It’s a perfect day for Gillard as her other team wins big

If the scuttlebutt is correct, team Labor may not be overly united, but the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, last night found one team that certainly is: her beloved Western Bulldogs.On hand at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium for the Bulldogs’ 71-point mauling of North Melbourne, Ms Gillard, the AFL club’s No.1 ticket holder, embraced full-forward Barry Hall on the field and even joined in a rousing rendition of the team song in the dressing room.”When the Bulldogs win, everything is right in the world,” she said, beaming in the Dogs’ dressing room. She posed with the Bulldogs’ coach, Rodney Eade, his wife, Wendy, and their grandson Thomas. Even the club doctors and their children got in on the act.Ms Gillard later confirmed that her new favourite player, now that the Dogs had purged Jason Akermanis, was Hall, the bad man of football made good.Earlier, she attended the Bulldogs’ president’s luncheon, where it was announced the government would put $4 million into Jim Stynes’s Reach Foundation for youth.It was not lost on club supremo David Smorgon that Ms Gillard had joked, amid speculation in May over the future of then prime minister Kevin Rudd, that ”there was more chance of me becoming the full-forward for the Dogs than there is any change in the Labor Party”.”Well,” said Mr Smorgon yesterday. ”You are now prime minister so there is only one job left for you: to take over from No.28.”No.28 is Hall’s number.Earlier yesterday at Maroubra Beach, Ms Gillard was left holding the baby. Literally.Vanessa and Harry Jensen thrust their six-week-old daughter, Daisy, into the arms of a welcoming prime minister, but then found themselves lost in the throng of media and onlookers.Cradling the baby in her arms, Ms Gillard looked up and asked, ”Where’s mum?”, only to find the parents unable to make themselves known.After a momentary silence, the duo came forward and exchanged pleasantries with Ms Gillard, before she moved on to another gathering.While yesterday’s stroll at Maroubra – ostensibly to announce a new 70-hectare national park at Malabar Headland – gave Ms Gillard a chance to show off her everywoman niceness, she also used it as a chance to go on the attack.Ms Gillard sought to deflect attention away from her own troubles, largely in the form of a former prime minister with gall bladder problems, and back to the opposition.”Australians are entitled to know Mr Abbott’s words and judge him by his words,” she said, defending a Labor campaign tactic of circulating previous Abbott comments. ”If he’s embarrassed by them, well, that’s too bad; he said them.”The local MP, Peter Garrett, was there for the park announcement, and also, as Heritage Minister, to trumpet the World Heritage listing of 11 Australian convict sites, including Hyde Park Barracks, Fremantle Prison, and Port Arthur Historic Site.
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Turnbull minds The Gap with $2.1m suicide funding pledge

A Coalition government would provide $2.1 million for extensive works designed to reduce suicides at The Gap at Watsons Bay, the MP for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull, said at the site yesterday.He said the works – to include a 1.3-metre inward curving fence, lighting, CCTV cameras and emergency telephones, as well as extensive landscaping and roadworks – would help save lives.An estimated 50 people a year end their lives at The Gap. ”It is one of the most beautiful places in Sydney but also one of the most tragic,” the MP said yesterday.The masterplan was drawn up by Woollahra Municipal Council three years ago aided by mental health experts. It became the subject of a bitter debate in Parliament in June with the Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, leaving the chamber in tears after Mr Turnbull accused him of having rejected the funding application because The Gap was in a Liberal seat. Mr Albanese, who has lost three friends to suicide, said his department had rejected the application because most of the funding sought under the community infrastructure program was for road works.Road works were specifically excluded under the program rules. He said he had no part in the decision, and had sought a meeting with Mr Turnbull to find other ways to fund the project.”The department had no choice but to determine their application to be ineligible,” Mr Albanese told Parliament.The masterplan involved upgrading a bus terminus, a raised pedestrian crossing, a traffic island with water-saving devices underneath, and underground cabling.Mr Albanese said yesterday only $65,000 of the request related to suicide prevention measures, and the government had already given the council $340,000 for fencing and CCTV cameras. Another $91,000 was available for non-road infrastructure if the council applied, and other funds would be available under the $227 million suicide prevention package the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced last week.The mayor of Woollahra, Andrew Petrie, said half the claim related to improving tourism amenity, not road works. ”If more people come, it reduces the opportunity for self-harm,” he said at The Gap.Mental health professionals also joined Mr Turnbull at The Gap yesterday, along with a mother whose daughter committed suicide there and an 84-year-old local man who has helped dissuade people from jumping.The chief executive of Lifeline Australia, Dawn O’Neil, said: ”If a government has a commitment to suicide-prevention funding this plan is a ‘no brainer’ . To remove access to the means is one of the most effective things you can do.”
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Greens put the focus on holding balance of power

Labor and the Coalition are ideologically moribund and the Greens present a way forward, the party declared at the launch of what is likely to be its most important campaign.Having broken the 1 million-vote barrier in 2007, the Greens are expected to pick up one or two more Senate seats in August, which could see them hold the balance of power in the upper house. It would be the first time since the demise of the Democrats that a third party has held that position.The Greens leader, Bob Brown, took the stage at Canberra’s National Convention Centre about 1pm yesterday to the cheers of more than 300 supporters, declaring that giving the party the balance of power was a vote for the future.”The Senate will be crucial in this election. The polls [on Saturday] indicated there may be an Abbott government,” he said to groans from the audience.He warned that if the Coalition were to pick up one more Senate seat the country would be faced with either ”deadlock or dominance”, depending on who held power in the lower house.”Neither are good for democracy. We Greens offer a responsible review of every great proposal put before this nation, with a dividend for the people – we will never say just ‘no’.”Senator Brown also distanced himself from the slogan-driven campaigns of Labor and the Coalition. ”If you’re going to move forward you have to say where you’re going. If you’re going to take action you have tell people what the purpose of that action, and its cost and its outcome, will be.”The Greens would continue to oppose the Timor or Nauru solutions for asylum seekers, he said.While acknowledging both plans were possible under existing legislation, he said if a regulation was required the Greens would oppose it.”I offer to Australians who are frustrated with the bickering, the shortsightedness, the leadership spills and the failure of vision in this country, a Greens party which … has shown a stability neither of the big parties have shown, a leadership … which neither Labor nor the Coalition can emulate, and a vision for this great south land which is lacking from the big parties.”Senator Brown, one of the nation’s first openly gay politicians, also called on the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to support gay marriage. ”If South Africa can do it, if Argentina can do it, if Catholic Spain can get rid of that discrimination, why not you, Julia Gillard?”The Greens received a boost from the Prime Minister earlier in the day when she promised during a news conference held in Sydney to finally enact the 30 per cent tax on miners’ super profits.While Senator Brown said the deal would cost Australians $10 billion in lost revenue the alternative was ”to say no to that and get nothing – to, in fact, endorse Tony Abbott. And neither I nor my team will be doing that, because we believe that a riches tax on resources owned by the people is a fair investment into the future.”KEY POLICIES- Build a high-speed rail system along east coast.- Create a national marine reserves plan.- Extend Labor’s flexible work arrangements to more people.- Create a national dental care scheme.
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Libs trump Labor with poll ads

Against all expectations, the Liberal Party has far outgunned Labor in television advertising in the first fortnight of the election campaign.The Liberals’s advertising campaign has been 51 per cent more active, as measured by audience exposure, according to a detailed schedule collated by an advertising buying agency.The conservatives have dominated in every mainland capital except Brisbane, where Labor has the barest advantage.”This tells me that Labor has been completely outshouted by the Liberals in that two-week period,” said Nick Durrant, the trading director of the media buying agency MindShare.The propaganda war, already largely negative, is about to become even more so, with each party issuing a new attack ad last night.Labor’s latest ad warns of impending Tony Abbott vandalism as he “pulls the plug” on Labor spending promises.The Liberal ad dramatises the Labor government as a “train wreck” of wastefulness and incompetence. Labor strategists were surprised by the aggression of the Liberals’s spending in the first two weeks of the campaign.Labor officials wondered aloud where a cash-strapped Liberal Party had managed to find the money, an answer which will not be disclosed officially for a year and a half.And the Liberals were struck by the fact that Labor had all but withdrawn from the advertising market in the second week of the campaign.After an active first week, Labor advertising airtime fell to zero in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, and near zero in Sydney, in week two.Labor continued normal campaign-level advertising only in Brisbane, presumably reflecting the high concentration of at-risk seats in Queensland.In a week in which Labor was taking a hiding in the news media and in the polls, the party decided to stop trying to reach voters with paid advertising as it husbanded its resources.”Labor have obviously come off for a reason,” Mr Durrant said. “I can’t see that it would be because they have run out of money but more likely it is a strategic decision to perhaps blitz the market in the final stretches when people are closer to making a decision, which could be quite smart given how much coverage and PR is being generated by them both.”Together with Labor’s unusual decision to formally launch its election campaign in the final week, this does suggest Labor’s strategy is to try to deliver a decisive blow in the late phase of the campaign.Saturday’s Herald/Nielsen poll found that 21 per cent of respondents had yet to decide how to vote.In an election where the threshold for a change in government is only about 2 per cent, this suggests that the contest is still wide open.Interestingly, TV ad booking data also shows that half of the Liberal activity falls on a Tuesday, and that none of the parties are spending on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.TV airtime is measured in target audience rating points, or TARPs (see graphic above right).One TARP indicates that an ad has had exposure to 1 per cent of the target market, in this case, people over 18.
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The painful struggle ahead

Nearing the mid-point of this campaign, it’s clear Labor has, on aggregate, had the toughest going. Julia Gillard’s confident start was in sharp contrast with Tony Abbott’s quicksand experience with Work Choices.By the beginning of the second week, Labor’s campaign was starting to take a few turns. Labor came into the contest just ahead of the Coalition, needing to satisfactorily conclude policy on refugees and climate change and to manage public sentiment over the departure of Kevin Rudd.Before it made any serious headway on these fronts, the unthinkable happened. Gillard was hit with damaging, targeted government leaks.But Gillard showed she is a Prime Minister with the nerves and temperament of a submarine commander under attack. She gave a steely, composed defence to minimise damage.But every day like these is a win for Tony Abbott and a lost opportunity, or worse, for Labor. This has added another dimension to the management of Labor’s campaign no one predicted two long weeks ago.Labor strategists would rather not have seen the polling published in the first weeks.The Herald headline of July 24 says it all: “Women give Gillard the winning edge”.For the machine men and women in Labor’s backroom, this is not what they wanted to be in front of the minds of every journalist and commentator across the country.Results like these calm the nerves of candidates and Labor troops, but they grind at the gut of experienced campaigners.When poll results are good, those marshalling the campaign have to demand more from their workers and combat complacency in their own ranks.Of course, it’s voter complacency that worries them most.Too far in front, voters think it’s no longer a contest. They might begin to think their vote isn’t needed to see an incumbent government returned. They might lodge protest votes and stray.More recent polling has spectacularly turned the tables. Saturday’s Herald headlined: “Abbott seizes the lead”.For Labor strategists, this is the other side of the coin. Panic replaces complacency. And it begins to show on the face and in the voice of every candidate from the leader down.With three weeks before polling day, Labor faces a genuine head-to-head battle to remain in office. For Julia Gillard, much more will now hinge on the momentum she must gain from the campaign launch and sustain to polling day.Graeme Wedderburn is a Labor strategist and was chief of staff to the former NSW premier Bob Carr.
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On the scent of the dragon

If Julia Gillard has three more weeks like the last one, she is going to run second and Tony Abbott will have rewritten the Aussie battlers’ manual on how to be a political dragon slayer.Juggernaut Julia has been an unexpected short-term fizzer and is in real danger of disappearing up its own caboose.Friday was the psychological tipping point. It was the day when the Prime Minister and her advisers shifted from “Vote for me, vote for me” to “Don’t vote for him!”It was the week of the crippling leaks. Who is doing it? Why? The backroom and loungeroom guessing game was fun to watch and to play.Was it Kevin Rudd (or more likely his staff) as payback? Possibly.Was it Lindsay Tanner, who has nothing to lose? Doubt it.Was it Anthony Albanese trying to get a negative story about himself off the front pages? No.Was it Stephen Smith, who doesn’t want KRudd taking his Foreign Affairs job? Too Machiavellian.Was it simply a misunderstanding? When the PM was talking about her Welsh background at the beginning of the week, did Rudd tell a staff member to send her the Welsh national emblem … a leek? Don’t think so.However, the whole poisonous exercise has given real credibility to the idea that if Team Labor cannot trust each other then they cannot expect voters to trust them.The comparison has been extraordinary. Abbott has looked like a steady hand in charge of a focused ship, except for the untidy and brief Work Choices episode.Things always change in an election campaign. Momentum has changed once. More movement will happen, particularly when the big policy questions are answered during the main parties’ formal policy speeches towards the end of the campaign.In the meantime, there are still some curious campaign questions that people are asking me.Why did the Prime Minister say her partner, Tim, would not be campaigning and who is this bloke who could be living in The Lodge in Canberra? Why are Labor campaigners so sensitive about him? We learnt about Margaret Whitlam, Tamie Fraser, Hazel Hawke, Annita Keating, Janette Howard and Therese Rein .. why not Tim Mathieson?Another question for this week is how politically even- handed is the Reserve Bank? Will it put up interest rates in an election when Labor is in power, or does it just reserve that for Liberal governments?Grahame Morris was a chief-of-staff to the former prime minister John Howard.
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‘Abbott should try earmuffs for a day’

Tony Abbott apologised last night after offending the disabled by describing as ”waffle” parliamentary statements on cinema access.Mr Abbott had been trying to make a point yesterday about why question time needed to be reformed but ended up putting offside groups that represent the deaf and the vision impaired.He also fuelled government attacks that he was a risk because of his ”speak-before-you think approach”.Mr Abbott promised yesterday that if elected he would try to clean up question time by trying to ensure the answers were more relevant.This would involve limiting questions to one minute and answers to four minutes. Given there are 20 questions, these limits, combined with usual points of order and other interruptions, would not stop question time from dragging on for almost two hours, as occurred under the Rudd government.Mr Abbott landed in hot water when he said he wanted to get rid of ”waffley ministerial statements on things like the accessibility of cinemas”.The parliamentary secretary for disabilities, Bill Shorten, has never made a parliamentary statement on cinema access but just before the election he announced an agreement between the government and four major cinema chains about better facilities for the hearing and vision impaired by 2014.Mr Abbott said last night his statement was based on misinformation. ”It was a poor example to use and I’m sorry if I have given any offence.”A Vision Australia spokesman, Michael Simpson, said he was ”disappointed with the comments made by Tony Abbott particularly given it was only on Friday that he announced a package of support for disabled students”.”Even to throw a flippant remark” at an area of disability was ”disappointing”, he said.Mr Simpson invited Mr Abbott to visit a Vision Australia facility to learn about the service they provide to the blind at cinemas.The chief executive officer of Deafness Forum Australia, Nicole Lawder, said Mr Abbott had belittled the efforts of organisations such as hers and ”he should spend a day in earmuffs and see how he finds it”.
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Jury still out on aged-care help

Nursing home groups have reserved judgment on the Coalition’s $935 million plan to lift the pressure of caring for the aged from hospitals until they see more detail, saying it offers new ideas but no extra money.The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, campaigned yesterday in the marginal NSW coastal seat of Gilmore, where he spoke of plans to shift 3000 aged-care beds from hospitals by offering nursing homes a subsidy of $30,000 to provide a high-care bed. And the Coalition will allocate $300 million to offer 20,000 elderly people 21 days a year in an aged care home to recover after hospital treatment.Greg Mundy, the chief executive of Aged and Community Services Australia, which represents aged-care providers, said he wanted to see more details of how the bed scheme and convalescent care program would work. ”It’s got some good ideas in it, but there’s no new money,” he said of the aged-care policy.The national director of UnitingCare Australia, Susan Helyar, said $30,000 would go only half-way in meeting ”the whole gap between the funds available for beds and the quotes services are getting in the current property market to build these beds”.Mr Abbott’s policy announcement was almost upstaged by the appearance of Quacksie the duck, which strode the corridors of the UnitingCare nursing home in Gerringong as Mr Abbott, his wife, Margie, and daughter Louise swept through with a media pack.A childcare worker, Lauren Kemp, 24, regularly brings the trained duck to visit her mother and wheelchair-bound residents. The Abbotts were momentarily stopped in their tracks.The Coalition package includes $14 million for pets as therapy in nursing homes, and the sitting Liberal member, Joanna Gash, said it was of particular appeal to her seachange electorate. ”Most of these people come off farms in country areas and it is important for them to keep their pets,” she said.Mrs Gash, who has held the seat for 16 years, faces a knife-edge vote after Gilmore shifted from 4.7 per cent Liberal to notionally 0.3 per cent Labor in a boundary change.She said the suburbs surrounding Nowra held the fourth-largest number of aged-care facilities in Australia, and retirees were a key voice in her electorate. Local hospitals were seeing beds ”clogged up” by aged-care patients who needed to be moved into more appropriate facilities, she said.Most of the $335 million over four years to fund the Coalition beds policy will come by redirecting money Labor had given to public hospitals. Nationally, there is a large shortfall between the 203,766 licences allocated for aged-care beds and 178,379 actually open as the sector faces acute cost pressures.Mr Abbott said the policy would ”produce more concrete results” than Labor, but conceded ”it is essentially money that the government has come up with”.The Coalition said a Labor scheme to encourage nursing homes to open more beds by offering interest-free loans had not worked and the Coalition would cut $72 million in funding to this program.Labor yesterday accused the Coalition of having a $75 million ”black hole” in its costings, which were based on cuts to existing programs, and the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, accused Mr Abbott of misreading the budget papers.But the Liberal spokesman, Andrew Robb, hit back saying the Coalition stood by its costings and the relevant budget paper showed the program had been allocated $37.5 million a year until 2013-14.”Labor’s claim only serves to confirm that they are planning to cut this measure from July 1, 2012,” Mr Robb said.Aged-care groups welcomed the Coalition’s commitment to index funding, at a cost of $65 million a year, until the productivity commission released its report.The care sector has complained that indexation has not kept pace with rising food and wage costs.
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Target Tony: play the man, says Gillard

Julia Gillard has labelled Tony Abbott fair game as she strives to restore Labor’s flagging fortunes in an election campaign that both sides claim will becoming increasingly nasty.As the Opposition Leader admitted yesterday that he was straining to keep his notoriously loose lips in check between now and election day, the Prime Minister said it was legitimate to target Mr Abbott’s numerous policy contradictions.”Australians are entitled to know Mr Abbott’s words and judge him by his words,” she said. ”If he’s embarrassed by them, well that’s too bad.”Mr Abbott has had various positions on climate change, ranging from advocating that the Coalition support the government’s emissions trading scheme, to describing climate change science as ”absolute crap” and ending support for a price on carbon.He has also shifted gear on industrial relations, changed his views on immigration and done about-faces on paid parental leave and a pledge not to raise taxes.Labor’s decision to adopt a more aggressive approach and put the blowtorch on Mr Abbott followed a series of crisis talks at the weekend.A Herald/Nielsen poll published on Saturday found support for the government had plummeted and the Coalition was in an election-winning position, leading on a two-party-preferred basis by 52 per cent to 48. In NSW, support for Labor fell from 46 per cent to 33 per cent.The national findings mirrored Labor’s internal polling.The poll followed a disastrous week dominated by infighting about the former leader Kevin Rudd and accusations that he was behind a damaging leak against Ms Gillard.One Labor campaign veteran said yesterday it was the worst week he could remember for any party in any election.Last night, Mr Abbott was forced to apologise after offending disabled people’s groups by describing as ”waffle” parliamentary statements about access to cinemas.He had been explaining his promise to try to clean up question time by imposing time limits and ensuring ”that we go straight out of question time into the matter of public importance debate without waffly ministerial statements in things like the accessibility of cinemas”.The government recently came to an agreement with the cinema chains on facilitating access for the blind and deaf.Groups representing the vision and hearing impaired rounded on Mr Abbott.Anticipating a more aggressive approach from the government until the election, Mr Abbott said he was expecting a dirty campaign. ”But I also suspect it will backfire,” he said. ”All they’ve got is a negative attack – perhaps an increasingly nasty attack on the Coalition.”’But Ms Gillard said it was the Liberals who were fighting dirty. She cited a newspaper story in which a former foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said that when Mr Rudd was a backbencher, he used information Mr Downer gave him to white-ant the then opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Laurie Brereton.Mr Rudd, who is in hospital after surgery on Friday, denied the story and said he was taking legal action.Ms Gillard said attacking a man on his sick bed was dirty pool. ”While Kevin’s in hospital recovering from an operation, here is the Liberal Party out there with a disgraceful political attack,” she said.Labor also blames the Liberals for a whispering campaign about Ms Gillard’s unmarried status and her atheism. ”They’re throwing that shit at Julia – this is not over by a long shot,” a Labor heavyweight said yesterday.Mr Abbott told the Nine Network that he was exerting self-discipline to minimise policy contradictions and the government’s opportunities of attack.”It is something that has got to be kept under the best possible control … and that’s something that, obviously, I’m very determined to do,” he said.The Housing Minister, Tanya Plibersek, said Mr Abbott could not be trusted and was clearly being kept on a tight leash.
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Wake up call for ‘the old fellas’

ONE of the last male bastions of the Bathurst community is set to come under seige., For the first time in almost 20 years it appears the Bathurst RSL Board may be injected with some female blood., Annette Watson and Samantha Lloyd have been nominated for the RSL board, with the new board expected to be named on Sunday evening, March 16., The last time a female served on the board was in the early 1980s when Betty Tucker, who was a nurse in World War I, was elected., The pair said they have received an enormous amount of support from the community and they think it is time women were again elected to the honourary position., “The old fellas need a bit of a wake-up call and I think women on the board will be just the thing to do that,” Ms Lloyd said., “I think if we were elected it would give females, in particular, a voice when it comes to issues regarding the Bathurst RSL.”, Ms Lloyd said she believes the members of the RSL are not happy because they feel they are not being listened to., “I think they feel like they don’t have a voice when decisions are being made, and they don’t get the opportunity to have their say,” she said., Seven people will be elected to the board, with voting taking place between March 10 and March 16. Of the club’s 10,470 members, some 10,000 are eligible to vote., Mrs Watson said while she is a little nervous about the announcement, she believes the pair’s election is what the members want., “I was very surprised to find that most of the male members of the club are behind our decisions,” she said., “I think there are a lot of things that a woman could bring to the board that a man may not be able to.”, Bathurst RSL secretary manager, David Veness, said while he was not prepared to give an opinion on the nomination of the women, he said it should not matter what sex the board members are., “I don’t care whether the board members are male or female, but I am not in the position to give a personal opinion because I would not like to be seen as influencing the voting in any way,” he said., Mr Veness said as long as the elected board members live up to their expectations he will be happy.
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