With potentially still six months until polling day, Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese are both limbering up for a marathon campaign, the leaders slipping into quasi-election mode in a final sprint before the Christmas break.
As Mr Albanese continued selling his well-received climate and energy policy with a campaign rally speech in one of Labor’s Sydney target seats, Mr Morrison gear-shifted back into his ‘ScoMo’ character with a series of photo opportunities targeted squarely at middle Australia.
Focusing too much on the theatrics of set-piece media opportunities runs the risk of failing to see the forest for the trees, but both leaders gave revealing glimpses of their pitches.
Ironically, even as sources in both major parties warn of a campaign with plenty of mudslinging when it hits full speed, both leaders were selling a similar message of optimism on Sunday.
“A better future” was the message emblazoned on campaign posters behind Mr Albanese at the Wests Ashfield Leagues Club, in the inner-west Sydney seat of Reid, which Labor is looking to pinch off government MP Fiona Martin.
As Mr Morrison zoomed around the Bathurst 1000 race track for an on-road interview with Supercars legend Mark Skaife, the Prime Minister said he hoped Australians were “looking out the front windscreen, not the rear-view mirror”.
His televised chat from the passenger seat of a Ford Mustang – and his appearance in the pit lane soaking up the atmosphere and petrol fumes as the iconic race began – cut a contrast to his Labor opponent.
Just 24 hours earlier, Mr Albanese had arrived to a press conference at an industrial estate in Sydney’s inner west in a black Tesla, proudly pointing out to waiting TV cameras that it was “fully electric”.
In what was either a cosmic coincidence or some incredible staffing work, at the exact moment Mr Morrison was zooming around the Bathurst track, Mr Albanese was telling his crowd at Ashfield the Prime Minister’s “tank is on empty”.
“At the next election, my team and I are asking Australians to choose a new direction for this country. But we are seeking renewal – not revolution,” Mr Albanese said in a speech to the Labor faithful.
“Not a rejection of everything that has gone before, but building on the enduring values which have helped make this such a great country.”
On Friday, Mr Albanese said of his climate plan: “We do not pretend that it is a radical policy.”
The message was clear.
It was aimed at reassuring voters that Labor can be trusted with the post-pandemic economy – that an Albanese government wouldn’t flip the place on its head.
Both major parties and leaders have sought to cast the other side as shifty.
Labor has called the PM a “liar” for months, while Mr Morrison has more recently started shooting back that he thinks Mr Albanese is “sneaky” – in an election both parties are seeking to make about trust.
Mr Albanese described his agenda as “ambitious”, “affordable”, and “achievable”, reaffirming Labor’s key campaign themes around local manufacturing, renewable energy, skills, secure work and child care.
The speech christened another major Labor policy, announcing 465,000 new “free” places at TAFE in areas with skills shortages, plus 20,000 new university places.
The $1.1 billion education plan, when added to the comprehensive climate and energy platform announced on Friday, significantly boosts the election pitch for an Opposition that has been criticised by some for not rolling out more policies sooner.
Mr Albanese has repeatedly told media and his caucus room he planned to “kick with the wind” in the “final quarter” of the electoral cycle, promising that more policy would be unveiled closer to the election.
The weekend’s twin announcements of meaty policy, as well as the unofficial campaign launch, shows Labor is shifting into campaign gear.
Meanwhile, in Bathurst, Mr Morrison was touring the Supercars circuit with Liberal senator Hollie Hughes and Melissa McIntosh.
Ms McIntosh is the member for Lindsay – an electorate that lies two hours east of the Bathurst track.
Lindsay, around Penrith in western Sydney, is also an electorate that Labor has its eyes on.
If Mr Morrison was looking to garner some goodwill from the revheads who camp out at the Bathurst track, Ms McIntosh would have been happy if some of that rubbed off on her as well.
The PM was in full election mode, donning his branded baseball cap and slipping into a Supercars puffer vest as he toured garages, posed for selfies, and threw his go-to thumbs up from the driver’s seat of the closest car.
“Australia is open. We’re double-vaxxed, People are back. They’re in their trailers. They’re together again. It’s showing where we’re heading,” Mr Morrison told Skaife, as their Mustang screamed around the circuit.
A day earlier, the PM had returned to his familiar ‘home handyman’ character, slapping on the board shorts, baseball cap and his famous white sneakers as he hung Christmas lights outside Kirribilli House with his family.
The photos were the most popular post of any Australian politician on Facebook on Saturday, and also made their way into News Corp’s Sunday tabloids.
Mr Morrison posing at the top of a ladder had shades of previous efforts at home improvement (also faithfully documented on social media), including building a chicken coop and cubby house.
As both parties make explicit election pitches to the suburbs, and centre their campaigns on trust, expect to see more crossovers of content and theme as we inch toward the poll (due by May, but with a potential date in March).
Although Mr Morrison eagerly jumps into whatever vehicle is closest, and throws whatever ball is nearest, when a TV camera is at hand, Mr Albanese isn’t yet leaping into the hands-on stunts with the same vigour, or documenting his home life all over social media.
But there’s still up to six months to go. So fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.