Just as the final week of the election campaign was reaching its frantic peak – 24 flights, 30,000 kilometres, six states in six days – everything ground to a halt.
Still, with the election only a day away, the show had to go on. On Friday, Hawke’s widow, Blanche d’Alpuget, told Shorten to “go and and do it”; it was what Bob would have wanted.
Morrison, having paid his respects, boarded his plane and flew to northern Queensland.
The 2019 federal election has long been regarded as Shorten’s to lose. Labor has been comfortably and consistently ahead in the polls for the best part of three years. But as Australians have headed towards election day, the polls have tightened up, leading to mutterings about a hung Parliament.
An Ipsos poll taken for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age earlier this week showed Labor ahead by 51 to 49 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis. This compares to its lead of 52 to 48 per cent mid-way through the campaign.
The parties do their own polling and the findings play a huge part in determining where their campaigns go. This week, Morrison has spent two days focused on the Liberal-held seats of Reid in NSW, Corangamite in Victoria and Boothby in South Australia. But he also campaigned in the Labor-held Longman in Queensland and Cowan in Western Australia which party sources said they had renewed hopes of taking back. Friday saw him in the must-hold Coalition seats of Leichhardt and Herbert in northern Queensland.
By contrast, Shorten has largely been on the offensive, save for a visit to two of Labor’s Tasmanian marginals. While some of Labor’s choices have been obvious – marginal seats such as Robertson on the NSW Central Coast, Pearce in Perth’s outer suburbs and Boothby – others have been more audacious. To kick off the final week of the campaign, Shorten brought his bright red “Bill Bus” deep into bluest of blue-ribbon Liberal territory when he visited some guide dogs in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s electorate of Kooyong.
Unofficial predictions and background briefings about seats have been flying thick and fast in the final week, as both sides tried to spin their view of the world. But both sides agree that seats like Boothby, Reid, Corangamite, Braddon and Pearce will be key.
Labor insiders have been weary, but largely confident in the final week of the campaign. Some MPs, with a degree of relief, say Shorten has peaked at the right moment following his surprisingly nervous and accident-prone start to the campaign. In the last week, Shorten’s asides to Labor supporters have sounded like a guy who thinks he’s in front. “Close the deal,” he said at a pub in Launceston. “Bring it home,” he said at a sausage sizzle in suburban Adelaide.
Having said that, no one is doing a victory jig just yet. One senior MP speculated that on Saturday night the rest of the country may be waiting on the West Australian count – two hours behind the east coast. Here, seats like Pearce, held by Attorney-General Christian Porter on 3.6 per cent, will be keenly watched.
As the campaign draws to a close, Coalition insiders concede it is unlikely they will win, but insist they should not be written off.
The Morrison camp is hedging its bets: on the one hand, defending its own seats but also going after Labor prizes like Cowan. When asked why he was campaigning in Leichardt on Friday, which the Coalition holds on 4.6 per cent, Morrison replied: “It says that I take nothing for granted anywhere in the country and it says that I love Entschy [Warren Entsch].”
Over the past week, Shorten’s campaign events have been designed – and tightly controlled – to show him as a leader, riding a wave of momentum to the Lodge. This has included two rallies of Labor supporters, as well as a visit to a school where he was mobbed by teenagers. Deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, Senate leader Penny Wong, shadow treasurer Chris Bowen and NSW senator Kristina Keneally have been frequent companions. Shorten’s wife Chloe has often been at his side.
Morrison has kept a more home-spun image: visiting building sites, homes and families to talk about his home deposits scheme, as well as pub visits and kicking the footy, while urging voters that “now is not the time for change”. His determination to try and keep his job has been palpable. In his final speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on Thursday he told voters he would “burn for them”.
Neither side has risked much unscripted interaction with voters. Apart from Shorten’s visit to school children or Morrison bumping into a man with an impressive mullet in a Tasmanian pub, the week has been fairly bland.
Still, those few interactions have given people a chance to see the leaders up close and personal.
The man with the mullet, Jared “J-rod” Cirkle, wanted lights for the Bridgenorth Parrots AFL club so he and his team mates wouldn’t have to catch marks in the dark. When Morrison visited, the Parrots got $200,000 to upgrade the whole ground.
“Coming to a local footy club you probably have a lot people who aren’t into their politics so something like this will definitely swing them,” the part-time TAFE teacher, part-time builder with a seven-year-old mullet says. He praises Morrison for approaching him and targeting “the bogan vote”.
As election day dawns, Morrison will start the day with Vegemite toast and a flat white coffee in Tasmania and then campaign in two Labor-held seats. From there he will fly home to the Sutherland Shire in Sydney to vote. When polls close, he will be at Kirribilli House where he will be surrounded by his family and a team of core advisers including former Daily Telegraph chief of staff Andrew Carswell.
Shorten will vote in his Melbourne Maribyrnong electorate and is expected to spend the rest of the day at polling booths around the city. As counting begins he will move to the Hyatt Place hotel near Melbourne Airport where the Labor Party will have its election night party. Surrounded by family and staff, he will watch as the booth results come in. If the polls are correct, he will also be taking a call from Morrison at some point. And then taking to the stage as Australia’s next prime minister-elect.
Judith Ireland is a political reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.