then, and 'there', for precisely that - NOT announcing details when Abbott had said he would. Nobody in the room yesterday pulled him up on that. The Press Gallery is giving the Coalition free passes on their lies and distorted commentary every day of the week, every hour of the day. Why? 'Fill this space.'

Towel said...

One of the problems for Abbott is he is running the line of attack that Labor is all about the "gutless spin" ... but you can't run that line if you adopt the campaign tactics that he has adopted.

You only draw attention to your own spin when you do that. Howard did this masterfully when he made the Latham election about trust, because Latham ran that line so hard he ultimately drew attention to his character and we all know the consequences of that.

If Abbott really wanted to win this election he needed to appear like he was the more authentic candidate.

Anonymous said...

The more Latham keeps putting his face forward, the better it will be for Julia.
If the intent by Channel 9 was to get under the skin of the ALP, it has NOT worked. Rather they look foolish for the attempt.
Abbott now has Kerry O'Brien and the talk at Rooty Hill wthin a couple of days. He looks very uncomfortable if he can't ask a friend for the answer. The timing of these high profile views of Abbott as potential PM could be interesting with only a few days to go.

Anonymous said...

What we really need is a grown up press.

2353 said...

Maybe the rest of the Press Gallery saw Latham, Oakes comment on him and realised they were one contract renewal away from being replaced by "experts".

Anonymous said...

The Abbott press conference after the seniors announcement last week was interesting - for the first half Abbott took only policy questions, putting campaign questions off to the second half.