Character questions dominated the campaign as the shape-shifting Prime Minister tried out new personas

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Morrison’s self-characterization dominated the final week of the campaign, helped by the Prime Minister’s accidental crushing of a small football moppet on a football pitch in the seat of Braddon, Tasmania.

Morrison may be clumsy, and his manners leave something to be desired, but we want a man on the pitch who can step up to the plate when needed, don’t we?

Morrison’s bulldozer reference was an attempt to reframe his character.Credit:Getty Images

Strangely, while pushing the bulldozer narrative, the Prime Minister also promised to change. He pledged to do things differently now that we were emerging from pandemic mode and entering a phase of reconstruction, where he would manage a booming economy while warding off international threats to stability, both economic and geopolitical.

There would be more empathy. (When? Under what circumstances? Details were vague.) His wife Jenny was at his side during his campaign on the home stretch, her presence coinciding with Morrison’s embrace of this traditionally more feminine trait.

Finally, on the final day of the campaign, Morrison landed on a characterization of himself as, yes, a bulldozer, but working at a lower speed. Morrison wanted us to see his character as steady and dependable – what could be tougher than a bulldozer? But at the same time, he wanted us to believe that he could soften and flow.

And then there was Albanese, who has been calling himself “Albo” since he was skinny at the University of Sydney. At the time, he looked like a guy who sat on an ottoman in the corner at roommate parties, talking about socialism and music. Perhaps longer than anyone cared about either subject.

Anthony Albanese as a Young Labor delegate in Hobart in 1986.

Anthony Albanese as a Young Labor delegate in Hobart in 1986.Credit:David James Bartho

Who was he now? Morrison and others talked about his image change – the new specs, losing weight, fixing his teeth. But Albanese fought to show voters that his character was defined early and has changed little since.

It’s the best Labor story since Chifley, and he put it to the test during the campaign. Raised by a single mother on disability, Albanese was the first in his family to go to college; a child of HLM forced to grow up quickly.

Albanese spent much of the campaign talking about the power of government to change people’s lives, something he knew because he had experienced it (in his case, the Catholic Church made it a little too – she educated him, despite his impoverished situation).

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Morrison, who presided over record levels of public debt — built up before the pandemic and worsened during it — now wanted to downshift into a small government. He made it a clear feature of his campaign. A coalition government would keep the economy going, but otherwise leave Australians to run their own affairs.

Morrison’s super-for-homes policy, which would realistically affect very few people, was a great vehicle for the overall message – it’s your money, it’s your life, and as government, we’ll get through this. She was never asked how this fit in with her newfound interest in running women’s community sport – in particular, her belief that transgender women should be excluded from it. In what way were the special arrangements of the women’s football clubs the business of a national leader?

Of course, the problem with a promise to get the government out of people’s lives, made during an election campaign, is that you have to face them a lot first to convince them to vote for you. Given global indicators, shocks and changes are inevitable during the 47th Parliament. It will undoubtedly be character building for everyone involved.

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