A week before Easter, I was driving back from Bribie Island when my travelling companion pointed out the first of three political billboards. The first read: “Don’t Vote Labor”. A little further down the road: “If Shorten wins, you lose.”
The third billboard featured the face of a minor party leader known for her dubious skill in empathising with those in the community who have a morbid fear of ethnic minorities.
“I’ve got the guts to say what you’re thinking,” the political billboard states.
As much-quoted advertising guru Todd Sampson said on Twitter: How do you say racism without being racist? It’s surprisingly clever…
That’s not an endorsement, I’m sure, just an adman’s view of what works.
My passenger said: “Don’t they have to say who authorised those billboards?” I didn’t see anything.”
That’s the problem with advertising on billboards – the message has to be extremely pithy and in letters big enough to be read from a car passing by. The driver has only a few seconds to take in the message; no chance to read and absorb the small print which, as required, must state the name, affiliation and domicile of the person authorising the advertising.
These political billboards were sighted in the seat of Longman, which was wrested from the LNP with a 4.73% swing by Labor member Susan Lamb in 2016. After the dual-citizen fracas, Lamb resigned from the seat but won it back again at a by-election in July 2018.
Longman includes the satellite suburbs of Caboolture and Morayfield and the retirement communities of Bribie Island. High pre-poll support for One Nation had highlighted Longman as the electorate to watch, but on the day, Labor held the seat against the LNP with a two-party preferred swing of 3.7%.
One Nation was third on the ballot with some 14,000 votes. Perhaps it was the inclusion of six minor parties and an independent alongside the four main contenders that did the damage, but the LNP lost support.
As The Conversation observed at the time, the Coalition’s by-election primary vote plunged 9.4% in Longman, compared with the 2016 election. The 3.7% swing against the LNP’s Trevor Ruthenberg vindicated election analysts’ warnings about the reliability of single-seat polling.
“While senior Coalition MPs have since put this down to an ‘average’ anti-government swing at by-elections, few in the party would have expected such a kicking in a historically conservative seat,” wrote Chris Salisbury, Research Associate at the University of Queensland.
As Salisbury warned, by-election results should not be extrapolated to likely voting patterns at a general election. But those three billboards outside Caboolture, might, I suggest, be a warning to the local sheriff to watch her back (cultural reference to a 2017 movie by Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand).
As we set off the following week on a circuitous back roads journey to Canberra, I inevitably began noticing billboards, As a rule, billboards positioned outside rural towns advertise food, accommodation, fuel and agricultural products. Sometimes you will see a religious message and on occasions a hand-made billboard damning fracking or coal mining. But a month out from a Federal election, it was no surprise to see political billboards as parties ramping up their profiles.
One of the most common billboards we spotted on the road proclaimed “Unsee This”, which turned out to be a house ad for a billboard company with space to rent.
As you’d imagine, advertising your wares on the side of the highway is an expensive business. Most billboard companies offer a 28-day minimum ‘lease’.
A campaign source told me it cost about $10,000 a month for a billboard and $16,000 for a mail-out to the electorate. So all up a major candidate is up for $60k to $100k for a Federal campaign
United Australia Party leader Clive Palmer estimated he has spent $50 million on various forms of election advertising, including ubiquitous billboards featuring the man himself with upstretched arms. The original pitch was “Make Australia great”, but UAP has swung away from that slogan to wordy headlines about fast trains and zonal taxing.
One of my musician friends who drove through New England on her way home from Canberra spotted a Barnaby Joyce billboard in a field. She seemed surprised, maybe assuming that after the former deputy leader’s fall from grace in 2018, he might have quit politics for good.
But no, Barnaby Joyce is once against contesting the seat of New England for the National Party, seemingly unbeatable in an electorate where he holds a 16% majority. As one of the best-known politicians for the wrong reasons, Barnaby doesn’t really need to pay to have his face recognised in the electorate.
Inverell farmer Glenn Morris, while not running for New England or putting his face on a billboard, nonetheless attracted a lot of media attention. He put climate change firmly on the agenda with a five-day horseback ride over the Anzac Day weekend. Morris and his horse Hombre rode from Glenn Innes to Uralla, wearing a drizabone raincoat with the words “Climate Action” on the back, urging voters to consider the environment in the upcoming election.
“This is an urgent message. We need climate action, we need our leaders to step up and we also need our community to demand more from our leaders,” Morris told the Northern Daily Leader
“I’ve watched too many elections come and go while I’ve been researching climate change, with no emphasis at all on the environment.”
That much is certainly true, with The Guardian saying that the partisan climate debate, characterised by hyperbole and misinformation, had paralysed Australian politics for a decade.
Labor is promising stronger policy which the Coalition has merrily dubbed “Carbon Tax 2.0”, claiming it will impose a massive regulatory burden on Australia.
As you may have read, among a long list of measures, Labor wants to set a higher emissions reduction target (45% by 2030, compared with the LNP’s 26%), reintroduce the Coalition’s abandoned National Energy Guarantee, launch a carbon credit scheme for heavy polluters, and implement strict vehicle emission standards.
As The Guardian rightly points, out, this is policy which may not even happen, despite Labor’s best intentions. “The Coalition is not showing any sign of having a substantial conversion on climate change. Labor will likely need the Greens to get various changes legislated and the Greens will want a higher level of ambition than is evident in this policy.”
As is apparent from its strong advocacy against new coal mines, The Greens will want Labor to exit coal sooner than later.
So even though many lobby groups are wont to call this the ‘climate change election’ it is entirely possible the long-running ideological deadlock will continue, with little or no change.
Sweden’s teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg says she wants adults to behave as if their house is on fire.
Unfortunately, the ‘adults’ in Canberra appear to have taken the batteries out of their smoke alarms so they can char their T-bone steaks with impunity.
For those who just joined us here at Friday on My Mind, yesterday was our fifth birthday! Give me a week to cogitate about that and next week we will have a completely subjective review of five years’ of FOMM. For now, enjoy the first episode, and, if you got up early on Wednesday to Dance up the Sun, good for you.