The seats: what The Punch learned on the campaign trail
Apart from where to get a good pie in Braidwood, how to woo a room full of pensioners if you look like you’re 14 years old, and that tropical diseases are an issue for voters in FNQ – the Punch’s five-week adventure through some of the campaign’s most hotly contested seats has thrown up some consistent themes.
The ten Labor-held seats the Punch spent time in during this election campaign weren’t necessarily the most marginal. We just thought they were the most interesting.
Factors that decide what happens in seats like the following are many. But troublingly for the Coalition, the one thing we found almost everywhere was a niggling sense among voters Tony Abbott is just not how they imagined the Prime Minister.
With a few exceptions they don’t hate him, they just tend to suck in their breath and look up at the sky for a few seconds while forming their answers about the Leader of the Opposition.
Responses to the Prime Minister tended to swing more widely, depending on the seat and the point in the campaign.
Early on the key word was “Rudd”, as voters in seats like Lindsay in Sydney’s west, Robertson on the NSW south coast and Eden-Monaro in the state’s south east digested the fairly fresh reality that we had a new Prime Minister.
But by the last week, even in the knife-edge seat of Herbert in FNQ, where you’d expect people to be angry about the political assassination of their Queensland boy Rudd, the anger, if it was ever there had cooled.
These are the seats the four of us visited during the campaign.
Lindsay: ALP 6.3%
Robertson: ALP 0.1%
Bennelong: ALP 1.4%
Eden-Monaro: ALP 2.3%
Melbourne: ALP 4.7%
Griffith: ALP 12.3%
Bass: ALP 1.0%
Longman: ALP 1.9%
Herbert: ALP 0.03%
Hasluck: ALP 0.9%
Penbo kicked off in Lindsay, which got national prominence just before the campaign when Julia Gillard took the local member David Bradbury all the way to Darwin to play around on some coast guard boats.
It was a cynical campaign ploy to regain ground on boat people and has continued to dog the PM as an example of Hollowman-type behaviour.
Voters in Lindsay told The Punch they resented being painted as racist, and were more concerned about getting their fair share of government support.
Tors visited Robertson before the deposed sitting member Belinda Neal announced she would not run as an independent, and the national media was still somewhat obsessed with the “Member for Iguanas”.
What she found was that Neal had become irrelevant already, and the real battle was between Labor candidate Deb O’Neill and the Liberal Darren Jameson.
Here cost of living was the strongest theme, but it was clear Abbott also had an image problem.
Working mums Sarah Moore and Maree Caruna just couldn’t bring themselves to support a man they thought was “just sexist”, no matter their gripes with the Rudd/Gillard administration.
On the streets of Bennelong, where 2007 wonder-kid Maxine McKew is fighting an uphill battle against former tennis pro John Alexander, Penbo found the ghost of John Howard still loomed large and in the dying days of July it was still very hard to read what would happen on August 21.
Leo headed for the classic bellwether seat of Eden-Monro, where he found voters were willing to give the rookie PM a fair hearing. Queanbeyan mother Fiona Beckhamm told The Punch she thought Abbott was “a bit wishy washy.” “I mean he doesn’t seem to know a lot of his own policies.”
Colgo headed for Melbourne, where the Greens have a good shot at their second-ever Lower House seat, with the retirement of finance minister Lindsay Tanner. This seat is a two-horse race between the ALP and the Greens, and the Liberals are directing what ever preferences they can to the tree-huggers in the hope of defeating Labor.
If the 200 people who turned up on a cold, wet, Wednesday night at The Tote in Collingwood for the Greens campaign launch is anything to go by, the mood for history-making in Melbourne is strong.
Penbo ventured in search of Kevin Rudd in the former Prime Minister’s Brisbane seat of Griffith. It was a bit sad. “There are no vigils being held, no petitions doing the rounds. I only find one house with a Rudd poster on it (from 2007).”
In Bass in northern Tasmania Colgo found Labor had a tougher fight on its hands than it would care to admit, and that at just past the half way point of the campaign, many voters were still wavering.
In Longman Penbo watched in a sort of staggered awe as 20-year-old Wyatt Roy worked a room of pensioners like a shameless old political pro. To call his Labor counterpart Jon Sullivan, 39 years Roy’s senior, a bit grumpy was an understatement.
Unsurprisingly in the Perth seat of Hasluck Leo found the ALP had all but given up and gone home in the face of a band of prosperous West Australians virtually wielding pitchforks over the mining tax.
And as the campaign ground to a close Tors went to Herbert in Townsville to see if the fabled Rudd factor was still alive in Queensland. If it ever was it has all but simmered out.
And as in other seats, Abbott has a bit of an image problem. Gail Pattison told The Punch: “Abbott’s like Pa Kettle going along with what Ma Kettle wants. They rabbled around and said ‘oh my god, we need a leader, and he was what they came up with.”
It’s by no means terminal for the Opposition Leader, who’s run an incredibly solid campaign. But in the Punch ten (with the exception of Hasluck) there wasn’t the bad news for the government we might have expected to find.
Abbott said yesterday he intends to campaign every minute he can until polls close. Maybe, just maybe, he can turn it around.
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