You could be forgiven for thinking the prime minister and Opposition leader jointly delivered The Gettysburg Address, or birthed a baby calf in bracing winds this week, given the adulation that has been heaped on the second election debate.
It’s true there were improvements on the previous Press Club encounter. For one, Kevin Rudd’s hair was beaten into stoic submission by you can only imagine how many cans of industrial strength hairspray.
The result was a significant decrease in hair flicks which was disturbingly offset by a sharp rise in the sheer number and severity of the prime minister’s hand gestures. There is a fine line between talking with your hands and milking a cow, and Rudd 'zipped' past it on about day three of this campaign, leaving us all with a series of mental images our wellbeing is far better off without.
If you weren’t seeing them already, you are now (you’re welcome).
For Abbott’s part, he finally did away with three-word slogans and instead unveiled an ingenious string of zingers that utilise one word, three times:
“So please let’s not say I’m somehow Mr Cut, Cut, Cut because I want to be Mr Build, Build, Build so we can have more job, jobs, jobs.”
Anyone missing 'stop the boats' yet?
On the upside, if he’s not PM come September 8, Abbott has a promising career reinventing the Mr Men books for post-GFC toddlers.
Despite these shenanigans there will be two things people think about when they recall this second debate: shut-up, and make-up.
If Abbott hadn't grasped the will of the people before, his snide and, many suspect, calculated interjection “Does this guy ever shut up?” certainly did much to increase his everyman appeal.
Not to be outshone, the next day allegations by a make-up artist that the prime minister had treated her poorly prior to the debate returned the spotlight to the Twitter king.
Explaining – not apologising for – the encounter, Rudd said merely he was “in the zone” and that he wasn’t generally a fan of being touched up anyway (unless there’s a selfie to be had).
“I don't know about you folks but I'm not happy about having make-up put on at the best of days,” he said.
And there goes the gay vote.
But the gaffe is unlikely to result in a swell of rainbow support for Abbott. During the debate, the Opposition leader restated his belief that marriage was between a man and a woman only, saying “we should not lightly change something which has been this way since time immemorial”.
To be fair, Tony raises a valid point. Those ancient civilisations that existed in ‘time immemorial’ – generally accepted as a time extending beyond the reach of memory, record or tradition – did run a tight moral ship. Between the polygamy and incest, needless violence and cannibalism – not to mention their reprehensible treatment of women – well, the church sermon writes itself, doesn’t it Tony?
On the topic of cannibalism, surely someone in the Coalition camp foresaw the risks associated with eating away at the party’s long-held support from the business community with an overly generous paid parental leave scheme?
Apparently not, because nobody was more surprised when the election debate turned to franking than Abbott himself.
The Opposition leader, a long and vocal supporter of the call for more substantive debate, was as blank-faced as Cory Bernardi at a mardi gras when his slam dunk for shoring up the female vote drew furious and fiscal scrutiny, led admirably by our own Robert Gottliebsen (Retirees will pay for the Paid Parental Leave scheme, August 19).
So how did he respond?
'Franking my dear, I don’t give a damn. As long as the women love me.'
Ian and the technological dream(coat)
If Ian Narev were God, never again would one of his mortal subjects instruct themselves, or others, to ‘Google it’.
The head honcho of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, ill-content with the competition between Australia’s big four lenders played out in profit wars and interest rates, has opened up a new battlefront.
He has not so much declared war on giant, multinational technology companies, but decreed that they have done the very same thing to banks. And Narev fancies himself as leader of the resistance – slayer of the Google and Apple dragons.
“They’re clearly trying to get customers to do more with them, and our view is that as a financial institution we’ve got to provide the same encouragement to customers to do more with us,” he said.
Of course, the likelihood is not that the tech giants will become more like the lenders (if the Apple bank has opening hours parallel to the battery life of its iPhone 5, Commonwealth can breathe easy).
No, the more likely scenario – and indeed Narev’s express wish – is that the lenders become more like the tech companies. He is quite simply done with his seat at the big four’s table and is now eyeing one at the big boys’ table.
There are significant hurdles to overcome in this sense – the least of which is sheer profitability. Commonwealth Bank may have unveiled a record $7.8 billion annual profit last week, but it’s well short of the likes of Apple, who in July announced a net profit of $US6.9 billion ($7.67 billion) for the third-quarter alone.
But Commonwealth Bank, and Narev in particular, is intent on charging forward. In its full-year results, the lender lauded the completion of its six-year Core Banking Modernisation program.
The launch of Kaching for Facebook (Australia’s first social media banking application), Smartsign and MyWealth do give some weight to the bank’s self-appointed title as chief innovator, and certainly put into action its much-discussed technological dreams.
But while these innovations might give Commonwealth bragging rights, customers are unlikely to be impressed. Which poses a real issue, given this almighty crusade was ordered in their name.
It is unlikely they will welcome the increased presence of financial institutions on their social media platforms. After all, no bank raises the credit card limit of the guy whose Facebook profile picture is a mugshot.
The Googles and the Apples of the world have an inbuilt advantage in that they peddle products capable of delivering both joy and cultural capital. Not to mention they have tax minimisation strategies any chief executive would envy.
Narev can target customers until his heart’s content, but he can’t change the fact that few people are seeking the companionship of their financial institution.
“With the unseasonably warm weather continuing, the headwind in the number of deaths has continued into July and August and we are tightly managing our costs to support our second-half results.” – Invocare chief executive Andrew Smith lamenting those pesky senior citizens who beat analyst expectations and just keep on living.
“Tony Abbott is the Edward Scissorhands of Australian politics.” – Bill Shorten showing his pop culture references are as fickle as his loyalty to leaders.
“I accept that not all candidates are equally outstanding, I absolutely accept that and I can think of a couple of my own candidates who haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory so far in this campaign.” – Opposition Leader Tony Abbott speaking in generic terms during the second debate. Not looking at anyone in particular (Jaymes Diaz). I won’t get into specific candidates, but: Jaymes Diaz. And on an unrelated note, what’s the go with Jaymes Diaz?
Tweet of the week
The last gasp
Of all the bizarre battles this election campaign has unearthed between the Coalition and Labor, the quest to be deemed the underdog is surely the oddest. There is narrative value in being David as opposed to Goliath, but the story itself seems vastly at odds with the message of stability both parties are trying to sell. After all, the biggest criticism of the hung parliament was how its volatility – both inherent and created – undermined business confidence.
Yet both Abbott and Rudd see fit to install themselves as either lacking the support of the people or the skills for the job – how else to describe the underdog in this setting? One can only hope that whichever underdog has his day, its bite is stronger than its bark.