The updated rules of showbiz and political campaigning
Never work with children, animals or the NSW Government. Nicola Roxon should consider adopting this updated truism of showbiz, as it might shield her from embarrassment the next time she’s tempted to hit the hustings with a member of the outfit which recorded a 25 per cent primary vote in a once-safe State Labor seat last month.
The federal Health Minister went to western Sydney this week, along with NSW Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt, and paid a visit to Westmead Hospital where she announced that the Gillard Government would spend $11.3 million to provide 44 new acute, sub-acute and intensive care beds.
A noble initiative but one which was overshadowed by a well-mannered woman who politely inquired as to whether her bed-ridden elderly father could perhaps be given a room with a toilet during his convalescence at Westmead.
The plumbing at the hospital is blocked and has not been fixed, meaning that patients in some areas of the hospital are forced to walk (or are being wheeled) to other wards whenever they need to go to the loo. The emergency department is also chockers meaning there are no overflow beds to accommodate patients in rooms with toilets.
As a result of the woman’s inquiries on behalf of her poor old dad, the footage across all the news services on Wednesday night and Thursday morning in Sydney said nothing about the laudable generosity of federal Labor, but the much more familiar story of the incompetence of NSW Labor.
The badness of the public hospital system in NSW is often over-stated; anyone who talks about third world conditions should probably spend a bit of time in the third world. But for all the exaggerations there are systemic re-occurring problems which can often be sheeted back to budgetary or administrative problems for which the NSW Government bears ultimate responsibility. The failure to identify a lack of toilets for patients as a problem requiring an immediate solution is a pretty good case in point.
This is the state which recently missed out on its share of federal transport funding because the State Government forgot to apply for any. They really are in a league of their own, and the open scorn with which they are held by their Canberra Labor colleagues makes the point.
Voters in NSW have pretty much given up on their state government and despite her well-documented niceness Kristina Keneally is on for a hiding at next year’s poll. The by-election last month in the state seat of Penrith was clouded by the fact that the outgoing Labor member, Karyn Paluzzano, had been forced to quit by Labor HQ after corruption allegations were proven against her. But that of itself does not explain how Labor managed to record an all-time historic low primary vote of 25 per cent, in a seat which was held for more than a decade by Labor’s Faye Lo’ Po with a margin that went close to that same figure.
The reason, obviously, is that after a string of dazzling ministerial scandals, three premiers in just over a year, and sustained policy failures, only the most habitual Labor voters have any real intention of sticking with this lot at the 2011 poll.
The question now is whether this massively negative voter sentiment will spill over to the federal campaign.
The Australian’s Newspoll of last month showed that the Labor vote had collapsed big-time in the Penrith-based federal seat of Lindsay. There were several factors in play – Kevin Rudd’s leadership being one of them, which is no longer an issue – as well as asylum seekers and cost of living and quality of living issues. But strategists on both sides of politics believe that the parlous state of the Labor brand in NSW was also among them.
The best way to take the temperature, as always, is to spend some time in those seats. And in Lindsay last weekend, asking people the simple question “How do you rate the performance of the NSW Labor Government” was the best way to invoke peals of laughter, or dead-pan gags about how what a sensational job they’re doing, even from people who say they’ve voted Labor all their life.
The member for Lindsay David Bradbury is trying to quarantine state issues from the campaign.
“The Liberals would like that to be the case but I think people in Penrith have been given their opportunity to express their view on the state of things in NSW,” he told our website The Punch last weekend.
It could be wishful thinking on Bradbury’s part that the Penrith by-election as the one shot his constituents had in the locker.
But for all this, if the poor performance of NSW Labor can damage Labor federally, there is also a strong chance that the consistently under-delivering NSW Liberals may hamper the federal Liberal campaign.
It beggars belief that with the campaign having actually started, the NSW Liberal machine still hadn’t pre-selected candidates for the seats of Parramatta or Greenway, and had only last week selected a candidate for Lindsay.
The party’s flat-footed response was only underscored when Barry O’Farrell made a total klutz of himself on twitter, accidentally sending a private message to the wider world admitting the party had been having trouble finding candidates after “The Ranga”, as he described Julia Gillard, had come to power.
In political terms, it was the equivalent of the text message Shane Warne famously sent his wife Simone, shortly after she left the house for the weekend, saying “ She’s just left you can come over now.”
Aside from underscoring the tactical lameness and political cowardice on the part of the NSW Liberal Party, O’Farrell’s message has also had the unpleasant effect of reminding federal Liberals why they really don’t rate the bloke at all.
He’s already unpopular with the federal Libs for opposing privatisation and supporting the teachers unions in blocking leagues tables. Telling the entire world that the NSW Libs don’t think they’re a chance of winning eminently winnable seats has only deepened their disapproval of the job he is doing.
Both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have vowed to spend as much time as they can campaigning in western Sydney. We wish the Prime Minister luck finding a functioning toilet, and the Opposition Leader a Liberal candidate.
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