PM will struggle when minders lead up a gully
Among the many black arts practised by political operatives is the ''advance''. It involves a team of risk-averse experts setting out well before a prime minister is to step foot in potentially treacherous territory to identify sites of least hazard for things like news conferences.
The advancers, somehow, managed to lead Prime Minister Julia Gillard into a distinctly discommodious locale, even by the standards of western Sydney, on Monday.
It wasn't simply that she was required to alight and board her big white car next to an alarming sign declaring ''beware snakes''. Nor the abundance of giant ''Exit'' signs, always a delight for photographers. It wasn't even that nearby was a plaque celebrating the fact that on this very spot, former (Liberal) PM John Howard had opened the M7 Westlink motorway some years previously.
Sign of the times: Julia Gillard reveals her hopes for a motorway. Photo: Andrew Meares
No. One of the more important requirements of a suitable press conference is that the Prime Minister can actually be heard while declaiming her latest splendid plan.
It is possible that the advancers did not know that the nation's shrillest colony of cicadas was in residence around the Eastern Creek gully in which Ms Gillard's microphone stand had been erected.
You would, however, have imagined that someone might have noticed that she would be standing barely an arms' length from a motorway crammed with bellowing trucks.
With cicadas shrieking and trucks thundering, only those reporters with the keenest ears who had managed to squeeze through the heaving media throng to the PM's side could hear a word of what she was saying.
''I think she said blessed are the cheesemakers,'' declared one wag, channelling Monty Python's Life of Brian.
In fact, Ms Gillard was bemoaning dreadful western Sydney traffic snarls and saying her government wanted a new motorway built. It would cost $13 billion or so, but she wasn't promising any money. Not unless the (Liberal) NSW government ditched its plan and acceded to hers.
Perhaps the advancers had got it right. Long-suffering motorists might not necessarily want to hear a promise without cash attached, nor welcome a guaranteed stoush over a road that seems imaginary.
There are, of course, other perils along a prime ministerial trail that no advancer could predict. Consider the odds of awakening to discover in your path the curious Christopher Monckton, he of the Marty Feldman gaze and the endless denunciation of climate change.
Ms Gillard stepped from the lift at her Rooty Hill hotel a bit after dawn to be confronted by the self-proclaimed lord crying ''no carbon tax'' and declaring there was new proof that the world had not warmed in 17 years. Her security team swept the fellow aside, and the Prime Minister marched on to the three-ring media circus that has formed around her odyssey to the West. Channel 7's Sunrise host, Kochie, had a makeshift studio within the vast Rooty Hill RSL Club, and Channel 9's Today bloke, Karl Stefanovic, was set up in a tent outside.
The advancers had got it right this time. The Prime Minister headed directly out to a training session with the Western Sydney Wanderers, an A-League football team leading the competition in its first season. Kochie and Karl were left in their make-do studios to interview Ms Gillard by remote, surrounded, far away, by victorious football players.