THE LAST GASP: Western Sydney wanderers

Western Sydney gains its usual disproportionate amount of attention from both leaders, Abbott uses foreigners as a political football and Woolworths contradicts itself.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s biggest stories, every week. This week, Western Sydney takes its rightful place as the centre of the universe, Tony Abbott opens up his heart for poor, innocent foreigners and Woolworths tries to explain when market dominance isn’t really market dominance.

The promised land

If only they’d stayed in the wilderness. Madness descended on one of Australia’s fastest growing regions this week, as both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott took Western Sydney by the scruff of the neck and shook it until it promised to be their friend. Both leaders trekked through the area trailed by a huge media pack, with particular attention paid to the PM, who continues to battle deteriorating popularity and internal leadership speculation. Gillard, however, denied suggestions that she was in election campaign mode, before appearing on every possible breakfast show known to Australian television and spruiking populist policy. To be fair to the PM though, it’s unlikely that she would waste her best election moves right now. She has all the time between now and September to screw that up. Later in the week, the battle turned to the cost of living, which led Gillard to express sympathy for the working class and claim that she had a great understanding of family problems. After all, running Labor cabinet meetings is a lot like looking after a bunch of whinging kids. And everyone’s always asking her for money she doesn’t have.

The belle of the ball

There was a good reason for Gillard’s incessant media saturation: she needed it. Badly. An opinion poll earlier in the week found Abbott is the most popular political leader by far in the region, well in front of the caretaker PM. However, the Mad Monk may have let the support go a little bit to his head, because before anyone knew what was happening, he was off accusing Labor of demonising foreigners attempting to work in Australia amid an argument over 457 visas. This sounded just a little bit rich, especially coming from a the guy who promises to ‘stop the boats’ as if they are all filled with cartoon villains harbouring ACME crates full of Wile E Coyote contraptions designed to tear at the very fabric of the Australian way of life. The same poll also showed Gillard behind former PM Kevin Rudd in popularity in Western Sydney – a reading that can’t help her aspirations of keeping the Labor leadership. The bad news came just a week after the Libs posted a video on YouTube attacking Labor's ‘dysfunction and treachery’. It’s a high moral stance from the Liberal Party, which would never lower itself to the level of knifing a sitting political leader.

Here’s an example of the Libs lowering themselves to that level

Teddy Baillieu took the bullet this week after seedy corruption claims and the resignation of an MP in an already tight Victorian lower house made his position, in the eyes of ‘himself’, untenable. The premier’s surprise announcement came just hours after the departure of backbencher Geoff Shaw and followed poor polls and the release of damaging audio tapes implicating a number of Baillieu staff in the scandal. Newly elected Premier Denis Napthine has denied that Baillieu was ‘knifed’ and said the decision came after Ted noticed he no longer had the support that he needed. And, presumably, a number of knives jutting out of his back. Federal Lib leader Abbott brushed off comparisons between the move and the Rudd/Gillard changeover, and also ducked suggestions that his office may have had a role in the resignation. Sources said Abbott was adamant his office was simply incapable of organising something as complex as a covert leadership overhaul.

I think it’s the black lung

Displaying the kind of spin that the Australian cricket team is sorely lacking in India, Woolworths began packing its wagons with all kinds of interesting statistics this week in preparation for a pilgrimage of enlightenment to Canberra. The supermarket giant is fighting claims that it is too dominant in the sector and wants to convince politicians it is not the soulless behemoth the general public is convinced it is, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Anyway, part of Woolies’ campaign is attempting to tell the heathens at the ACCC that the group is under intense pressure from competitors, which is a difficult task considering that, aside from partner in crime Wesfarmers, no such thing exists. Still, Woolies is adamant that just seven per cent of Australians shop exclusively at its stores, and that its market share has remained largely stagnant since 2007. Conversely, the document claims budget chain Aldi has recorded a three per cent climb in share during that time. It’s a tough reality for Woolworths, and must be hard watching Aldi grow when the local group is stuck posting an interim profit rise of only 19 per cent to just $1.15 billion. Unfortunately for Woolworths, those figures tend to lessen the impact of their claims, and make cries of poor from the conglomerate taste as sour as knock-off Aldi beer. And just as convincing.

Haters gonna hate

It’s not just obnoxious, jaded and unread weekend journalists questioning Woolworths claims – actual experts have been at it, too. Fund managers told journalists this week that the crying poor stance from the supermarket giant was contrary to its own commentary given alongside its previously mentioned results only last week. Woolworths chief Grant O’Brien told investors that the greatest indicator of the group’s progress in its food and liquor arm was the fact it had increased market share over the year. The same market share it tried to tell politicians was unmoved just a paragraph ago. With communication like that, it’s a wonder why the boffins at Woolworths don’t ditch trying to talk to the government and simply start working for them.

Quick misses

– The Australian Workers Union produced data this week showing that while staff output has increased in Australia over the past decade, wages have not risen proportionally. Turns out the rich are getting richer, and the rest of us are doing all the work. Surprise!

– And finally, Fairfax unveiled its highly-anticipated shift to a tabloid format this week, giving Australians a more compact version of their newspapers to ignore every day.