As the long election campaign enters the tattered two final days, news outlets are struggling to identify the dominant issues for a rapidly shrinking number of news consumers who are yet to vote.
Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese are also struggling, packing the final campaign week with hopes of better defining themselves as the next prime minister with policies and leadership.
Both apply significant imagination to the tasks and, almost inevitably, have retreated the central campaign messages back to matters of character.
But their efforts will be wasted on the growing proportion of the national electorate already officially committed.
As ABC commentator Antony Green details in his excellent election blog, more than 25 per cent of voters in 144 of the 151 electorates have exercised their rights by applying for postal ballots or using pre-polling, as of Monday evening.
In at least four seats the proportion is around or over 40 per cent.
This questions the wisdom of candidates leaving what they think is their best for last, not to mention the future of the traditional Saturday election day.
Further, there is the question for news organisations: Do they maintain in full the expensive business of election coverage if 40 per cent of their potential adult audience has already voted. And possibly sealed the result?
They, of course, do, as this is seen as an obligation to all readers to test the candidates to the last minute and there are still that 60 per cent of customers yet to vote.
This matter is complicated by the rush of last minute attention sought by candidates worried about Saturday’s outcome. This is the week in which concrete, measured strategies can turn into ad hoc dust as desperation takes over.
News reports have covered the marketing of an all-new ScoMo, with added empathy and contrition — albeit highly qualified.
Mr Morrison pleaded he went into bulldozer mode occasionally and wasn’t as sensitive as he might have been, because he was intent on getting the job done.
Whatever remorse he had was overtaken in a few days after he began the week a self-proclaimed national saviour: “As leader, this was a time for strength, it was a time for push through.
“I had to focus, as your prime minister — save the country. And, we did.”
However, on Tuesday evening Tracy Grimshaw on Nine’s A Current Affair challenged that with a list of Morrison performances — in the very areas he was claiming greatness — which were short on strength and focus. The bravado self-assessment collapsed.
Running from reporters
So did Anthony Albanese’s vow in campaign week #1 to answer all questions tossed at him at press conferences, a declaration designed to embarrass Mr Morrison who had been criticised for abandoning a grilling when the questioning wasn’t convenient.
But on Tuesday Mr Albanese was seen nationally appearing to bolt from a Perth press conference with a train of noisy reporters following him. There were angry claims he had dumped his all-questions-considered promise and tried to dump reporters, stranding WA Premier Mark McGowan at the microphone.
In the aftermath there was a scrappy disagreement over how many questions Mr Albanese had taken. He claimed 18, reporters there said no more than 10. From the transcript I counted 21 references to journalist questions, seven of them inaudible.
Most significantly, questions were on the timing and content of Labor’s costing statement to be delivered Thursday, with Mr Albanese declining to preempt that statement.
Of greater damage to him, it was a news story dominated by the images, and they were TV clips showing a seemingly harassed Albanese fleeing a bunch of reporters, contrary to his vow.
“Catch me if you can” said The Courier-Mail front page headline. “Flee circus” said the front of The Daily Telegraph. “Albo cheques out” said the Herald Sun on the front.
This reporter anger was based on nearly six weeks of both major party leaders refining ways to avoid the answers logic would says most questions required.
“The point being both of these leaders deploy different methods to not answer questions. Strangely Morrison gets rewarded for his more effective pack domination tactics, often by journalists,” wrote Kathryn Murphy, political editor of Guardian Australia.
Attention on the Perth episode was sidetracked by a Morrison no-show.
Mr Albanese gave the traditional final-week address to the National Press Club in Canberra. Club president Laura Tingle pointed out Scott Morrison was the first prime minister in half a century to not take up the opportunity.
He sealed Wednesday with an inexplicable crash tackle on a primary school boy in a game of non-contact soccer. Some bulldozer.
In the final week that elusive campaign defining issue has returned to a contest of personalities, not policies.
Episode 1: Get your go-bag ready
April 6, 2022
Episode 2: Hire me, please
April 12, 2022
Episode 3: Press pack mentality
April 20, 2022
Bonus Episode: Tory Maguire, executive editor, The SMH and The Age
April 21, 2022
Episode 4: Positively negative campaigning
April 26, 2022
Bonus Episode: Anthony De Ceglie, Editor in Chief, The West Australian
April 28, 2022
Episode 5: Mounting criticism of the media
May 2, 2022
Episode 6: Bush politics
May 9, 2022
Episode 7: The final stretch, featuring Laura Tingle
May 17, 2022
Inside the Media Scum
Have you ever wondered how and why journalists and editors cover elections the way they do? Don’t know your doorstops from your divisions? Have you ever wanted to be inside the media scrum to see what happens behind the scenes of the biggest media event and most consequential form of democracy in Australia?
During the 2022 federal election the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas will take you Inside the Media Scrum to give you an insider’s guide to how and why the media is covering the election the way they are.
Veteran journalist Malcolm Farr, who has covered every election since 1993 and has written on federal politics for publications across the media landscape, including The Australian, news.com.au, Crikey, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and more, will provide an eagle-eye view of the media during the campaign.
Amanda Copp, Political Reporter for the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia’s National Radio News, is covering her first federal election. She will be out on the road with the major parties and will provide a first-hand perspective of what it’s like reporting on a national election.
Each week Malcolm and Amanda will be filing stories, newsletters, video and podcasts to help you keep across the media in Federal Election 2022. So, sign up for the latest updates and follow JNI on social media to go Inside the Media Scrum.