By Jan Bowman
September 3, 2013
When I wrote my first profile of Griffith, Kevin Rudd was still a backbencher and the electorate was apparently the safest Labor seat in Queensland. By the time I submitted my second piece, he was prime minister again and Griffith was the focus of national media attention.
I could not have predicted that in this last week of the campaign, the media would not only be talking about a probable Labor loss in the national election, but the possible loss of Rudd’s own seat.
In this presidential-style campaign Rudd has been fighting on two fronts, on the national stage against Tony Abbott and locally against a popular opponent in in Griffith.
While the high-profile Labor leader has been at the centre of vitriolic media attention and frequently away on the campaign trail outside his electorate, his Liberal-National Party challenger Bill Glasson has had a pretty free ride.
Glasson is a constantly present, well-liked local bloke, a former head of the Australian Medical Association, who carries no political baggage. I have not heard a word against him, even from Labor supporters. On the other hand, locals seem polarised when it comes to Rudd and Abbott.
Rudd was not given much of a honeymoon after his appointment as prime minister this time around. No sooner had the media got what they seemingly wanted, with Julia Gillard gone, than he became the target.
In particular, the scorn heaped on Rudd by columnist Janet Albrechtsen and others in the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Ltd papers has taken a toll on Rudd’s campaign in the past two weeks.
Voters in Griffith do not have a lot of choice when it comes to newspapers.
Rudd himself made the point on Monday night on the ABC’s Q&A program, when he was asked if he thought it was ‘hard for Australians to get an honest, unbiased opinion of yourself and the Labor Party in this campaign’.
“It’s clear Mr Murdoch prefers Mr Abbott,” he said. “Seventy per cent of the nation’s newspapers are controlled by Mr Murdoch, and in Brisbane, it’s a one-newspaper town. You buy the Courier Mail, it’s owned by Murdoch; if you buy The Australian, it’s owned by Mr Murdoch; if you get your Brisbane throwaway newspaper, that’s owned by Mr Murdoch. So you can choose between Murdoch, Murdoch and Murdoch.”
Rudd said while he would be very cautious about government regulation of the media, the real question for voters was whether both sides of politics were being put under real scrutiny.
Just a week ago, News Ltd and Fairfax in Brisbane reported poll results indicating that Rudd could lose his seat. The Fairfax-operated Brisbane Times also cited locals saying Rudd’s signage and supporters had been “less visible” in the electorate than Glasson’s.
This report came the day after Rudd had cancelled ‘a six-week booking to attend a local House of Power debate in front of 550 voters’, an event organised and hosted by the Brisbane Times.
Clearly miffed, the paper quoted Glasson as saying Rudd’s action ‘sends a very poor message to the people of Griffith and again reinforces the message that Kevin is never here, when the people of Griffith need him’. The ABC and the Courier Mail took up the story.
The Courier Mail’s headline story on Saturday, August 24, was ‘Poll shock, Voters in Rudd’s own seat say ‘Time to Zip’, and claimed Rudd was ‘on the verge of the ultimate political humiliation’.
In an opinion piece in the same edition, Madonna King reported on a $60,000 LNP contingency fund targeted at Griffith, and cited an unnamed senior LNP member as saying, ‘Our people hate Kevin Rudd … and everyone wants a little bit of Kevin’s death’.
The following day, Abbott was pictured in Brisbane’s Sunday Mail under the header ‘Blue tie to the rescue of the blue collars’, a positive piece on the Coalition’s proposed apprentice loans scheme. On the next page, Rudd was caricatured as a goose, with the headline ‘He’s cooked his goose: he wasn’t saving Syria, he was slaving in the kitchen’.
The possible loss of Rudd’s seat, based on Fairfax polling, has been big news, reported in national, state and regional papers and even as far afield as the Huffington Post. The story sank for a few days after The Australian Financial Review on August 31 published a JWS Research poll giving Rudd a strong lead in Griffith, but what damage had been done locally?
The prospect of Rudd’s downfall certainly seems to have boosted the confidence of Glasson supporters, and the story was back in the news again on Monday with ABC News Breakfast reporting from Kangaroo Point in the heart of Griffith.
At this stage of the election, it is hard to find a positive story about Rudd in the Queensland media.
The Courier Mail labelled Labor’s triumphal campaign launch in Brisbane on Sunday as Rudd’s “last hurrah” with the banner “The Long Goodbye”. On Tuesday its front page showed an 88-year-old Griffith resident and longtime Labor man reportedly wanting to ‘give Kev the boot’. According to its reporter, he ‘epitomises the mood in Griffith’.
Twitter, on the other hand, was abuzz over what many saw as a poll-turning performance by Rudd on Q&A.
Preferences may be crucial to the outcome in Griffith. Hedging its bets, Katter’s Australian Party has printed two sets of how-to-vote cards for Griffith, one preferencing Rudd, and the other Glasson.
The Greens are preferencing Rudd: they gained 14 per cent of the primary vote in 2010 and expect to do better in this election.
The fledgling Palmer United Party, which is something of an unknown factor, is preferencing Glasson.
When Margo Kingston put out a call via Twitter for people to cover their electorate for a citizen journalism project, I tweeted back that as I lived in the safe Labor seat she probably would not be interested. Who could have known?
more Griffith seat reports here