ABC launches ALP

Wow! You had to see the ALP 2010 election launch live on the new ABC 24 News Channel to believe it. It was a corker. 

Greeting arriving Labor heavyweights, and the supporting cast, at the South Brisbane venue was a blue elephant, two polar bears and a 30 ft long unlit joint, obviously representing something someone was unhappy about. But it was inside the venue (and the world of ABC 24) that the real comedy unfolded. 

Picture a revival meeting at the Cootamundra Town Hall with a warm-up trio of Anna Bligh, Wayne Swan and Bob Hawke and a “bush television” effort by the ABC which, in the old days, would have lost them the right to broadcast. 

The show got underway with a discussion between Tom Switzer from the Spectator and wait for it… Simon Banks from Hawker Britton, the ALP’s professional spin meisters. Why on earth Team Gillard would want one of their masters-of-the-dark-arts to be revealed, and acting like a member of parliament, and complaining about Tony Abbott being “highly scripted”, beggars belief. 

The camera then cut to the arrival of Bligh, Hawke and Swan which by Chris Uhlman described in a thoroughly professional manner … except that all you cold see was the back of Uhlman’s head. For the launch Tony Abbott had obviously been consulted to pick the ABC’s camera positions. 

The opening was undertaken by Anna Bligh with a weather report and a plug for her own electorate. Then we got the phoney business of thanking the “traditional owners”, past and present, then some reference to “those in peril” — a possible indication of what was to follow should Tony Abbott get up. She then introduced a choir from a nearby Catholic school. The paranoid among us can read whatever into that. They sang “Advance Australia Fair”. 

She was followed by Wayne Swan, looking as usual as though he had been caught in police headlights. His big moment was the claim that he had created 500,000 new jobs. The fact that that number exceeded all the people out of work during the period in question seemed to elude him … but the True Believers loved it. His best line was – Tony Abbott’s daily exercise routine is running away from debate. The laughter was muted. 

The real comedy started when Bob Hawke swept onto the podium and burst into a 16 minute diatribe about his term in office, greatly exceeding the 8 minutes the ALP organisers had allocated him. You just love Bob. Give him a microphone and a steady rostrum and he’s anyones. He managed to tell the silent audience that he became prime minister in 1953. 

He then rambled on, interspersing his various claims with “My fellow Australians” and finding his feet with the notion that the audience were all at the races, trying to pick a winner. “You, my fellow Australians, do as you would, looking at form.” It was about at this point that the election launch started to turn into a Billy Graham religious rally, with Bob taking the part of Billy Graham. All that was missing was “I believe, I believe” from the audience. 

All this about the warm-up, before the entrance of Julia, might seem strange, but believe me, Bob Hawke stole the show. You would think he was standing for prime minister again. He had the look of “you’ll have to take this microphone from my cold dead hand.” No-one did. 

We heard about Hawke’s one-man effort in saving the country. Lee Kuan Yew’s claim that “Australia would end up the white trash of Asia” if we didn’t get our act together, and how Bob got our act together for us. Hallelujah! 

Fifteen minutes into his speech there was still no mention of Julia Gillard. Neither was there a mention of Hawke’s promise that “no child will be living in poverty”. He then went on to claim that the coalition “sat on their hands” during the “recession”. That would be the “recession” that Gillard and Swan have been saying we didn’t have? 

When Julia finally hit the stage, after Hawke decided to mention her name at 15-minutes 59-seconds, the Labor crowd clapped but not with the riotous enthusiasm that greeted Kevin Rudd in 2007. She then acknowledged Kevin Rudd, in the audience, but no camera managed to find him. In fact for the next 30 minutes of Gillard’s speech they only found him, just once, for a flash. Talk about the invisible man! 

Gillard virtually repeated everything that we have heard many times before during this campaign. The 500,000 new jobs, the great economic miracle that was stimulus package and of course “we made some mistakes”, acknowledgement of blunders past. In all it was an excellently delivered launch only with the slightly off-putting aspect that so much of it was spin and blather. And quite a bit of it untrue. 

The tricky bits like climate change, pink batts, BER squanders, illegal immigrants, East Timor solution, party disunity and the hatred that so many of her ministers have for each other, and indeed the lady herself, were strenuously avoided. About every third paragraph or so was a fairly crude attempt at character assassination of her opponent, Tony Abbott. 

Julia, really, Tony Abbott is actually quite a nice guy.

Her big announcement was how she was going to finance emergency doctor consultations over the NBN broadband by 2012, that is the broadband that will take at least 8 years to build. She didn’t explain that this could work over the existing network, and would work on the Abbott broadband rollout that is $34 billion cheaper. 

The real loser in this telecast was the ABC. The telecast was appalling. Cameras virtually never cut away to people that Gillard was referring to in the audience, and the ABC kept showing graphics like – 

Tony Abbott is causing the debt and deficits…

Tony Abbott wants to take away what we’ve given to schools… 

The effect of these superimposed graphics made the telecast look like the ABC was promoting and electioneering for the ALP rather than just covering the launch, as a dispassionate observer. 

Julia Gillard concluded with an acknowledged steal from Barack Obama. 

The mantra rang out Yes we will! Yes we will! Yes we will! 

Yes Julia, we know you will. 

That’s the trouble!

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