Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Build A Bridge

Note to political candidates: don’t sabotage your relationships with media, including social media.
Sounds obvious, right?
Apparently not.
I have to ask, what’s going on with Andrew Fraser and 612ABCBrisbane’s Steve Austin. It was Steve’s first morning back on ABC Mornings after several years on evenings, and quite early on in the show. He was interviewing a woman about the protests against CSG mining exploration in the Beaudesert area, when there was a sudden twitter disturbance.
It’s actually a big decision for an MP and Deputy Premier to withdraw from a regular radio gig so soon before a state election, particularly without explanation. He may have disagreed with Steve’s approach to the interview,which is his right, and he may have been annoyed, but surely he’s done himself a disservice by arcing up. What does it mean? Will Mr Fraser never appear on another Steve Austin broadcast? Will he avoid the ABC altogether? Will the ALP be able to find a replacement for the regular segment he used to do with Madonna King and the LNP's Tim Nicholls?

Nature, politics and social media abhor vacuums…and when voters don’t know why the Deputy Premier had a tiny tanty on twitter and dissed the ABC, they’ll speculate. Out here in voter land, we’ll fill the knowledge gap with anything ranging from guestimates to science fiction.
Of course Steve didn’t respond via twitter as he refuses to use it, but he has told ABC Online that Mr Fraser will be welcome on air any time.
You can hear what Mr Fraser was responding to by going to Steve’s blog on the ABC website. 

I think Mr Fraser is a pretty good operator. He’s one of the better communicators in Queensland politics right now, Monday’s twitsplosion notwithstanding, but he can’t afford to lose the loyalty of the ABC morning show audience. So unless Steve Austin stole his girlfriend in fifth class and he’s never gotten over it, Mr Fraser will have to just build a bridge.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Queensland political set wait. Despite Premier Bligh’s strategic reluctance to name a date for the forthcoming Queensland election, there is enough electioneering going on to convince most voters that the campaign has started without them.

Peter Beattie has been busy, trying to reclaim his crown as Queensland’s biggest media tart. As a former Premier, he has ‘Senior Statesman’ status, but I’m not sure that gives him the right to bucket the woman who was his hand-picked successor. Aside from anything else, it’s disrespectful to the party he led for so many years, and it just looks bad.

There’s something else too. I suspect that Mr Beattie’s style of politicking is passé. The political environment has changed, thanks in part to Tony Abbott. The electorate is becoming less tolerant of negativity and political point-scoring. We want more substance, but Peter Beattie isn’t in a position to deliver anything – he’s got about as much legislative power these days as his old dog, Rusty.

Pseudo-head of the LNP Campbell Newman has tried to pull the trigger to start the election, and unveiled a Countdown Clock, counting backwards to a date which has little relevance to anything. 

When asked by Steve Austin, Queensland head of Katter’s Australian Party said this morning that he thought March 17 would be the date, but that he wasn’t sure. (Regulations state that the election can be held on any Saturday up to but not later than June 16, 2012 – 5 months from now. The maximum duration of a political campaign is 8 weeks, if you define a campaign from when the election is called until election day.)

And yet, the campaign bus rolls on.

Steve Kilburn has been out and about, getting amongst the people for months now. Steve holds Chatsworth, the most marginal of Queensland seats by 0.1%. Not a Saturday goes by that we don’t see Steve sizzling a sausage or parked behind a card table at one of the local shopping centres. He’s also very active on Twitter, as many of the ALP members are.

Mrs Kilburn, Steve’s wife, has added a very special touch: she organised a campaign theme song for him as a Christmas gift. The song’s a bit rappy and a bit naff, but it’s a novelty, and a great way of getting some publicity, as he did on 4BC this morning, as well as in the Courier Mail today. As of 3pm today, the video on YouTube had been racked up 1,132 views – appalling if you’re Beyoncé, but pretty impressive for an MP, before the election has been called – and Steve’s not Beyoncé. You can check it out here.

And then there’s the fight for Ashgrove. Keep Kate stickers are all over Brisbane, and she’s out there, day after day, in voters’ faces. On the other hand, her opponent Campbell Newman is trying to hold the LNP together with every ounce of engineering skill in his possession, and the strain is obvious.

After his breakfast address to colleagues on Monday morning, he walked out without talking to the media who were waiting there for him. Maybe it's a new media-management plan for LNP Opposition Leaders. His federal counterpart, Tony Abbott, is well known for walking away from the media. I’ve often thought that with Abbott, the walk-away technique is a deliberate tactic to allow him to extract himself from on-camera situations before he says or does something stupid. It’s certainly better than his stand-there-and-shake routine that he premiered with Channel Seven’s Mark Riley last year. Poor Tony; he really needs to stop trying to win the last election.

But back to Campbell Newman: he doesn’t want to get a reputation as someone who walks away from the media. If he’s feeling a bit shouty, he’ll need to build a bridge and get over it, or forget about a career in politics.

And Steve Austin needs to get over his fear of Twitter.

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