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Karen Middleton takes us inside the whirlwind final days of the campaign trail.

The Vote: Inside the campaign bus on the final days

Read Transcript

With just days to go until the election, our politicians are frantically trying to secure every last vote they can. 

At this stage of the campaign, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader can travel to three different states in a single day, visiting key seats and making announcements to win over undecided voters.

Where are they going, what’s their pitch, and which campaign is more confident heading into election day? 

Today, chief political correspondent at The Saturday Paper Karen Middleton takes us inside the whirlwind final days of the campaign trail. 

Guest: Chief political correspondent at The Saturday Paper, Karen Middleton.

Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

From Schwartz Media and 7am I’m Ruby Jones, this is The Vote

With just days to go until the election, our politicians are frantically trying to secure every last vote they can. 

At this stage of the campaign, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader can travel to three different states in a single day, visiting key seats and making announcements to win over undecided voters.

So - where are they going, what’s their pitch, and which campaign is more confident heading into election day? 

Today, chief political correspondent at The Saturday Paper Karen Middleton takes us inside the whirlwind final days of the campaign trail. 

It’s Thursday May 19. 

[Theme Music Ends]

(PHONE RINGING)

RUBY:
Hey, Karen. How are you? 

KAREN:
Good. 

RUBY:
That's good to hear. Where are you?

KAREN:
We're in Darwin.

RUBY:
Oh, fantastic. 

KAREN:
Yeah, we're just. We probably haven't got very long. I think we're going to be bundled onto the bus very shortly. There's a tiny bit of corner here where I'm sighted and out of the way. How about that? 

RUBY:
Perfect. 

KAREN:
Okay. Good to go.

RUBY:
Great! So the reason that you’re in Darwin is because you’re on the campaign trail, you’re travelling with the Prime Minister as he does a final tour of the country. For those of us who have never been on a campaign bus, could you just tell us how this works? 

KAREN:
It's a highly orchestrated event. These things are a little bit different every time there's an election, but there's a lot of the same. And one of the things that is the same is that it's very stage managed and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition travel around the country with a bunch of journalists in tow at very set up events, usually with invited guests. They try to avoid members of the public as much as possible. Anything that's unscripted is dangerous. 

Generally speaking, the two leaders are on their own aircraft and they travelling in cars and the media who accompany them on a separate charter flight and travel in a bus. So we only get to see whichever leader with a couple of times a day, two or three times a day, and maybe only get one opportunity to ask questions in usually a pretty controlled environment. So it's frustrating. As a journalist, you have to be there to ask the questions, but you don't always get called on to ask a question, and the person you're asking the questions doesn't always want to answer.

RUBY:
Hmm. Okay. And so what's the purpose of this then, for the leaders? What does that allow them to do travelling around the country like this? 

KAREN:
Pictures mostly. Mostly images for the television. They use these various visits not only to connect with some local people, but as I say, they're mostly local people who've been invited and they usually Liberal Party connected local people, but also to have a visual backdrop to illustrate that they're travelling around the country and particularly going to marginal seats that they either want to defend or try to capture and to to underscore the themes that they've chosen for the elections.

RUBY:
Mm okay. And so you've actually been on the road for a couple of weeks. Karen, could you take me back to the beginning? You were with Anthony Albanese’s campaign. Can you tell me about where you went and and what happened?

KAREN:
We started last week with the Albanese bus when I was on it at his old high school actually the St Mary's Cathedral College in the middle of Sydney. 

Archival Tape -- Karen:
“And here we go, a press conference at St Mary's School.” 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“Well, thanks very much for joining us….” 

KAREN:
He grew up there and he was going back to his old stomping ground. He was talking about education policy. He was accompanied by his shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“It just brings back memories. I was here for eight years and it's a part of who I am, the values that I learnt.”

KAREN:
But it was also an opportunity for him to talk to the boys and in front of the cameras to talk a  bit about some of his messages about education and the importance of opportunity. And he was mobbed when he arrived. 

We see that on election campaigns now and then. I remember a famous time when Paul Keating went to a school and was mobbed by school girls climbing up the fence and shrieking. 

I think it was actually in 96 when he lost incidentally by Anthony Albanese, was certainly being mobbed by the kids… 

(Screaming)

KAREN:
at the school and seemed to enjoy being back there. It was sort of one part policy and politics and one part nostalgia. 

Archival Tape -- Teacher:
“Very popular this morning.” 

KAREN:
And then we headed off on a three, three state day. We flew the next morning from Sydney to Adelaide 

(Karen’s plane sounds)

KAREN:
and then from Adelaide back to Melbourne. 

(Karen’s plane sounds)

KAREN:
And there were visits to marginal seats in both places, the Seat of Boothy in Adelaide. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“This is my fifth visit to South Australia since december 2019!”

KAREN:
And the State of Chisholm. And then a brief swing through the seat of Deakin. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“Mind you how good’s this weather!” 

KAREN:
All of which are Liberal held in Melbourne. 

He went to childcare centres, he was talking about low paid workers.

Archival Tape -- Woman on trail:
“This is Michelle, a mum of three”

KAREN:
And then I jumped off the campaign trail and the bus rolls on without you, and then I went home again. 

So I think probably in the end Labour did okay out of all of that. So there was a definite emphasis on wages and certainly there's been an emphasis on the caring the caring occupations of aged care and childcare. 

RUBY:
And so how confident is the labour camps? Do you think that Anthony Albanese actually thinks that that he's going to win this election?

KAREN:
I think he's hoping he's going to win. I think he is confident. He looks like a person who feels more confident than he was at the beginning of the campaign. It’s interesting, it’s not just a sort of a personal confidence. It's a it's a sense of the possibility of high office that he may be about to ascend to high office. 

Now I think he's acutely conscious that millions of people still have to cast a vote. And he's certainly acutely conscious that at the last election they trusted the opinion polls and the opinion polls were wrong and they got a terrible shock on election night. And so they are very mindful that that could happen again. And they're trying not to get their hopes up or to make assumptions. And nobody wants to be measuring the curtains, as it were. They want to make sure that they campaign right through. They're trying to manage the timing of everything so that they maximise their positive messages and make themselves a good alternative, an alternative that people will be willing to place their trust in ahead of Election Day.

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment. 

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RUBY:
Karen after spending time on the campaign trail with Labour, with Anthony Albanese, you switched and you're now with Scott Morrison on the Liberal campaign trail. So how does it compare to the two campaigns feel very different to do you give a very.

Archival Tape -- Announcer:
“Give a very warm welcome to the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison.”

KAREN:
It's interesting. There is a distinction now that I'm out on the Scott Morrison trail, you can see that the pace of the Scott Morrison campaign travel is faster. They're covering a lot more ground more quickly.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“How good.. How good indeed!” 

KAREN:
And he seems to be doing more events during the day. And that's not uncommon for someone who's behind at this point in the campaign, if you’re the side that's going to be based on the opinion polls, at least on the way to defeat you tend to be in more of a hurry and have more urgency about your campaign.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“I had one focus as your Prime Minister… save the country” 

KAREN:
Where I suppose it is a bit different is the themes are, well, they intersect. There's a different emphasis. The styles of the two leaders is different and the schedules are a bit different because as I say, the Labour Party is ahead. I think they are trying to taper off and not not rush around quite as much, not seem so frantic. 

The Prime Minister is trying to sort of cover the whole country in the last few days, get to as many seats as possible, defend as many Liberal held seats as possible, and get a hope that he can even try and win some Labour seats back and hold off. What the polls are saying is is an income and tide of Labor MPs.

RUBY:
Okay. And so on the weekend, Karen, the Coalition announced its new housing policy allowing people to draw down on their super for a deposit. The Prime Minister would be trying to sell that policy to voters, I presume, in the final days of the campaign, of that campaign. Is that what's happening and how is the pitch going? 

KAREN:
Absolutely. He's emphasising that very heavily. He has been on housing estates two in the last 24 hours.

Archival Tape -- Karen:
“So the first stop on Tuesday morning on the outskirts of Darwin on a housing estate talking housing policy yet again….” 

KAREN:
Talking about the opportunity of buying a new home and how this super policy will assist that. 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“It's great to be here, and it’s great to be at yet another thriving community….” 

Archival Tape -- News:
“First Home buyers will be able to take up to $50,000 out of their superannuation to put towards a deposit. If the Morrison government is re-elected.” 

KAREN:
batting away questions about whether it's just going to push the price of houses up. 

Archival Tape -- News:
“The Morrison Government's superannuation plan for first home buyers has drawn strong criticism from many economists.”  

KAREN:
His own minister, Jane Hume, has basically acknowledged that and said that in the short term at least, it will have a temporary boost to house prices. 

Archival Tape -- Hamish:
“You don't think this will lead to higher house prices?”

Archival Tape -- Jane Hume:
“Maybe they'll make that decision to get into a home sooner. So perhaps temporarily.  But it should work out in the long run…” 

KAREN:
That wasn't something that went well for the coalition, that trying to sort of fix that up and talk about the long term and say that ultimately it's about helping first time buyers get into the market. 

So he's using this housing thing, which, of course, was was the centrepiece of his last election campaign speech, as well as housing policy to sort of hang his economic management stuff on. And he's talking now about his costings and about a Coalition being a more secure option. 

He's talking about making cuts to the public service, which is an old theme of the coalition to a safe one, because a lot of public servants, federal public servants in Canberra, which is a Labour voting town. So he probably thinks it's a safe bet to be seen to be cutting back on so-called fat cats. They've had a lot of cuts already, so there isn't an awful lot of fat to cut to cut anymore. But it's something that he can say that that allows him to say that the coalition is conscious of how big the budget deficit is and the need to try and trim it. And he wants to sort of save $1,000,000,000 from these public service cuts. 

So it's all about the messaging really here on the Morrison campaign. He's really pushing his messaging very hard. And you can see why people dubbed him Scotty from marketing, because he's very, very adept at messaging and talking and talking and talking and putting his point of view and turning every question into an answer that he wants to give. 

RUBY:
And I'm curious, Karen, because I know that you spent the last week of the last election campaign back in 2019 with Scott Morrison when he pulled out that surprise victory. So compared to that last election, how does Scott Morrison seem to you now?

KAREN:
Um it's interesting. He doesn't look like a bloke who thinks he's going to lose except for this urgency. There's an urgency about everything he's doing. He's not as relaxed, I think. 

Now, last election, we believed the opinion polls and we thought that Labor was going to win. So I was looking very closely to see whether there were signs in Scott Morrison's public presentations of the knowledge that he wasn't going to win and he wasn't going to be prime minister, which must be a strange feeling, approaching an election. If you think you're actually not going to be prime minister anymore after Saturday, that's not massively evident, yet, if it's coming at all. But he is more urgent. He's racing around. That reminds me a bit of how Tony Abbott was racing around at one election campaign, flying here and there, trying to cover as much ground and do as much as possible in these last few days. 

Now maybe it will be effective. It's a complicated election with lots of marginal seats and lots of factors involved, and that's what's made it a bit hard to track. And that's why people are a bit hesitant about looking too much to the opinion polls, even though those pollsters have changed their methodology since 2019. 

There is this urgency about him that has sort of built and built through the campaign. But I wouldn't say he looks like he's given up. Not by a long shot. 

RUBY:
We'll find out soon whether it's worked. Karen, thank you so much for your time. 

KAREN:
You're welcome.  

RUBY:
Where are you off to now?

KAREN:
Uh we don’t know! 

RUBY:
it’s a mystery! 

KAREN:
It's a mystery. It's always a mystery.

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RUBY:
Also in the news today

New polling suggests the gap between the Coalition and Labor has narrowed, but that Anthony Albanese is still slightly more likely to win the federal election on Saturday. 

 

The latest Guardian essential poll found Labor has a two point lead over the Coalition, with the opposition on 48 per cent and the Coalition on 46 per cent. Seven per cent of respondents were undecided. 

 

**

 

The United States has become the first country in the world to surpass one million deaths from COVID-19.

 

The country is currently dealing with a wave of Covid-19 hospitalisations due to highly transmissible sub-variants of Omicron.

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Karen Middleton is The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent.