Searching for Jaymes Diaz
The Liberal Party candidate for the seat of Greenway is out and about on the campaign trail but is proving difficult for the media to track down.PT5M58S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2sw2r 620 349 August 30, 2013
They are the political class that could sweep Sydney and help hand government to Tony Abbott - but they won't take questions from school students.
Ten days before the federal election, Coalition candidates poised to win a host of seats across Sydney are being shielded from interviews and refusing to turn up to local events.
Missing: Liberal candidates Jaymes Diaz, Fiona Scott and Isabelle White all declined to attend an education forum at St Marys RSL hosted by the NSW Teachers Federation earlier this month. Photo: Supplied
This extends to high school interviews – where students grill candidates about what they would do for the electorate and answers are published in local newspapers.
Two weeks ago Fairfax Media contacted more than 50 sitting members and candidates for Sydney seats to ask them about issues in their seat.
Nine from the ALP, including Immigration Minister Tony Burke, gave interviews. But only one Liberal, shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, responded.
Empty chair: On Tuesday night, Jaymes Diaz failed to attend a candidates's forum in Blacktown. Photo: Supplied
For the Liberal Party, poised to win next Saturday according to polls, the silence appears increasingly systemic, with multiple examples emerging of candidates pulling out of events or interviews.
One senior Liberal source involved in marginal seat strategy said there was little to be gained in exposing candidates to media, particularly metropolitan media.
"If it's a request for a TV interview or a newspaper it would generally be a 'no'. There is more that can go wrong than the benefit from a good interview."
Interview fail: Jaymes Diaz talks to Channel Ten.
Another Liberal operative working in western Sydney seats said: "You just don't expose the new guys who have no experience."
SBS News reported that “the Coalition is banning some of its candidates from speaking to the media or their electorate”, with Andrew Nguyen, the Liberal candidate for Fowler, refused permission to take part in an SBS-run community forum.
And in western Sydney, Fairfax Community Newspapers has been trying to organise "job interviews" in high schools, where students question candidates about their suitability for the job of local member, with their answers to be published in multiple local papers.
AWOL: Jaymes Diaz is shunning the spotlight.
At the first interview last Thursday in the seat of Greenway, Labor MP Michelle Rowland and Greens candidate Chris Brentin turned up to Glenwood High School, but the Liberals' Jaymes Diaz, who is favoured to win the seat, did not.
Earlier this month Mr Diaz conducted an infamously poor interview with Channel 10 that gained international notoriety and 220,000 YouTube views in just over a week. On Tuesday night he failed to attend a candidates' forum in Blacktown.
On Friday morning, the sitting Liberal MP for Macquarie, Louise Markus, did not show for a similar event, leaving her Labor and Greens opponents to face the grilling of Richmond High School students.
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari. Photo: Rocco Fazzari
The editor of the Penrith Star, Roslyn Smith, said the directive to decline the invitation appeared to come from headquarters.
"I think there might have been some candidates who might have been keen," Miss Smith said.
She said she had spoken to Mark Tobin, who is working as an adviser to candidates in western Sydney while on leave from Premier Barry O'Farrell's office. He told her the interviews were not part of the Coalition's "strategy".
On Tuesday Mr Tobin told Fairfax Media: "We get a number of media invitations and we can't accept every offer."
Fairfax Community Newspapers has also been told by Liberals' NSW headquarters that the Liberal candidate for Parramatta, Martin Zaiter, would not turn up to an interview at James Ruse High School.
The Liberal candidate for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, was not planning to show up to one at Penrith High School and Isabelle White, the party's candidate for Chifley, would not turn up to one in her electorate.
Mr Diaz, Ms Scott and Ms White also all declined to attend an education forum at St Marys hosted by the NSW Teachers Federation on August 1.
Labor's candidate for the seat of Mitchell in the Hills district, Andrew Punch, has also said he would not attend, though his opponent, sitting Liberal Alex Hawke, may yet.
The one Liberal who did make himself available for an interview on the topic by Fairfax Media, Mr Turnbull, said he would not comment on decisions his colleagues had taken, but said he tended to "engage with all media".
"Generally I'm very available, as people know."
Mr Turnbull, who spoke while on the train heading to a campaign event, said when he was campaigning for the seat of Wentworth in 2004 he did not find door-knocking a "particularly productive" way of meeting people, preferring just to be "out and about".
"I think personal contact is important, but clearly you reach people using mass media."
The reticence to speak is not confined to Coalition candidates in winnable electorates. Even candidates in seats that they have little chance of claiming have almost uniformly declined requests.
The absence of candidates from public forums has been noticed on social media. A Facebook group called "Save Blacktown Pool", which is linking Mr Diaz to the potential closure of Blacktown Pool, has uploaded images of the candidate as Wally from the Where's Wally? books.
Greg Turnbull, a former media advisor to Paul Keating and Kim Beazley, said it was not surprising some candidates avoided the press when campaigns had become "gaffe-athons."
"The whole game seems to be to get a candidate to make a mistake and embarrass the leader," Mr Turnbull said.
"In that environment do you really blame campaign directors for saying 'for goodness sake keep your head down?"'
Political marketing expert Andrew Hughes said the “Jaymes Diaz effect” had candidates “running scared”.
“The Coalition are running a small target campaign anyway. But this is really small target minimisation at such a micromanaged level, it's just ridiculous," said Mr Hughes, a marketing lecturer at the Australian National University's Research School of Management.
The senior Liberal source said: "If Greenway is retained by Labor there is no doubt at all that the reason will be the Diaz interview (on Channel Ten)."
Interview requests with coalition MPs referred to in this story were denied.