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Tony Jones speaks with political pollster Rod -

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TONY JONES: Well, watching the character attacks on Kevin Rudd from the sidelines, the former Labor
pollster Rod Cameron has been feeding the issue into recent ANOP polling focus groups to gauge the
public's reaction. He says he believes his soundings reflect what internal polling is telling both
the Opposition and the Government. I spoke to him just a short time ago.

Rod Cameron, thanks for joining us.

ROD CAMERON, POLLSTER: Tony.

TONY JONES: Now, you've been looking at some new polling data and examining what it says about the
Government's character attacks on Kevin Rudd. What can you tell us?

ROD CAMERON: Well Tony, for about 35 years I've been observing politics, 20 years actively involved
on one side, but for the last 15 really taking a much more armchair look at politics. But we still
do enough - ANOP, my company - still does enough to keep our hand in for business groups and
industry associations, and yes, we've done some recent research. It's really significant because I
think it shows that these last couple of weeks of some of the dirtiest mud that I can remember
being slung has had a totally counterproductive effect, as far as the Government is concerned. In
my time of observing politics, I've seen vicious and conservative attacks on leaders many a time,
but usually over issues of substance, to a greater or lesser extent. I've never seen such a
concerted and vicious attack on an issue of so little substance and of such an ephemeral nature. I
think the Canberra Press Gallery have been, to a large extent, misinterpreting this, looking at it
from the theatrics of Parliament.

Now, establishing a psychological advantage in Parliament is important, it is important, but much
more important is what is happening in the lounge rooms of Australia, and what is happening in the
lounge rooms of Australia at the moment is a total bewilderment as to why the Prime Minister and
some of his ministers are making such a vicious and rabid attack on, who? Brian Burke? Who on earth
is he, outside of Western Australia, I make the caveat? Outside of Western Australia, no idea who
he is, no idea why -

TONY JONES: They're not attacking Brian Burke, they're attacking Kevin Rudd for an association -
albeit rather brief - with Brian Burke.

ROD CAMERON: But who is Brian Burke and what is his relevance to running Australia? They see - and
they say, "Why is the Prime Minister looking so rattled, so angry, so negative and why is he
wasting so much time over an issue which is of so little consequence?"

TONY JONES: Just separate this out if you can for a moment. From your own personal opinion, looking
at it historically as you say, and the opinions that you are seeing in the lounge rooms of
Australia, are you saying that there is evidence there in the polling that you've done to support
what you are saying?

ROD CAMERON: Absolutely. I suppose there are four areas that the Prime Minister would like to
establish a mastery over Kevin Rudd. First is the environment. He tried with a major water
initiative. He didn't succeed because all it did was bring him a bit closer to where the electorate
already is. They're miles ahead of the Prime Minister and the environment. Anyway, brand Labor owns
the environment. Secondly, national security - Kevin Rudd has just about neutralised that as an
issue. Most of the sub-issues around it, Iraq, going to war, David Hicks, George Bush, Labor wins
and John Howard has been unable to establish an overarching confidence in his ability to run
Australia in a terrorist environment. Kevin Rudd has neutralised that issue. The third area and
this is what we are talking about tonight is an issue of character. That's why the last two weeks
have been so important. John Howard has thrown the kitchen sink at Kevin Rudd, trying to do what he
did to Mark Latham destroy the man's character. Unlike Mark Latham, John Howard - all he was doing
was reinforcing the electorate's view. They knew that Mark Latham was a nutter - he is trying to
invent something with Kevin Rudd and he has singularly has failed. I think character is possibly
going to be an election issue in the next campaign, but it's not Kevin Rudd's character. It is John
Howard's.

TONY JONES: You say it's been important this past week. How significant is it - significant enough
to affect the outcome of an election?

ROD CAMERON: Well, I've never given Kevin Rudd much chance of winning the next election. The hurdle
he has to mount is significant. The seats the number of seats he has to win is significant, and
there are other issues in Western Australia which might make it difficult for Labor to even hold
what it has got. So the hurdle is significant, but I would have to say the odds have shortened. I
would still say that Howard would have to be favoured, but Kevin Rudd has achieved a huge amount in
just three months, because the fourth area that Howard would like to achieve mastery has not yet
been attacked, and that's economic management and that's probably the most important of all.

If Rudd is going to neutralise and in fact get an advantage, in my view, in three of those four
areas, not a bad piece of work for the first quarter of the election year.

TONY JONES: You say you've done some polling. ANOP is polling focus groups. What are the people in
the focus groups saying about the issues you are talking about?

ROD CAMERON: Well, they are looking in bewilderment at this mud-slinging issue. They hate
mud-slinging. They hate it with a passion. In election campaigns they don't like it because it is
negative ads, but at least they get the message. Outside of election campaigns, they can't
understand why mud is being slung. They don't understand what the issue is all about and therefore,
it is rebounding on John Howard's character.

For the last for all of John Howard's political life, they've used the word, "He's a 'cunning'
politician," and they've sort of meant it in a vaguely positive way, at least grudgingly,
admiringly. They now use it differently. They now say "cunning politician" to mean sneaky,
untrustworthy, wrong priorities, playing the man. The Prime Minister has lost the last two weeks in
a significant way and I don't think it will be much longer before they drop this whole mud-slinging
issue entirely.

TONY JONES: Rod Cameron, as you said at the beginning, it's not as if you are non partisan. The
Government line, hearing what you are saying, presumably will be, "This is Rod Cameron, Labor
sympathiser, riding to the aid of a beleaguered Kevin Rudd."

ROD CAMERON: I don't think he's very beleaguered. I think he's -

TONY JONES: Are you riding to his aid though, nonetheless?

ROD CAMERON: I think he has scored a remarkable victory in the last couple of weeks, a remarkable
one. It's very much an own goal. No, I think Tony, for 20 years I was involved with the Labor
Party. For 15 years I've been as dispassionate an observer as I possibly can be. I'm only
interested in this issue because I think it's been so badly reported not by everybody, but the
majority of the gallery, who saw it as a horse race, who are answering the question: Is Rudd being
damaged and is his honeymoon over?

Wrong question. The question is: Is Howard being damaged? And the answer is: Yes.

TONY JONES: So you think that the gallery is actually misreading public sentiment on this, and just
bear with me for one moment, do you think that public sentiment is reflected in both Labor and
Coalition internal polling?

ROD CAMERON: I've no doubt that both parties are furiously doing their focus groups at the moment,
because they know that the last couple of weeks have been seminal ones in the next election
outcome. Both parties, I know, will be furiously in the lounge rooms as we speak, trying to
understand what has happened and trying to plumb the damage done, not to Kevin Rudd, but to John
Howard.

TONY JONES: And do you have any idea what that polling is saying, if it reflects what you are
seeing in your focus group?

ROD CAMERON: I know what it is saying. It is saying exactly as I've reported to you - damage to
John Howard and if character is an issue, then it's about the Prime Minister and not Kevin Rudd.

TONY JONES: Are people putting together this incident you say the "sneaky" thing comes up or the
"cunning politician" thing comes up are put are people putting together this with other incidents
or other perceptions they might have?

ROD CAMERON: Yes. There have been a whole lot of negatives for the Government that John Howard
hasn't had to worry about, because they haven't been capitalised upon by either Mark Latham or Kim
Beazley. Kids overboard, Tampa, going to war, Iraq, George Bush, David Hicks, AWB - all of these
have been negatives for Howard, but they haven't hurt him. Now, Kevin Rudd has been able to cut
through on some of these issues and some of the issues have been related to what we've just been
talking about, a trickiness and untrustworthiness of the Prime Minister. Oh, yes, those kids were
overboard, he did tell fibs about that, didn't he? All of these issues are starting to meld
together and it's not a very pretty picture for John Howard.

TONY JONES: A final question an editorial in The Australian this week said, "We can't really tell
from the polls so far, we'll have to wait for next week's Newspoll." That's the ones all the
politician will be looking at, apart from their own internal polling, we presume. How important is
that poll?

ROD CAMERON: No, I think much more important is the battle still to come economic management. Kevin
Rudd has just to convince the Australian population he can run the economy and John Howard has yet
to challenge him on it. That's the battleground I think hopefully, we've got the mud out of the
way.

TONY JONES: It's a huge hurdle though, isn't it, the one that you just mentioned? It's the greatest
hurdle that someone has been in opposition, albeit for a short time could ever face and Mark Latham
failed at that hurdle.

ROD CAMERON: He did. Why has the Government wasted all of this time before getting on with it?

TONY JONES: Rod Cameron, we'll have to leave it there. We thank you very much for coming in to give
us the benefits of your insight tonight. I'm sure we will get opposing views, but thanks very much
indeed.

ROD CAMERON: Thanks, Tony.