The campaign where Twitter lost out to handshakes and baby kisses

It was supposed to be a watershed election for social media, a Twitter-led bid for the hearts and minds of electors, with Facebook fanning the flames of debate and Instagram showing us the imagery.

In the end, the 2013 campaign will perhaps be remembered – in Reid and Watson, at least  as the return to the traditional hug, handshake and baby-kiss. 

This was the rebirth of doorstep campaign, with the major parties taking to the streets with young T-shirted volunteers. Coreflutes were everywhere (even where they shouldn’t be). Billboards and posters were thrown into the fray.

Reid’s Liberal contender Craig Laundy was at one point claiming an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, with more than 50,000 handshakes. He wasn’t saying how many babies he had kissed.

His Watson Liberal counterpart Ron Delezio was close behind, maintaining he had been working seven days a week since January, quitting his job to ensure he met as many voters as possible.

Labor’s Reid veteran John Murphy, a pivotal figure in Labor’s leadership change as the first to turn on Julia Gillard in favour of Kevin Rudd, was also a running man, travelling from citizenship ceremonies to NBN Broadband launches in a bid to take advantage of every photo op and media meet.

Tony Burke, Labor MP for Watson, didn’t need photo ops. He was on TV screens from morning to night, thanks to his job as Immigration Minister – one of three portfolios he carries covering arts to citizenship.

In the end, face-to-face won out over Facebook.

Mr Laundy, who made more use of two large campaign panel-vans with floor-to-ceiling pictures of his face than electronic media, had just 889 likes on Facebook in the final week of the campaign. Mr Murphy had just 109. Tony Burke had 3000 followers, but 27,210 on Twitter.  His Liberal rival had 204 followers on Facebook and 110 on Twitter.

Quite how that translates to votes will only be apparent after Saturday’s result is analysed.

Perhaps the second surprise of the 2013 campaign was the eerie absence of third-choice parties. 

Despite a polarising pair of leaders in Tony Abbot and Kevin Rudd, the Greens failed to dent the two-party machine. Apart from Palmer United’s high-spending TV advertising campaign, few candidates in the also-ran category would rate even a slight inflection of the worm in a televised debate.

There are six minor party candidates in Reid and five in Watson.  Few will remember them after polling day.

So what do they stand for?

Pauline Tyrrell, for The Greens in Reid, summed up her stance when she told a debate of candidates in Auburn it was about humanity and decency, particularly on the issue of refugees.

Bishrul Hafi Ameer Izadeen, in Reid for the Katter Australian Party,wants jobs offered to Australians before immigrants, and cross-party support for initiatives on youth unemployment.

Emily Dunn for the Democratic Labour Partyin Reid, is keen on more power for school boards and local communities as a way of tackling the education funding crisis.

David Fraser for the Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group) believes Christian migrants should be given priority in the refugee debate.

Paul Kamlade of Rise Up Australia couldn’t answer our questions.  According to the party, he had risen up and gone on a foreign break, returning only just before the poll.

Maybe he knew something the other minor parties don’t.

In the end, none got a look in as the debate over boat people, education, the economy and employment, and same sex marriages blocked out single issues, allowing the traditional political parties to hold centre stage throughout the four weeks of campaigning.

The opinion polls underscored the singular nature of the electorate’s mindset.

In the dying days, surveys put Immigration Minister Tony Burke in the spotlight.  A poll in The Weekend Australiansuggested massive swings to the Liberals across the Inner West and Western Sydney.

Many had predicted 12-year veteran Mr Murphy, fighting strong and popular local Liberal Mr Laundy with just a 2.7 per cent majority, was in serious trouble. Indeed, Mr Murphy himself told The Weekend Australian: “If the swings are right, I’m gone.”

But most felt that the popular Mr Burke, who had a majority of 9.1 per cent, would survive a Liberal landslide.

All that changed after the weekend Newspoll.

Even The Sydney Morning Herald decided Mr Burke was in trouble. The paper maintained Mr Rudd’s slide in the polls and the Independent Commission Against Corruption findings were hammering Labor in a former heartland.

Mr Delezio told the Scene he believed Mr Burke was the “absentee member for Watson”, adding his status as immigration minister was a poison chalice.

Both Reid and Watson have large immigrant communities who have followed the system to arrive in Australia and worked hard to create homes for their families and opportunities for their children.

Stopping the boats was an alluring battle cry that resonated in both Reid and Watson.

Mr Delezio said Mr Burke’s ministerial burden made it hard for him to represent Watson’s ordinary constituents – a charge Mr Burke strongly denies.

 “I’ve been to businesses that have been there 18 years and never had a visit from a politician,” maintained Mr Delezio.

Despite the surveys predicting decimation for Labor – and online betting agencies saying the same – parties were maintaining the time-honoured tradition of claiming the only poll that matters is on election day.

In the end, that cliche response proved to be the only accurate prediction of the night.


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