Submitted to The Australian on 23 February 1995.
The NSW State election is a yawn. Both parties are struggling to excite the electorate. Really struggling. A note of hysteria is sounding in the rhetoric and propaganda in the campaign. This is especially so with respect to law and order. It is not certain, however, whether the electorate is paying much attention.
A reason for this is the cautious style and slow speaking cadences of the premier. In this as in so many other areas, Mr Fahey rivals Calvin Coolidge, the little remembered US President of the 1920s.
Mr Carr, the Opposition Leader, has a great speaking voice for radio. He is an intellectual who is more at home at a US Presidential trivia night than, say, at an eye-glazing barbeque in honour of Macedonian discus throwers.
Both men are now engaged in an election all the pundits are calling as very close.
On the law and order front, the parties are reacting to the interesting polling news that the people are worried about car thefts and assaults.
The ALP member for Smithfield, Mr Carl Scully, has achieved notoriety in trawling for talkback radio opportunities. “I’d stamp his papers ‘never to be released’. Ever.” This is one of his memorable quotes about a prisoner facing a parole hearing.
The latest ALP election commercials feature film footage and commentary about a drug boss let off lightly through an immunity arrangement with the police. No-one likes crime bosses, still less drug dealers. The commercial is cleverly made — with footage of a character blissfully talking on a mobile telephone, stepping into a flash limousine in a dark alley. The images are menacing and mysterious: it all looks fishy. The advertisement blasts Mr Fahey as soft on crime bosses.
For some reason, the Liberals have not started their campaign to counter this attack. Perhaps they hope it will go away. Perhaps they are too busy.
It is hard to take this terribly seriously. The way things are going, it will not be very long before this kind of interview occurs on morning radio:
Now I’ve got Mr Shaw on the line. He’s the Shadow Attorney General… Will you assure our listeners that under no circumstances will you let Mr Fox out on parole?
Mr Shaw: (attempting to interrupt)
I’d throw away the key, personally.
Now Mr Shadow Attorney, what do you say about that?
Key? Why would you keep a key? I’d melt it.
Why would you have a lock? You wouldn’t even need a key if you didn’t have a lock. I’d seal the prison cell — personally, if need be.
Yes. But you’d still give them bread and water, wouldn’t you?
Did their victims ever get bread and water, I ask you?!
And so on.
Such an imaginative construction is not so far-fetched.
Some of the ALP’s commercials look as if they have been scripted by someone from Fast Forward [the ABC television satirical show]
As for the Liberals, they are looking desperate. The Premier attacked union bossism in the ALP. His Industrial Relations Minister, Mrs Chikarovski, vainly tried to drum up a scare on industrial relations. Labor’s policy is a disaster, she claimed. The reported warm endorsement of the NSW Chamber of Manufactures spokesperson, however, for aspects of Labor’s policy, undercuts this attack.
Never has there been so little curiosity by the public in a campaign.
It pays to possess a black sense of the absurd.
The parties think that the electorate is not concentrating. So they are trying to deliver sensational messages to jolt them out of complacency. The ALP’s might appear be cheap and nasty, but they seem to be the only smell of life around. But it is a worry that advertising wizards, unleashed and inventive, provide the only spark of imagination in a dull campaign.
I am sure Paul Austin, opinion page editor at the Oz took one look at this, yawned and threw the fax into the bin. I concede that trying to create interest in a boring campaign was beyond me.