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How Rudd blew his Australian election campaign

Australia's five-week general election race featured Twitter and Instagram photos, viral karaoke and gaffes galore. Kathy Marks reports from Sydney
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd dries the hair of Ryan Rosenberger at St Columan's College in Caboolture, Queensland.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd dries the hair of Ryan Rosenberger at St Columan's College in Caboolture, Queensland.

SYDNEY // A photograph of Kevin Rudd after he cut himself shaving, posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, set the tone for a campaign that favoured style over substance and culminated in the election of a government whose platform consists largely of abolishing the policies of Mr Rudd's party.

Australia's prime minister-elect, Tony Abbott, kept things simple during the five-week campaign. If elected, the conservative Liberal-National Coalition, led by his Liberal Party, would "scrap the carbon tax, scrap the mining tax, end the waste and stop the boats", he promised, day after day.

The unpopular carbon tax - levied on the carbon-dioxide emissions of big polluters - was introduced by Mr Rudd's Labor predecessor, Julia Gillard. She also brought in a slimmed-down version of a tax on the "super profits" of mining companies, originally Mr Rudd's idea. The "waste" referred to Labor government spending. And the boats were those carrying asylum-seekers.

Mr Rudd, for his part, found himself in the rare position of being unable to campaign on his government's record. That was because he had only been prime minister for a few weeks, having replaced Ms Gillard in June after she was dumped by Labor - and because he had been dumped three years earlier.

So Labor's campaign focused, presidential-style, on Mr Rudd, with his every move - greeting supporters, kissing babies - documented in photos of himself posted on social media sites. TV footage often showed him rearranging his flyaway locks. "I'm open to advice about hair control," he joked on one occasion.

Mr Rudd's photo of himself with a shaving cut, covered with a scrap of bloodied tissue, drew groans from his Twitter followers and commentators. "Avert your eyes, people," warned one caption writer. The goofy image was part of the focus on tiny details of the prime minister's day.

But Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott were not the only personalities vying for power. There was Clive Palmer, a colourful mining magnate who is building a replica of the Titanic and installing life-size dinosaur models at his five-star resort on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

Mr Palmer, whose Palmer United Party mainly promised tax cuts, made headlines when he claimed last week that the Australian media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, was divorcing Wendi Deng because she was a Chinese spy. Earlier in the campaign, he gave a passable rendition of the latest dance craze - twerking - by shaking his ample nether regions.

There was the WikilLeaks website founder Julian Assange, who established a party of the same name and - from his bolthole in Ecuador's embassy in London, where he sought asylum last year to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges - campaigned for a seat in the senate, or upper house. That included making a video in which he donned a blonde wig and sang his own version of the Australian musician John Farnham's classic hit, You're The Voice.

And there was Stephanie Banister, a candidate for the anti-immigration One Nation party, who stood down after being ridiculed for declaring that "I don't oppose Islam as a country, but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia".

However, the real contest was between Labor and the coalition, and it finally got serious during three televised debates. Even then, the policy arguments were drowned out by one row dubbed "Notesgate" - Mr Rudd brought and consulted a file of notes, apparently against the rules - and another involving his alleged rudeness towards a make-up artist who prepared both men for one debate.

Out on the campaign trail, there were memorable moments, such as at Sydney's wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, where Mr Abbott was given a particularly warm reception by one stallholder, who knelt at his feet and then planted a kiss on his forehead, hailing him as the man required to "fix this country up".

And there were gaffes, mostly from Mr Abbott, who highlighted the "sex appeal" of one of his female candidates, urged contestants in the Big Brother reality TV show to vote for "the one with the not bad-looking daughters" (he has three), and observed that "nobody is the suppository of all knowledge".


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Updated: September 9, 2013 04:00 AM