Whichever way you look at it, Anthony Albanese’s first week on the election campaign trail has been a train crash that has put a chill through the Labor Party faithful.
It’s not so much that he didn’t know the answers to the inevitable gotcha questions at his first-day press conference, although it will play into Coalition claims about Labor’s supposed genetic economic illiteracy, but the response itself.
Why didn’t he do what Greens Leader Adam Bandt executed so adroitly at the National Press Club?
“Google it, mate!” he retorted to a reporter’s gotcha on the WPI, that’s the Wage Price Index for the uninitiated, before launching into a broadside about how this sort of journalism was one reason why people were switching off politics. It should be about policy, said Bandt, who took ownership of the event.
Albanese, who was forced into an embarrassing mea culpa, needs to own the campaign narrative, recognise the ruthlessness of Morrison’s machine and, yes, get the details right.
Thankfully for him, there are a further five weeks (collective groan) to get it right, but that is also enough time for Morrison to run him down.
There is no free ride to the Lodge and the opinion polls should mean nothing.
In a sense, with the Coalition so far behind, the Prime Minister has nothing to lose, and therein lies the danger.
Morrison will say and do anything to hammer home key messages and try to wedge a Labor Party wedded to a small-target strategy that has put it into retreat ever since Bill Shorten’s manifesto approach also fell to the Coalition’s negative campaigning.
It’s hard for Labor to take a positive message to the electorate when there are so few policies to sell, apart from generalities about how they will do better than the Coalition on, say, climate change.
Labor looks spooked and unless Albanese can find his mojo, whatever message he has is going to get drowned out by Morrison’s megaphone.
This has come down to power and whoever can project it best.
In the ACT, Liberal Senator Zed Seselja had his own power play this week, suddenly finding $11 million to fix the AIS so Canberra can again have a sporting and entertainment facility.
Nice timing. So soon after the Budget too. You’d think he had just delivered a stunning new piece of infrastructure when all it is is maintenance the Commonwealth should have done all along.
But expect a few more cynical stashes from the Coalition war chest to be unveiled in the coming weeks.
Independent David Pocock, when asked whether his candidacy might have influenced the announcement, wasn’t about to miss the free-kick, suggesting Senator Seselja might have felt more pressure to deliver for the ACT than usual.
If you believe the polling, Seselja is certainly looking over his shoulder and, going by the number of blue corflutes lining the city’s main roads, he’s running hard.
The Minister for the Pacific also had to leave the campaign for a bit of crisis diplomacy in the Solomons, urging the government there to abandon its security deal with China.
Like the AIS deal, it may be too little, too late.
The question is, what was the Minister doing when, on his watch, China slipped into what should be Australia’s backyard?
Seselja has stressed the Coalition’s defence and national security credentials, but that appears to be overplayed after dropping the ball on this one.