Margaret Simons, journalist and academic
I went looking for the supposed tidal wave of dissatisfaction with Daniel Andrews this week in the key electorates of Pakenham, Hawthorn and Caulfield. I couldn’t detect any tide at all. It is a flat pond out there.
The prevailing mood regarding the election was apathy, plus some cynicism around the welter of spending promises, which nobody I spoke to could remember in detail. Nor could anyone name an overarching narrative behind the campaigns of either major party. Independent candidates are attracting mild interest because they are different, but there’s not much political passion of any kind in the suburbs.
In the media the predominant theme has been integrity. Andrews faced persistent questioning about reports in the Age of an Ibac inquiry into the awarding of a contract to the Health Services Union. An injunction prevents the reporting of draft findings. The amount of money said to be involved is $3.4m, but the story resonates with persistent themes about this government: centralised control, political advisers allegedly crossing the line and the politicisation of the public service. It has probably gained more, not less, prominence because of the secrecy surrounding it – a lesson for the new federal anti-corruption body, perhaps. There may be more, or less, to this than meets the eye, but it looks as though voters won’t find out much before polling day, and Andrews simply refuses to comment. It has taken a bit of oxygen from whatever else he is trying to say.
This, at least, is a real story about real things. The Herald Sun, meanwhile, re-ran yet more egregious, fact-lite and innuendo-laden stuff about a 2013 car accident, and Andrews’ 2021 fall resulting in a back injury.
But neither media front pages nor politicians’ promises are cutting through. None of the ordinary voters I spoke to were aware of either the Ibac story or the Herald Sun flim flam.
Pressed to name one thing that they were concerned about – anything at all – people nominated levels of government debt and the cost of living. The former counted against both major parties because of all those spending promises. The latter was blamed on Putin, who is not on the ballot paper. Prepoll voting starts on Monday. Many will cast their vote early and then tune out altogether.
Who won the week: No clear winner, which means Andrews by default because he was already ahead.
This week’s dux: Nobody. It’s all a bit lacklustre.
This week’s dunce: The Herald Sun, for beat-ups so ridiculous that the rest of the journalistic profession is embarrassed for them – and the genuine stories the paper gets are overshadowed by the rubbish.
Tony Barry, Redbridge pollster and former Liberal executive
Andrews had the campaign week from hell with fresh reports that Ibac has interviewed him and investigated his office over allegations of corruption.
This is not where Labor’s astute campaign director, Chris Ford, wants the conversation to be.
Not only do these stories have a corrosive effect on perceptions of Andrews’ character, but it’s also atomising Labor’s message.
In the communications game, message discipline is critical. Andrews can’t afford to lose any more campaign days talking about Ibac instead of his narrative.
Compounding these problems are reports of growing hostilities between the premier’s press office and the media. This is a high-stakes strategy and, at this point in the campaign cycle, presents more risk than reward.
Meanwhile, the teals, who had so much to say about integrity, have been unusually quiet on the subject in recent days. Former Liberal voters who switched to teals at the federal election on integrity issues are a numerically important constituency for the independent movement. Any perception they are playing politics with integrity could see them lose votes on 26 November.
By contrast, over the past week the Coalition campaign has kept it simple and showed better message discipline. Winning this election will be like climbing Mt Everest in thongs and a T-shirt, but Matthew Guy has at least made it past base camp.
Who won the week: In a week where Andrews was dogged by reports of Ibac investigations and questionable fundraisers, Guy and the Coalition were the comfortable winner.
This week’s dux: Paul Sakkal from the Age who not only broke the story about the Ibac investigation but stood his ground under enormous pressure.
This week’s dunce: Liberal campaign headquarters for putting out an advertisement with strong anti-vax energy and making life harder for Liberal candidates in the teal seats.
Kirsty Webeck, comedian
You’ve got to cut through the weeds at the moment to get to the real information. Those weeds being Andrews’ fall down the steps last year and the Andrews’ family car crash in 2013. I’m getting real “Hillary’s emails” vibes.
I’ve conducted an extensive survey consisting of a sample of three of my friends and I can tell you with authority that the overwhelming majority of people want to know how the elected government is going to improve their lives, their finances and the climate.
Some hard facts that were presented this week were Andrews pledging a $5,000 sign-on bonus to new nursing graduates opting to work in the public health system and a $150m package to boost nurse-to-patient ratios in acute units. Guy promised to invest in robotic technology to improve elective surgery waitlists. But is any of this enough to retain Victoria’s healthcare workers?
The pandemic was the catalyst for Victoria to start losing critical staff and experience. Hospitals in regional Victoria are literally shutting down services at the moment because they have no qualified staff to provide them. You could not pay me enough to do a shift in a hospital right now. I’ve got no medical qualifications, so you shouldn’t be offering me a shift anyway.
I, for one, would love to hear a detailed strategy to retain the workforce and the expertise that we already have.
Who won the week: Veterans and first home buyers with Labor pledging $37m to introduce a veterans card and the Coalition promising to axe stamp duty for first home buyers on properties up to $1m for 12 months.
This week’s dux: Andrews seems to still be ahead despite the reports about an Ibac investigation. He probably won bonus points for laughing off the resurfacing of his fall down the steps. “Are they going to interview the steps next?”
This week’s dunce: The proposed new number plate slogan from the Coalition: “Victoria – open for business”. If we have to change it, can it be less cringe?
Dr Margaret Simons is a board member of the Scott Trust, the core purpose of which is to secure the financial position and editorial independence of the Guardian