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ACT election campaign discussion.

PRU GOWARD: Now it's time for our distinguished panel who will look over with us each week the election campaign. Dr Stephen Mugford first of all from the Australian National University, sociologist. Unlike those timid political scientists who weren't willing to chance their arm, Stephen Mugford is prepared to, well how would you describe it, prostitute yourself?

STEPHEN MUGFORD: Oh, naturally, yes.

PRU GOWARD: Yes, naturally. Ian Warden, who prostitutes himself quite regularly in the Canberra Times and is used to it.

IAN WARDEN: Nature of the profession.

PRU GOWARD: That's right, we all know. And Sarah Gilman who's practising ....

SARAH GILMAN: Trying.

PRU GOWARD: Trying. Sarah Gilman from the ABC newsroom. Well, let's start with, well would it be called the highlight of the week when the big guns came to town, the Greiner breakfast. Ian Warden.

IAN WARDEN: Yes. Well, the highlight of the week for me was the launching of the Residents' Rally thing, because that was so peculiar and charming. But the Greiner breakfast was a major event for the Liberals. It was a major event for them because the Liberal Svengali, Rowan Greenland, has told me that they don't intend to have any Federal heavies helping them in the campaign. Rowan didn't say that, but, you know, the obvious reason is that none of them are particularly popular and would do the campaign any good. But as I understand it Mr Greiner, who's come and gone, may be just about the only Liberal star who's coming, although Sallyanne Atkinson, the Mayor of Brisbane is a possibility.

PRU GOWARD: She's coming.

IAN WARDEN: So the Greiner visit was important for the Liberals in that sense.

PRU GOWARD: Now, why do you think they're not bringing Jeff Kennett in?

IAN WARDEN: Why aren't they bringing Wilson Tuckey? There's a galaxy of Liberal personalities out there, but the last time I spoke to Svengali about it they didn't intend to bring any in. So this was an important event for the Liberals. Also an important fund-raising event for them. They charged $100 to the Liberals. And there are one or two signs that the Liberals are not flush with funds. I can talk more about that if you like. I've some personal experience of how poverty-stricken they appear to be.

PRU GOWARD: Oh good, tell us all.

IAN WARDEN: But it was an important fund-raising event.

PRU GOWARD: Just pretend there's no microphones and just say what you'd like to say.

IAN WARDEN: Well, Trevor Kaine told me early in the piece - I don't think he meant this to be a secret - he told me quite early in the piece when there was some discussion about which parties were going to be flush with funds that the Liberals were not going to be flush with funds and that they were going to miss out on some money because lots of businessmen who might normally contribute to the Liberal coffers were amongst those people who are disgruntled about the whole idea of self-government anyway. So he may well be right about that.

But it was interesting that the Liberals issued an invitation to various media outlets and said you can have one journalist and one cameraman and everything. And a very senior Liberal candidate who's name escapes me for the moment but one who's quite likely to get in, he agonised a bit when I told him that I thought the Canberra Times would like to send two journalists to this event - you know, one to cover the news and one to ....

PRU GOWARD: Feature.

IAN WARDEN: One to do the colour. But there turned out not to be any. And he agonised about this and, as I understand it he, as he hung up, was going to ask my editor first if the Canberra Times would pay the $100 rather than have a second Canberra Times bottom occupying a seat which a paying guest would give $100 for.

PRU GOWARD: Well, Stephen Mugford if we can turn to you now. As a sociologist, what does this tell us about the nature of Canberra?

STEPHEN MUGFORD: I'd say, actually, the whole election tells us something about the nature of Australian democracy which I personally have great cynical doubts about. I mean, I think if you look at our Parliament House it expresses some of the problems with Australian democracy. If you look at the Parliament House from the outside it looks immensely democratic. I mean, you can actually walk across the top of it and stand above the politicians. But when you go inside into that entrance hall, which is like Philadelphia railway station crossed with an Italian brothel, the impression you get is that you're just a horrible little worm who shouldn't be here. And, in fact, the reality inside Parliament House is one of authoritarianism, elitism and domination by party machines.

And I think that this election is one which has created a great deal of disgruntlement. I think Ian's quite right. There are a lot of people who would normally support a major party and no doubt would at a Federal election, who are very fed up by, not just so much by the Labor Government doing - well, it's done it, but the general way that the whole Parliament has handled it. I mean, I think this election is a triumph of mind over matter - they don't mind and we don't matter.

And they've simply imposed upon us a system which, while I'm personally in favour of us having self-government, is not one that we've had any say in at all. And I think the electorate is extremely confused and becoming very cynical ....

PRU GOWARD: They are confused, that's quite clear. It's difficult for people to work out the voting system and it's very difficult to work out why you should vote for any of the parties.

STEPHEN MUGFORD: Yes. And, I mean, one of the things, it's clearly the case that unless you want to fill out the complete ballot ticket and spend some little while in advance developing your own how to vote card, or you go in and just vote for one or two people, then obviously the fact that the major parties will be at the door giving you how to vote cards will tend to load the ticket somewhat in their favour - though I see that the Electoral Commission this morning is saying they expect a higher than usual informal vote, a deliberate informal vote, people opposed to self-government. And I'm sure that really nobody knows what to do. There are a lot of people who, I think, would vote for anti-self-government parties, if they thought that that was a viable alternative.

But then there's this sneaking feeling: Oh God, it's the only game in town even if it's rigged. You know, you'd better make sure that you vote for somebody who's actually going to build or not build a freeway, or fill in or not fill in the lake, or whatever the major proposal may be. So I don't think it really tells us a lot about Canberra. I think we've got a reasonably educated and literate electorate, but I just think they've been handed a bum steer.

PRU GOWARD: A bum steer? Sarah Gilman, is it a bum steer?

SARAH GILMAN: I think for, yeah, the people of Canberra it seems that way. I went in to Civic the other day and interviewed people about what they thought. And that was the common reaction, that they didn't particularly want it and they didn't understand it. And there's also not an apathy, but just sort of an acceptance in a way that in the end it's going to be a fight between Labor and Liberal and their vote's not going to count.

PRU GOWARD: Well, you've seen election campaigns before. How classy, as far as you're concerned, are these campaigns?

SARAH GILMAN: Oh, perhaps a little lacking I'd say.

PRU GOWARD: You sound very embarrassed. How polite you're being.

SARAH GILMAN: Well, actually it is interesting because both the Labor and the Liberal people ask me, you know, am I getting any gut feeling out there in the electorate. And it seems that they are perhaps a little bit worried about the Residents Rally which Ian mentioned and which launched their ticket on Tuesday, and specifically because on one hand they're trying to run a very sort of professional, you beaut election campaign, and then they're also realising that the Canberra residents don't really want self-government and may vote on municipal issues and see it as a council election.

PRU GOWARD: Ian Warden, do you think it's sophisticated?

IAN WARDEN: Well, the only thing I'd like to say about that is that they look like yokels, but it was ever that way in democracies because you don't trust people you know particularly well because you know their failings. That's always the way with small democracies.

PRU GOWARD: Small towns.

IAN WARDEN: The Liberals seem to me to be highly organised in their way, infinitely more organised than Labor at this stage, although they must be in some danger of peaking early. When you go to the Liberal headquarters there's all these fantastic maps over the wall. They've had the brains to, even though this electoral system doesn't allow for electorates, the Liberals have had the wit to sort of give candidates responsibility for particular areas, so that you get a kind of, however illusionary it is you get a kind of a feel for the idea that a particular candidate is interested in you.

PRU GOWARD: Yes, we can actually ring them at 8 o'clock in the morning, the Liberal campaign office is open.

IAN WARDEN: Yeah, they're working quite smoothly. They've got a flying start.

PRU GOWARD: How are the Labor Party working?

IAN WARDEN: Well, the Labor Party haven't done a great deal yet in terms of events. The sort of coverage that I'm doing, I'm really rather event orientated rather than sort of probing. The Liberals have launched infinitely more policies - I think they have launched 10; Labor have launched two, one of which, the education policy, seem to be quite lacking in policy. I couldn't find any policy in it. The Liberals have also ....

PRU GOWARD: And the tourism one.

IAN WARDEN: Tourism, oh yes. The Liberals have been launching their policies in exotic places so that we all traipsed up to Black Mountain Tower for the launching of the tourism policy. Labor launched their education policy in a cellar at the Canberra Labor Club, for reasons best known to themselves. The Liberals are doing quite a few things quite well, but they, as a group they rather lack charisma. But I think they seem to me to be making an adaptation to the sort of feeling in the community that my two colleagues were just talking about, in that they seem to be deliberately avoiding colourful things so far. They mightn't be capable of it, but they're stressing the idea of themselves as being managerial people who look after the finances.

STEPHEN MUGFORD: Sober and responsible.

IAN WARDEN: Sober and responsible. And as it turned out ....

PRU GOWARD: The Howard line.

IAN WARDEN: .... that was Nick Greiner's rather dreary message. He wasn't at all inspirational. He sort of talked about how proper auditing was important and how they had to make themselves look like good managers, and to the extent that ACT people are disgruntled because they think that self-government's going to cost an awful lot of money, that's probably the correct way to go.

PRU GOWARD: Yes. Stephen Mugford, is charisma important? I mean, can you think of a charismatic candidate?

STEPHEN MUGFORD: Not in the ACT, none that immediately strike me and leap off the television screens.

PRU GOWARD: No, well that's what I mean.

STEPHEN MUGFORD: I think this is a very interesting question, because I think the major parties really are running scared, because we're now living in a situation in which most campaigning is done through television. And the major parties, and particularly I'd have to say in recently years the ALP, have specialised in leading from the rear. In other words, you wait till the opinion polls tell you what to say and then you say it. And in this kind of environment, they don't have media performers on either side. The media, I don't think, have quite that same effect in local politics. They hadn't got the machine out there polling - well, the don't have the money for that. They don't know what to say. They're running round in circles, and both the major parties have set up these little sort of claytons - well not maybe directly, but set up these claytons parties where, you know, if you want to vote Labor but you don't want to vote Labor you can vote for Ken Fry. And if you want to vote Liberal but you don't want to really vote Liberal you can vote for John Haslem. And, I mean, I think there'd be some very interesting deals on preferences going to emerge from the slimy back rooms in due course.

I think they're running scared. I don't think they know what's going to happen. They have no idea of who's going to get up, no idea of who's going to form the major party or what kind of coalition ....

PRU GOWARD: Could even take months, I would have thought, to work it all out.

STEPHEN MUGFORD: That's right.

PRU GOWARD: Sarah Gilman, have you run across a charismatic, charming politician?

SARAH GILMAN: Oh, a charming politician. Tony Fleming springs to mind of perhaps all of the colleagues.

PRU GOWARD: I've heard that name before, yes.

SARAH GILMAN: Bernard Collaery, leader of the Residents Rally, had a certain charisma on Tuesday.

PRU GOWARD: A freshness. We're agreeing with this, Ian?

IAN WARDEN: I think I wrote in my column yesterday that Bernard, I mean I haven't seen enough of Bernard yet. He was infinitely charming at the Residents Rally launch.

PRU GOWARD: Well, he would be, wouldn't he?

IAN WARDEN: And he's the only candidate I've seen so far who has rank and file people who plainly dote on him. But I'm not sure that I, I think I wrote this morning that he's very Irish in his charm. He's obviously kissed the Blarney stone, and I think he's kind of a cross between Val Doonican and Machiavelli.

PRU GOWARD: Look, he'll be swooning if he hears any of this.

STEPHEN MUGFORD(?): Might be an ideal person to run the ACT, though, if that's true. Keep us all happy while fixing it up out the back, yes.

IAN WARDEN(?): You may be right. But he was, I thought, an exceptional, a brilliant master of ceremonies at their launch the other day. I mean, he had trouble pronouncing some long words like restaurateur and so on, but he was charming and amusing, and calm and cool.

PRU GOWARD: But he got out ideologue several times. Why do you call their rally charming, by the way?

IAN WARDEN: There's a certain oppressive decency about some of them, because some of them are not real politicians, and they kept saying that. But, of course, lots of them have political abilities. Some of them have the potential to be demagogues, and they were quite demoagogic in the two minutes that they got to speak to us. But some of them, but there are others who are not. There was one woman there who leads a brownie troop, for example. But although they kept saying that they weren't politicians, you look at the number of committees and things that they are on ....

PRU GOWARD: They've had some practice, yes.

IAN WARDEN: So they're not completely artless. That is a form of political life. You noticed that with the Democrats too when they gave out their curriculums, curriculums vitae, that some of them were, you wondered what time they had for the families they boast about because they're on, 28 different families .... organic growers.

STEPHEN MUGFORD: Which Democrats is that?

IAN WARDEN: Well, at that time they were a cohesive team, and they launched themselves upon us at the Yacht Club. Since then they've disintegrated a little.

PRU GOWARD: Yes. Sarah, do you think that's the end of the Democrats, the split ticket?

SARAH GILMAN: Well, they're having a special meeting next Wednesday night, which is two days before nomination of candidates closes. One of the candidates has already dropped out, Dominic Meko(??), to join Ken Fry. I don't think they're ever going to resolve the difference between Arminel Ryan and Graeme Evans and those two camps. I know Arminel Ryan has spoken to other people in the party. But I think as far as the electorate goes they've really blown their chances in this election. I don't know of many people who will vote for them if they can't sort themselves out, especially when you have, like Liberals saying we're responsible managers or that type of thing.

STEPHEN MUGFORD: The Democrats just look like organic growers, and do you trust the government of the ACT to an organic grower.

IAN WARDEN: And not very organised ones, at that.

STEPHEN MUGFORD: No, no.

PRU GOWARD: Yes. Well, I think we're just about out of time. We've indulged ourselves a bit here this morning, but why not? I guess the thing we should really look at very hard next week is how they're selling their policies. We didn't look at that very much today, but they're starting to come out now.

Just a very quick highlight of the week from each person. Stephen Mugford, what for you was the highlight?

STEPHEN MUGFORD: I think it was the night I didn't get to see any television one night, so I didn't find out anything about the election.

PRU GOWARD: The true cynic. Ian Warden?

IAN WARDEN: The highlight for me, not because I'm necessarily charmed by them, was the Residents Rally launch, because they got, I scoffed when I saw they'd hired the Albert Hall because I didn't think they'd get anybody there. But they all but filled it, and there was fervour there. It's a horrible thing, fervour, but there's colour and movement about it and there are some fervoured people in the Residents Rally.

PRU GOWARD: That's interesting, isn't it? So that, if there's fervour there, there's obviously half-fervour in all the homes.

IAN WARDEN: Well, there were things like spontaneous applause and gnashing of teeth and things like that, like one gets in real political life.

PRU GOWARD: Unheard of. And Sarah Gilman, finally?

SARAH GILMAN: I'd agree with Ian that would have been the highlight. There was sort of like a: Yes, there is something out there, as opposed to going to the other parties and: Oh, here we go again. They definitely did have an appeal.

PRU GOWARD: Well, the $100 a plate breakfast did not impress?

STEPHEN MUGFORD: It was dreary.

IAN WARDEN: Except for the bacon.

SARAH GILMAN: And the worm.

PRU GOWARD: That's right, the journalist's worm on the strawberry of life. Thank you all very much for joining us - Stephen Mugford from the ANU, Ian Warden from the Canberra Times, and Sarah Gilman from ABC News.