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Iemma Govt looks set to return in election -

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Iemma Govt looks set to return in election

Reporter: Deborah Cornwall

KERRY O'BRIEN: With just over two weeks to go before the NSW election, the state Opposition appears
to be in deep trouble, with the latest polls showing the 12 year old Labor Government expected to
win quite easily, despite its own deep unpopularity. In what seems to be becoming commonplace at
state level, regardless of widespread discontent with Morris Iemma's Government, the Opposition
leader, Peter Debnam, has so far failed to win hearts and minds with his bag of mixed promises.
Deborah Cornwall reports.

IMRE SALUSZINSKY, 'THE AUSTRALIAN': This is an attempt to paint him as Debnam, Texas ranger.

GLENN MILNE (TO JOE HOCKEY): Don't you think that Peter Debnam would do better as an alternate
premier if when in front of the cameras he put a few more clothes on?

GRAEME MORRIS, FORMER LIBERAL PARTY STRATEGIST: He is a fellow that likes beaches, so do most of
Australia good on him.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Peter Debnam's splashy swimwear sent ripples as far as London this week, the
Times snidely observing the NSW Opposition Leader was as cut and buffed as the new James Bond.

PETER DEBNAM, NSW OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, it's me. I am into exercise every day and I suppose the
media became interested in that angle.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: But just over two weeks out from election day, the NSW Opposition Leader is in
the last gasp of the campaign and, if the latest polls are any indication, he'll need more than an
oxygen tank to revive him, with just one in every four voters prepared to back him as premier.

PETER DEBNAM: Um, look, I can't explain it. I suppose I'll leave it up to other people to explain.
The feeling ... is very strong both towards me, very warm, and to our candidates and we feel as
though we are making a lot of progress.

IMRE SALUSZINSKY: I think that Peter has so far failed to charm the electorate. He's very genial,
easygoing, generous and considerate on a one to one level, but in terms of the media, yes, there is
a certain intensity, a certain narrow eyed look.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the polls is not so much how badly
the Liberals are doing, but how well Labor is faring.

GRAEME MORRIS: I think it's a bit symptomatic of the Liberal Party at a state level right around
the country, and that is, not being able to lay a glove on the Labor leader for three years or four
years and then try and do it in the last four weeks of an election campaign. Just pathetic.

BRUCE HAWKER, LABOR PARTY STRATEGIST: There tends to be an expectation that the Government is just
going to implode and they are going to be handed government on a platter. That doesn't happen.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Just two months ago, the Iemma Government appeared to be on its last legs, rocked
by a series of ministerial scandals and 12 years of pent up voter rage over the state's crumbling
infrastructure and an economy on the brink of recession.

IMRE SALUSZINSKY: Peter had the Government right on the back foot. Well, he didn't - the Government
had itself on the back foot. A minister is dragged out of bed, taken to court and charged with
child sex offences. I thought it was a tsunami that would wash across the Labor Government and
sweep them out to sea and we would never see or hear any of them again. Then, I think, a brain snap
occurred.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Armed with allegations from a paedophile, Peter Debnam took a monumental gamble,
launching a smear campaign against the Attorney General Bob Debus, which backfired badly.

BOB DEBUS, RETIRING NSW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is my challenge to you, you grub. Walk 15 paces out
there and say it again. Say it now!

DEBORAH CORNWALL: It cost the Opposition critical momentum and raised alarm within the Liberal
Party about the former naval lieutenant's leadership style.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: You're described by colleagues as a bit of a lone wolf. You don't like to take
advice. That may have cost you dearly in the Debus matter.

PETER DEBNAM: Look, I've seen those comments in the media. I don't know where the comments came
from, but I don't accept them.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: But Peter Debnam was always going to be up against it. His elevation to the
leader's job just 18 months ago marked a major crisis in the NSW Liberal Party. The former leader
John Brogden had just attempted suicide, after resigning in disgrace.

GRAEME MORRIS: I think Peter Debnam inherited a mud house and he's had to build it up. I think
everywhere around this country that the Oppositions could benefit from some new blood.

BRUCE HAWKER: The last time Liberals won an election at a state level in Australia was in 1997 in
South Australia. That's 10 years since they've won. That's a terrible record. No one would want
that and I think Liberal hardheads around the country continue to really worry about what they can
do at a state level to win an election.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Peter Debnam has scored some points in the campaign, notably, his decision to
champion recycled drinking water, leaving the Iemma Government flat footed with its highly
unpopular desalination plant. But as the election inches nearer, there have been even more
stumbles, from the sacking of central coast candidate Brenton Pavier for sending dirty text
messages -

IMRE SALUSZINSKY: And God help us if one joke about having sex with goats is enough to get you out
of NSW politics.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: To a press conference last week where Peter Debnam tried to spruik the benefits
of his proposed property tax cuts to mum and dad investors.

PETER DEBNAM: And we want to talk to two people today who really do feel that impact of the heavy
tax burden in NSW.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: The problem was, Michelle and Robert Banning owned eight property investments in
all, not exactly Struggle Street. It was a gaffe that played straight into the Labor spin: Peter
Debnam, the silvertail who was out of touch with ordinary voters.

IMRE SALUSZINSKY: This is just nonsense. Mr Debnam is from the same classic Australian lower middle
class background that most of us are from.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Labor have set out to paint you as a sort of stitched up, moneyed, white bread
kind of guy, the Member for Vaucluse.

PETER DEBNAM: Oh, look, the Labor Party have tried to demonise me and that's been their defence, I
suppose, to try and deflect attention from all their troubles and their woes over the last 12 years
and say, "Look at Peter Debnam, isn't he terrible?"

DEBORAH CORNWALL: The Opposition's last sprint to the polls may well be boosted when they finally
start running their TV ads, but with campaign funds at an all time low, so far the Party has been
forced to make do with a bit of free advertising on the web, a message that's already been drowned
out by Labor's all singing, all dancing spoiler blog.

PETER DEBNAM: I think every election is winnable, but it's up to the people of NSW. It's really
it's a democracy. It is, what do they want, on the day?

KERRY O'BRIEN: We'll know that in just over two weeks. That report from Deborah Cornwall.