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Political leaders focus on water, security -

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Political leaders focus on water, security

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: The rash of policy detail continued to pile up in the federal campaign today - Mark
Latham seeking to match strides with John Howard on national security and take up the running on
the environment.

The Labor leader announced a policy to improve rail security and the Prime Minister pledged extra
money to protect the vast North West Shelf oil and gas fields.

And the poor, old ailing Murray River, which has languished for decades as governments bickered, is
having a week in the political sun.

But there's not much evidence after nearly three weeks of this campaign that the electorate's
actually listening - not a good sign for Labor.

Political editor Michael Brissenden reports.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Another day on the campaign trail and another grab bag of policies.

These are the days that are sent to test all of us, the mid-campaign picture opportunities, mixed
with the endless round of amorphous radio interviews.

John Howard began today in Western Australia with a big boat as a backdrop.

This is one of the new patrol boats that will be put to sea to protect the oil and gas reserves on
the North West Shelf.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: It's much bigger and obviously will handle the rougher water better.

MAN AT SHIPYARD: It'll have longer legs and it really is a step forward in Australian technology.

And Australian-made.

JOHN HOWARD: That's the good thing about it, that we're making it here.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And Mark Latham's day began with trains.

MARK LATHAM, OPPOSITION LEADER: Labor will provide an extra $30 million in grants and assistance to
domestic rail networks to ensure that security is upgraded, that we've got every protection in
place for the travelling public.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Labor's train package will provide money for security measures, including
explosive-detector dogs, security screens, fencing and bollards.

REPORTER: What's a bollard?

MARK LATHAM: A bollard is one of those protective devices that will stop, you know, say, wheeling a
large device in that might have explosives.

So it's, ah, you know, a pipe, a vertical pipe, that stops people wheeling large devices in that
might be going to cause some grief.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Glad we've cleared that one up, then.

The two big parties are literally spending millions to get publicity like this, but some candidates
can attract attention without spending a cent.

But given we now know they know what a bollard is, you'd think someone might have found one to
throw in the way to prevent this.

PAULINE HANSON, FORMER ONE NATION LEADER: I'm in the 'Dancing With the Stars'.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Pauline Hanson today officially registered as a candidate for the Senate in
Queensland.

The last Senate spot in Queensland was always going to be a lottery draw between obscure special
interest candidates, but even her fiercest opponents recognise Pauline Hanson has something others
don't.

TONY ABBOTT, HEALTH MINISTER: She has every right to run for election, but it seems to me she's
running as a celebrity.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But of course, she's not the only celebrity on offer this time around.

PETER GARRETT, LABOR CANDIDATE: This is the business.

This is the good stuff, huh?

MIDNIGHT OIL SING: # The river runs red, black rain falls, dust in my hand

The river runs red, black rain falls on my bleeding land #

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As far as iconic backdrops go, they don't get much better than this.

Both sides have used the Murray to prop up their Green credentials in this campaign as the fight to
save the river becomes a test of commitment in a campaign where Green votes are likely to be more
important than ever.

A few days ago, a fair way downstream, John Howard announced his new $2.4 billion water strategy,
an initiative that would see the States bid for funding for water-saving initiatives from funds, in
large part, already allocated under the current national competition payments.

Not surprising then, that all the Labor state governments rejected the deal in a letter to the PM
today.

And not surprising also, that the Federal Labor leader saw it coming.

MARK LATHAM: This is on any count, by any standard, a huge environmental issue and it's only Labor
that's got the $1 billion commitment to saving the Murray.

It's only Labor that's setting the targets.

It's only Labor that will have the cooperative framework with the States and the private sector to
ensure that this enormous environmental task is undertaken for the future.

Unfortunately, the Howard Government - with its announcement earlier this week - it's set the
states up for an impossible choice in terms of public policy.

It's asking the States to take money out of schools, hospitals and policing to put it into water
reform.

JOHN HOWARD: They're just playing politics in the middle of an election campaign.

We have a $2 billion commitment to fixing the water problems of Australia.

And that fund is available for competitive bidding from all States.

This is just a political exercise in the middle of an election campaign.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The other great iconic Green debate of this election, of course, is the
Tasmanian forests.

Neither side has yet made an official announcement on this, but Bob Brown can only look on rubbing
his hands in wonder as both sides leak like a rainforest canopy about what they might have in mind,
while publicly both say they want to do the seemingly impossible and protect the trees and timber
workers' jobs.

JOHN HOWARD: We have not made any decision.

All I have stated is a principle and that principle is that we would like to see, along with most
Australians, a situation where you could have an end to old-growth logging in Tasmania, but we are
not prepared to see that occur at the expense of jobs in the timber industry.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Peter Garrett will, of course, be wheeled out alongside the real environment
shadow minister, Kelvin Thompson, when Labor finally announces how it plans to wrap up that Rubik's
cube.

But you have to wonder if he'll be as enthusiastic about Labor's forest policy as he was about
water.

There are some big policy hits to come, of course, in this campaign and the leaders will be hoping
they can yet energise what has so far been a fairly lacklustre start.

It seems pretty clear that neither side has yet engaged a still largely disinterested electorate,
even on what all the polling shows is one of the big issues - health - despite some pretty strong
performances.

Today, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard faced each other at the National Press Club.

TONY ABBOTT: The Howard Government is the best friend that Medicare has ever had, that Howard
Government ministers are the truest of true believers in a Medicare system.

JULIA GILLARD, SHADOW HEALTH MINISTER: He's trying to convince you, of course, that black is white,
hate is love, lies are truth, and you have to give it marks for audacity, if not accuracy.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: On the periphery of the daily tussle between the leaders, these are two of the
more engaging political figures.

As opposites in health, they've been aptly dubbed Punch and Judy.

Their well-spun arguments about safety nets and bulk-billing rates are now pretty familiar, but as
both acknowledged today there could be more to politics than the health portfolio.

REPORTER: I'd like to ask both of you if you'd like to be leaders one day of your respective
parties?

TONY ABBOTT: You go first, Julia.

JULIA GILLARD: Louise, I'm doing everything I can to make Tony Leader of the Opposition.

TONY ABBOTT: And I suspect that after Mark Latham loses they could well turn to you, Julia.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But with still more than three weeks to go, that sort of speculation really is
getting ahead of the game.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How gracious of a couple of old foes.