Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Prime Minister's relationship with the Press Gallery since the leadership challenge

PHILLIP LASKER: The Prime Minister will continue his selective meet-the-people round next week. Next Monday Bob Hawke will be in Sydney in front of groups of schoolgirls and factory workers. But on Tuesday, Cabinet meets to decide whether or not to allow mining at Coronation Hill. The Prime Minister was buoyed up this week by good poll figures showing a leap in his personal approval rating, and a 6 per cent jump in the level of primary voter support for the Labor Party. He used those figures to disparage the Canberra Press Gallery, accusing them of lacking objectivity and misreading the real concerns and views of the electorate. Here's our chief political correspondent, Maxine McKew.

MAXINE McKEW: It's a funny thing about insecure leaders - sooner or later they end up behaving the same way, they attack the press. Richard Nixon did it; so, too, did Malcolm Fraser and John Howard. Now it's Bob Hawke's turn to blame the Canberra Press Gallery, in particular, for being completely out of touch with what the rest of the country is thinking - a reference to the gap between the perceived bias of the Gallery against the Prime Minister and his improved standing in the polls.

Well, it may come as a surprise to the Prime Minister, but the press does not exist in order to reflect public opinion. The Prime Minister obviously thinks otherwise. But if you follow through on that logic, then every time an opinion poll records majority support for something like capital punishment, then it's appropriate for the press to similarly reflect that view. Would Mr Hawke agree with that?

On a number of fronts, Bob Hawke put himself deep doo-doo this week. First of all, he broke the golden rule which says: Thou shalt not comment on opinion polls. By doing so, he's now validated the Gary Morgan poll, which means the next time they record a dip in approval ratings Mr Hawke won't be able to be dismissive. Mr Hawke's tirade against the press also highlights the fact that the bunker mentality is now well and truly entrenched in the Prime Minister's office. Why, for goodness sake? He's the victor. A little grace and wit would be appropriate instead of snarls and a generally combative spirit. The art of either gentle media stroking or outright manipulation has but vanished.

That skill, in recent times, has been practised to perfection by Paul Keating and his staff. In fact, the oft repeated criticism is that the Press Gallery ended up being seduced by the former Treasurer. To a certain extent that's true. Paul Keating is always good copy. He's generous with information and he packages it superbly. He has the sort of expansive personality that journalists naturally warm to.

All this should be sounding very familiar to Mr Hawke. Back in the days when he was an ambitious backbencher after Bill Hayden's job, the press had exactly the same relationship with the then pretender. The press had a great deal to do with cementing Bob Hawke's folk hero status. The press focused on him as the exciting alternative to the more dour Bill Hayden. And it's fascinating to recall that Mr Hayden's staff reacted in an unbelievably aggressive way to the bad press that the then Opposition Leader attracted.

There are other eerie parallels. The first Hawke-Hayden challenge was held immediately after Labor's 1982 National Conference, a conference which was dominated by the divisive issue of uranium and tensions about the leadership. The party's 1991 conference begins in Hobart on Monday week, and again the question of uranium is bound to reopen old divisions, and with Paul Keating attending as a New South Wales proxy, inevitably attention will focus on the heir presumptive. Not that any of this is likely to unnerve Bob Hawke. After all, he's now basking in the glow of a better than expected boost from the Morgan Gallup polls. Isn't he?

Well, as a counter to the notion that the public's love affair with the Prime Minister is still undiminished, let me offer this admittedly unscientific snippet. The letters editor for the Sydney Morning Herald says that the bulk of the correspondence dealing with the leadership issue, and the revelations of secret deals and subsequent lies, has gone against the Prime Minister - about eight out of every 10 letters. What's interesting about this is that Herald readers in the past have loved to hate Paul Keating, blaming him for everything from the weather to barking dogs. The letters have focused on the fact that the Prime Minister lied to the electorate, precisely the point that has been emphasised by the Canberra Press Gallery, the same Gallery that the Prime Minister claims is out of touch with the thinking of ordinary Australians.

PHILLIP LASKER: Maxine McKew reporting from Canberra.