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Campaign Diary: Labor cops the penalty


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If Labor’s campaign strategy shift in recent days was meant to stifle Nick Xenophon’s X-team in the Upper House, it’s gone awry, courtesy of a classic unintended stuff-up.

Xenophon’s “X-team” is aiming to get John Darley re-elected.

Darley came into the Upper House in 2007 as the casual vacancy replacement when Xenophon successfully moved to the Senate.

Labor’s concern about the X-factor has been heightened of late by polls that show a strong primary vote for the Liberals, a stable Green vote of around 6-7 per cent and the popularity of the Xenophon brand.

That trend could leave Labor short in the Upper House, much in the same way as it found itself one Senate seat short in the recent Federal Election, resulting in the loss of Senator Don Farrell.

Labor’s strategy was simple – find a policy weakness in John Darley and the Xenophon team’s armour, and exploit it.

The identified weakness was penalty rates.

Darley had raised concerns about penalty rates in the 2012 debate on the shopping hours deal that created two half-day public holidays on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

That was enough for Labor, SA Unions and United Voice (the former Liquor Trades Union) to bankroll a robo-call campaign where householders were told the Xenophon group is opposed to penalty rates; the calls raised the emotional prospect of a “nurse caring for you at 3am being paid a fair rate”.

Xenophon and his team complained about the ads and Electoral Commissioner Kay Mousley responded Monday morning with a letter that said she considered the material in Labor’s ads “to be inaccurate and misleading”.

Xenophon seized on the advice and called press conferences to slam Labor and push his own candidates.

The Mousley letter, however, had a massive error of its own.

The Electoral Commissioner had to retract it and apologize to Xenophon after she admitted her letter “contained an error in that a word was left out of a sentence”/

The error? The word “not” was left out of the finding about whether the material was inaccurate and misleading. Oops.

“This administrative error was overlooked prior to the letter being sent,” Mousley said.

Not to be denied, Xenophon arced up again.

He filed a second complaint as SA Unions continued the anti-X team campaign.

But it was messy.

While umbrella group SA Unions was keeping the Xenophon team in the spotlight, two unions were being supportive of the same group.

Nurses’ union, the ANMFSA, had circularised their members with a flyer that gave three green ticks to the Xenophon group’s position on penalty rates, including this: “The ANMF (SA Branch) welcomes Mr Darley’s commitments to all questions.”

Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association federal secretary Steve Purvinas also joined in, supporting Xenophon and his candidates.

“It’s union leaders like me who are looking for someone who can champion workplace rights, and Nick’s the man who’s been doing that,” Purvinas told The Australian.

“This attack by the Labor party is just a beat-up against Nick Xenophon and the candidates in his small team.

“I think anyone who is looking for an independent voice and someone who can come out and speak from the heart – rather than speak from their political lines or upsetting the big businesses the ALP represent – I think Nick’s the man.”

By Tuesday, Xenophon and his team had managed to turn a weakness on penalty rates into a three-day run of free publicity where it managed to play the victim, under attack from bumbling public servants and divided unions.

It should be just enough to get Darley over the line.

The Electoral Commission, meanwhile, suddenly found itself under attack on another front.

Independent candidate in the seat of Mitchell, Kris Hanna, raised the question of flyers sent to all voters (1.14 million of them) on why we have to vote, where and when.

Hanna said the Arabic and Persian translations in the foreign language section of the flyer were nonsensical gibberish.

Commissioner Mousley confirmed the stuff-up.

“The Persian and Arabic translations were inadvertently transposed,” she told 891 ABC’s breakfast program.

“We don’t try to put out gibberish; we had no control over this transposition.

“We have put an apology on Facebook.”

When presenter David Bevan asked Mousley if the Facebook apology was a “bit lame”, she said: “It is fairly lame. I couldn’t reprint 1.14 million copies.”

With the commission using the slogan “The Power of the Pencil” as its 2014 marketing push, it looks as though they have poked themselves in the eye with their own writing implement.




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