“Hey, check out the truck”: our political Summernats
While Italian politics is unable to go a week without some 18-year-old girl claiming to have had a sixsome with the Prime Minister, Australian politics has more of an unusual fetish for utility vehicles.
Barely a week after things settled down with the utegate scandal we are now confronted by “Truckasaurus 09” or “The battle of competing political propaganda trucks” (I prefer the former).
This is a new model of what was an old Coalition campaign introduced to draw attention to the Keating Government’s foreign debt in 1996.
It was also the same year that the Coalition took control of Government from Labor after ten years in trucking wilderness.
Following Malcolm Turnbull’s recent stuff-up in the utegate affair there was obviously some conversation at Liberal HQ about “getting back to basics” or some such thing:
“Well it worked in 1996. It’s all about debt, debt, debt with trucks, trucks, trucks don’t you get it?”
So out strode Malcolm Turnbull yesterday morning and awkwardly unveiled the “debt truck”, more awkwardly it was being pulled by a ute.
Mr Turnbull denied that the debt truck was a stunt:
“The debt truck is an important way of drawing to the reality of this debt. This is not a question of spin.”
Not a stunt? The debt truck could only be considered more of a stunt if it were being launched off a ramp across the Grand Canyon with rockets strapped to the thing and Evil Knievel in the driver’s seat.
“The one thing that Australians need to know is that the debt is there, it is rising and it has to be paid for,” Mr Turnbull said.
Not to be outdone just a few hours later assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen made an annoucement. From the man that brought you FuelWatch and GroceryChoice (oh no wait, those never happened), the “Labor Supporting Jobs” truck was being launched in Malcolm Turnbull’s electorate.
We were told truck politics were all well and good but you couldn’t just write any old rubbish on the back of your truck:
“Well, I believe in modern political engagement. Parties can engage in that in this way. Mr Turnbull is entitled to have his truck but he should have facts on it, not erroneous claims,” Mr Bowen said.
It is hard to workout what is most disturbing about “Truckasaurus 09”. Is it the fact that the Coalition see a truck with writing as it as the most powerful weapon in getting reelected? Is it the fact that Labor immediately counter-strike with a their own truck? Or is it that both think that the Australian people will have their vote swayed by either truck?
But what is interesting about “Truckasaurus 09” is that in the age of advanced digital campaigning tactics (what with the twitter and the myface pages and such) truck politics must still be seen as one of the most effective campaign tactics a political party can engage in.
What else would possess Labor to launch its own Truth Truck (I decided to give it a better name) just hours after the Coalition’s truck took off?
One can only assume that it was anticipated months earlier by those in the smoke filled rooms at Labor HQ and they had it in the “special projects” garage ready to go.
No doubt Kevin Rudd was briefed from his overseas trip: “Mr Prime Minister with this advance in technology we simply cannot allow there to be a truck billboard gap”.
Furthermore Chris Bowen today hinted that there were more trucks to come:
“You would need to put that question to the party organisation as to how many trucks there are.”
So be aware that while driving a fleet of Truth Trucks could emerge Bat Cave style from anywhere at any time.
Ultimately there is nothing wrong with stunts like this in politics – the boring argument that they distract from “real debate about real issues” only holds water to the extent that people actually listen to “real debate” about “real issues”.
Like it or not the message from the truck may be all a lot of people take from politics on any given day, and if they want to take more from wherever else they can.
It’s just a little disappointing that the great minds behind party politics in this country can’t come up with something a little more creative than “hey ya bastard, look what’s on the back of my big truck”.
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