It was toe to toe, head to head, Scopus graduate against Scopus graduate as the two main candidates in Melbourne Ports faced off against each other on Sunday night in an election debate sponsored by the Australian Jewish News. Michael Danby and David Southwick presented themselves for scrutiny by a predominantly Jewish audience, and the contest was fierce.
Danby was noticeably more polished and confident in his presentation, and looked every bit the seasoned competitor compared to the young(er) and inexperienced Southwick. Danby presented his message exceptionally well to an initially reluctant audience. He turned many of the ALP's weaknesses into strengths, and showed a keen eye for the prejudices of the crowd. He dealt with the anti-Israeli sentiments in the left faction of the ALP with a disciplined message that the leadership of the party were supporters of Israel and that the views of fringe-dwellers were irrelevant. As the issue continued to reoccur through the evening, Danby diligently stayed on-message and remained gaffe-free.
Southwick failed to press home the natural advantage that he had on this issue - the unambiguous support for Israel from within his party's ranks. There were many opportunities for Southwick to demonstrate that his party was the natural choice for Zionist voters, but failed repeatedly to make a strong impact. Danby played a very effective spoiler role, just when Southwick appeared to be getting on track, there would be a reference to Ross Cameron (the Liberal chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine) or Australia at the UN and the Liberal message was dulled again.
More noticeable was the battle on funding for private Jewish schools. This should naturally be a very strong suit for Southwick, given the government's support for the independent schools sector and the ALP's rather perilous temporary exemption from funding cuts for Jewish schools.
Southwick was the verbal equivalent of a man tripping over his own shoelaces. Given a 'free kick' to promote the benefits of the government's SES (the so-called postcode system) he made a reference to the fact that only if he was elected would the SES system help Jewish schools. Beg yours, David?? Yep. He said it. And Danby made him pay big time.
Various flotsam and jetsam from the evening:
- The carol singers at the front gate from the Citizens Electoral Council, led by candidate Aaron Isherwood, whose glossy propaganda (where do they get the money??) boasts that he is the "audio-visual production manager for my party", in other words, choir conductor.
- Danby commenting that the two Jewish candidates made the election look like an episode of Seinfeld, "with me as Jerry and my opponent as Newman." Touche.
- Southwick addressing the issue of Aboriginal reconciliation by celebrating the downfall of ATSIC, or "Aborigines talking shit in Canberra" as Southwick's many Aboriginal friends put it.
- Plenty of plants in the audience asking tough questions of the opposing candidate, usually to be exposed by the moderator or candidate. A bit of a tiresome tactic.
- Southwick hitting the spot with a cute take on Latham's Ladder: "It's only because of the Liberals that we have a ladder. Under the Labor Party, we couldn't even afford to rent one." Cute.