He said it. He actually said it. Announcing the election campaign six short sentences into his speech formalising what we have all known since before Easter – that we are going to the polls on July 2, – Malcolm Turnbull came out with “It is the most exciting time to be an Australian!” The anti-zinger, one might call it. A line Turnbull often has parodied himself. A leaden leitmotif. But even worse was the verbal packaging it came wrapped in; packaging, as one would cringe from calling it rhetoric or prose.
“Our economic plan for jobs and growth is as clear as it is critical to support this transition to the new economy of the 21st century,” Turnbull trumpeted. “It is the most exciting time to be an Australian! These are exciting times. But we must embark on these times, embrace these opportunities, meet these challenges, with a plan and we have laid out a clear economic plan to enable us to succeed.”
“We have set up an Innovation and Science Agenda which will ensure that right across our nation we are more innovative in business, in academia, in government, ensuring that we are able in these times of rapid change to meet them with the agility and the ingenuity and the imagination that makes for success.”
As of today, 53 more days of this go.
Tony Blair’s speeches used to sound as if he was reciting mission statements, but in the main they each had pith and punch. The Coalition’s 2007 election slogan “Go for growth” was a different kettle of fish. It was sharp and succinct but its meaning was vague. It offered nothing specific for voters to relate to. And if that was the case what hope does the turgid Turnbull have?
The signs of a message are there – Labor means more tax; much more tax and that’s bad news for the economy – but it needs to be delivered with much tighter focus and sense of purpose. For at the start of this campaign it looks as if the opposition in managing to outflank the government on the cost-of-living themes it needs to put at the very heart of its campaign.
Labor won a primary vote swing in its favour of just under 5.5 % against all odds in 1993 by constantly thumping home the message “You’ll be worse off with a GST”. It went .25% better with a “Workchoices will take money from your pocket” in 2007. At the start of this campaign it’s simply trotted out the theme we’ve heard so often since the budget of 2014, “fairness”.
“It will be a choice about two very different views of the future,” Labor campaign spokeswoman Penny Wong said this morning. “The government is saying ‘We want to give a very big tax cut to big business and put the budget in a more frail position as a result’ and Labor which says ‘You know what. We want to invest in our people … They are very different plans for our future, but only one is about putting people first.”
Taxing voters more and narrowing their opportunities is an odd way of achieving that task, but at the moment Labor’s pitch sounds better. The government needs an unambiguous riposte – and quickly. It has eight weeks until the election not to make its case. Electors will soon shut down, their votes decided.