ANALYSIS

Federal election 2022: Anthony Albanese's coast trip signals start of campaign

Anthony Albanese and Gilmore MP Fiona Phillips outside Moruya RFS on Thursday. Picture: Dan Jervis-Bardy
Anthony Albanese and Gilmore MP Fiona Phillips outside Moruya RFS on Thursday. Picture: Dan Jervis-Bardy

If the size of the press pack trailing Anthony Albanese on his trip to the NSW South Coast on Thursday was any measure, the federal election campaign is no longer upon us but already here.

Yes, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has yet to take that short drive to Government House. The writs have still to be issued. But for all intents and purposes, the election has started.

Aside from kissing or cuddling babies - probably ill-advised anyway given the times - Albanese's visit had all the hallmarks of a typical whirlwind campaign pitstop.

There was $5 million to help fund an emergency management centre in Moruya, and a walk through the main street of Mogo, where the Labor leader spoke with business owners who've endured fires, flooding rains and all that COVID-19 has brought in the past two years.

Albanese spent 10 days touring the critical state of Queensland earlier this month, but the South Coast visit marked the first time he's campaigned in 2022 under the full gaze of the national media.

So what can be gleaned from the trip?

Let's start with the choice of electorate.

Party leaders can't be in all places and all times, so their presence must be rationed and distributed to where it's needed most.

Anthony Albanese meets fellow South Sydney Rabbitohs supporter John James in Mogo on Thursday. Picture: Dan Jervis-Bardy

Anthony Albanese meets fellow South Sydney Rabbitohs supporter John James in Mogo on Thursday. Picture: Dan Jervis-Bardy

Moruya and Mogo are located in the southern end of Gilmore, a seat held by Labor's Fiona Phillips by a margin of 2.6 per cent.

When Liberal insiders speak of the seats they think can be stolen off Labor, Gilmore is often the first mentioned, followed by Dunkley and Corangamite, in Victoria.

Phillips' fight to retain the seat has been made all the more difficult by the Liberals' choice to contest Gilmore with high-profile former NSW minister Andrew Constance.

Labor already faces an uphill task to win the eight extra seats it needs to form a majority in the next Federal Parliament. Losing one of its own - such as Gilmore - makes the equation that much tougher.

NSW Labor is also fielding a candidate in the upcoming Bega state byelection - triggered by Constance's shift to federal politics - so Albanese's visit had a dual purpose.

The Labor leader held a press conference on Thursday morning outside the Moruya Rural Fire Service station, which helped coordinate the emergency response during the fires which devastated the South Coast during Black Summer.

The events of Black Summer - specifically Morrison's "I don't hold a hose, mate" comment - have come to form part of Labor's central critique of the government, and thus its central election campaign message.

Albanese wants Australians to believe Morrison goes missing when the going gets tough.

Some Australians might believe that to be true.

But not all, as was demonstrated during one of those spontaneous moments which make Australian election campaigns.

Emerging from a brief tour of Mogo Soap Emporium, the Labor leader was greeted by a singlet-wearing man with a tattoo on his left shoulder.

John James' tattoo happened to bear the logo of Albanese's beloved South Sydney Rabbitohs. A short, jocular conversation ensued, before the Labor leader moved on.

But the press pack remained to ask the man some questions, including whether he was happy with the government.

James admitted he didn't follow politics closely, which makes his answer all the more relevant.

"I've felt sorry for Scott Morrison," he said.

"He's had the worst trip of any pollie I've ever seen in my life. COVID, fires, you name it and he's had to deal with it.

"He's not gone ... I don't think anyone could have handled it .... I think he's done a pretty good job."

This story Albanese's coast trip signals start of federal election campaign first appeared on The Canberra Times.