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Another one for the shame file of scare campaigns

by Mark Sawyer | May 27, 2022 | Lobbyland

Scott Morrison is rightly being flayed for the last ignominious act of his campaign. On Saturday he announced that an asylum seeker boat had been intercepted on its way to Australia from Sri Lanka.

The Liberal Party followed this up with a text message mailout. Unforgivably, the Operation Sovereign Borders Commander was dragged into a political campaign.

Alas such shenanigans have happened before and will happen again. Australian campaigns are littered with last-minute scare campaigns that went wrong. Generally sprung by the flailing side in the last few days, they are the Aussie equivalent of the ”October Surprise” of US presidential campaigns.

In 2013 Labor claimed a $10 billion ”black hole” in the $30 billion of savings promised by the Abbott opposition. ”This is based on advice from the departments of Treasury and Finance and the Parliamentary Budget Office,” treasurer Chris Bowen said. Only it wasn’t. Not Bowen’s best moment, nor a career triumph for then finance minister Penny Wong.

Three days before the 1996 election, Labor treasurer Ralph Willis announced what he thought was a game-changer: letters revealing secret plans of the  Howard opposition. The letters were revealed to be forgeries.

In 1983 Malcolm Fraser warned Australians that their savings would be safer under their beds than in the banks if Labor won. Bob Hawke responded: ”But you can’t put your money under the bed – that’s where the commies are!”

Fraser had better luck in 1980, when his warnings of new Labor taxes went down well in mortgage belt seats and derailed Labor’s momentum.

Speaking of commies, the biggest surprise of Aussie campaigns remains the Petrov Affair, although how much it affected the 1954 election is a matter of hot debate among historians.

Mark Sawyer is a journalist with extensive experience in print and digital media in Sydney, Melbourne and rural Australia.

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