If the last few weeks of this ‘election campaign that’s not an election campaign’ has proven anything, it’s that both major parties will need to adjust to a new way of campaigning in 2022, particularly in the shadow of COVID.
Both leaders, but particularly Scott Morrison, appear to be on a mission to leave the pandemic behind and ensure that the campaign, when it does officially begin, is presented in a post-COVID world where normality has, for the most part, been left behind.
But that is not the lived experience for many.
While most are keen to see the back of COVID-19 restrictions and are starting to focus less on daily case numbers, the realities of the virus remain with us.
Some remain working less than they’d like, with hours cut or shifts taken away at the last minute. At the other end of the spectrum, many healthcare workers feel overwhelmed and even not listened to as hospitals continue to deal with the fallout.
Many people are still working from home, a daily reminder that normal life is far from being restored. Aged care residents are doing it particularly tough, either as a result of staff shortages or centres being locked down, increasing the loneliness and anxiety that can often be present in such settings.
If the reaction to Scott Morrison’s hair washing photo op late last week proves anything, it’s that Australians aren’t quite ready for an election campaign full of baby kissing, photo opportunities and the usual insults flying back and forth between the major parties.
Awkward and even a little weird as it may have been, Morrison getting his hands dirty on the campaign trail was nothing out of the ordinary. Politicians have been doing this for decades, if not longer. I’m sure if you went back through the archives of elections past, you’d find countless examples of politicians fumbling around doing all sorts of ‘jobs’ – all part of the desperate hunt for the perfect photo and video opportunity for the 6pm news.
But now is not the time for hair washing.
The public, still reminded daily about the impact of COVID whether it by through meaningless check-ins or the growing death toll, want a better level of understanding of what’s going on out there than a PM elbows deep in shampoo.
Right now, the approach needs to be talking to the people most impacted by the last few years – nurses, doctors, scientists, aged care workers, small business owners. The list goes on. Sit down and talk with them, listen – as in really listen – and dump the stunts. It’s just not going to wash, so to speak, this time around.
There is no doubt that cost of living will be a significant issue during this election campaign, particularly coming out of the pandemic.
That doesn’t mean Scott Morrison should necessarily know the cost of bread and milk off the top of his head and the ‘gotcha’ moment at the National Press Club last month is bottom of the barrel stuff. But it does mean he and Anthony Albanese need to have a key understanding that day-to-day finances are more important than ever for people after the uncertainty of the last couple of years.
It’s a delicate balance, however, to prove that you’re a man of the people.
Albanese has dropped the “I do my own shopping line” a few times now, a clear reference to Morrison’s bread and milk debacle at the Press Club. But the reality is he won’t do his own shopping if he becomes Prime Minister and nobody believes for a second he would, nor should he – there’s more important things to do than ticking off the shopping list when you’re running the country.
Albanese also prides himself on sitting with fellow footy tragics on the hill at Henson Park, something he’s also unlikely to do if and when he becomes Prime Minister. Conversely, if Morrison goes to the football he is scowled at by the left and the angry drips on Twitter.
Labor is banking on the election being a referendum on Scott Morrison’s personality and popularity, particularly given the Coalition has plenty of positives to report around the economy and employment figures.
Morrison is coming off a terrible week, topped off by the revelations of the Barnaby Joyce text messages.
In normal circumstances, such a story would come and go – who hasn’t sent the occasional frustrating message about their boss? – but for Morrison, it’s just the latest in a huge number of weights forcing him deeper and deeper into the political abyss.
Who’d want to be in this game, eh?
At the end of the day we are confronting one of the most unpredictable, uncertain election campaigns in modern times. No matter what all the well paid media advisors suggest, just how the public responds to this campaign remains very much up in the air.
Strap yourself in – we’ve got one hell of a ride coming up.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.