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Australia Latham's Law

Latham’s law

If nothing else, the Liberal party’s candidates have an impressive turn of foot.

19 March 2011

12:00 AM

19 March 2011

12:00 AM

If nothing else, the Liberal party’s candidates have an impressive turn of foot.

If nothing else, the Liberal party’s candidates have an impressive turn of foot. During last year’s federal election I bumped into Russell Matheson campaigning for the seat of Macarthur in south-west Sydney. Within moments of my arrival at a local shopping centre he had disappeared.

At the start of the NSW election campaign, while picking up my daughter from preschool, I came across the Liberal candidate for Wollondilly, Jai Rowell, doorknocking on the other side of the street. With the speed of a fear-stricken ant, he dashed into the bushes nearby, seeking shelter from the Latham monster.

Relax, fellas, my campaign specialty is the Australian Labor Party. In fact, I’m itching to get out there and shake hands with the Premier, Kristina Keneally. Might even catch up with my old mate Jabba the Hutt. Every day I sit by the phone waiting for a call from 60 Minutes. Why is it taking so long? I haven’t had an assignment for seven months. What could have gone wrong?

The state campaign has been pedestrian, enlivened only by the chutzpah of Bob Carr. When asked by the Sunday Telegraph’s Claire Harvey about his newfound love of blogging, the former Premier replied, ‘Sometimes I think, “Bob, you spend all this time learning. This knowledge will die with you. You have an obligation to share it.”’

Bob the Blogger is not afraid of self-aggrandisement. He claims, for instance, to have chewed the fat (non-trans, of course) with his ‘old buddy Mao Tse Tung whenever we braved the Yangtze for a healthful swim’. In the spirit of Bob and his buddy, I recently toured the Narellan shopping mall (in the NSW marginal seat of Camden), gauging public reaction to Carr’s selflessness.


The feedback was overwhelming. Monique from Just Cuts said, ‘All our customers love Bob’s blog, he’s so knowledgeable. He knew how to fix Sydney’s congestion problems and reform the education and health systems. That’s why we’re all voting Labor later this month.’

At the women’s fashion store, Be Me, Sizes 16 And Up, Francine told me, ‘The ladies here support Bob the Blogger’s campaign to outlaw trans-fats, they talk about nothing else. It might put us out of business, but who care? We just love Bob.’

As I navigated the Gruen transfer, past Strandbags and Williams the Shoemen, Barry from SportsWorld called me over and declared, ‘You must be here to talk about Bob’s blog. We read it every day. I mean, who else knows so much about sport — rugby league, cricket, boxing, the lot?’ Then he and his staff broke into a familiar war cry: ‘Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Oi, Oi, Oi!’

Yes, Carr is the Confucius of our time, or as his old buddy declared on the west bank of the Yangtze: ‘On Bob’s blog, let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.’

During election campaigns, the major parties keep an eye out for what they call ‘candidate’s disease’. This usually involves a greenhorn candidate for an unwinnable seat thinking he is unbeatable, not because of the party’s campaign efforts but due to his own brilliance and popularity. Think of it as a state of irrational exuberance.

After an article by Imre Salusinszky in the Australian last month, a new campaign term is needed: journalist’s disease. Salusinszky reported a fall in Kristina Keneally’s popularity in a Newspoll survey that began as far back as January. He claimed, ‘The poll is likely to trigger a reassessment of Labor’s campaign strategy.’

Given that the in-house style at the Australian is one of delusions of grandeur, Salusinszky obviously did not want to be left behind, believing his poll would change the course of the election campaign. He neglected, however, an obvious fact: during campaigns the major parties conduct nightly tracking polls, giving them immediate notification of shifts in public opinion.

The ALP would not have needed old Newspoll numbers to know what was happening. They had their pollster in the field the night before Salusinszky’s article, and the night before that — in fact, every night. Behind the scenes, Labor’s officials would have enjoyed a wondrous chuckle at the Australian’s naïveté. Contrary to Salusinszky’s prediction, they have built their campaign around Keneally.

Barry O’Farrell has described the NSW government as a long-running soap opera, replete with sex scandals and court cases. In some Labor seats, the performance measure for the local member is simply to stay out of court. Take the electorate of Macquarie Fields in Sydney’s south-west. Its inaugural member, Stan Knowles, came to grief in the late 1980s when he stole three drill bits from Casula Kmart. He resigned from parliament shortly thereafter, replaced by his son Craig, who served as a minister in the Carr government.

Knowles junior resigned in 2005 following a court case for drink-driving. He was replaced by Steven Chaytor who, in turn, hit trouble with a domestic violence incident. When the verdict of the Campbelltown Local Court went against Chaytor prior to the 2007 election, Labor Premier Morris Iemma disendorsed him as the party’s candidate. So far, his replacement Dr Andrew McDonald has avoided mishaps with the law, a mighty achievement in Macquarie Fields. Perhaps the curse has been broken.

Like all good soap operas, this one has not been without humour. When John Kerin, the towering minister for agriculture in the Hawke government, found out about Stan Knowles’ troubles, he responded, ‘Let’s not be too hard on him. At least it shows he’s not a two-bit thief.’


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