Two speeches, two parties and two leaders
Both party leaders acheived their goals with last week's Press Club speeches, writes Geoff Gallop. Photo: Getty
There are many types of political speech each with its own purpose and requirements – the parliamentary speech, the party conference speech, the campaign speech, the philosophical speech, the protest meeting speech, and so on.
Speeches may be long or short, conciliatory or adversarial, analytical or ideological, and considered or passionate.
In all of this one thing is certain – it is a war
Politicians quickly learn that words matter and it's not just a case of the specific audience and what they hear from the speech but also what the media in all its forms will make of what you say and how it might compare or contrast with what you said yesterday.
The wider public, on the other hand, may be more interested in how you look and how you deliver. They will be interested in the person they are watching and/or listening to and they will have a healthy scepticism when it comes to words.
Indeed they like to dig deeper and search for convictions because they know that they provide a much better guide to behaviour.
In many ways the ideal speech will be based on conviction, aware of context and audience, and delivered with the appropriate level of passion. It should have form but there can be no question that it needs content - something must be said that is meaningful and relevant.
Putting it this way you can see where the dangers lie – too much or too little passion relative to content, too little attention to audience, insufficient attention to detail (in respect of delivery as well as content), and most importantly, having nothing to say that matters.
That takes me to a quick comparison of the two speeches delivered at the Press Club last week. What did they reveal?
In Tony Abbott's case there was plenty of Liberal Party ideology and party political "conviction". He is a warrior politician and what matters above all else is a change of government. He was urging people to that end.
In Julia Gillard's case there was more consideration and a good deal of contextual analysis. It was a classic Prime Minister's speech about the big issues of the day, although I did think more could have been said about climate change given the commitment to the carbon price.
In a sense Tony Abbott was saying "let's get political - this is a classic war between Australian values and an out-of-touch Labor Party" and Julia Gillard's message was "let's get serious-this is a classic war between future needs and vested interests".
Both leaders achieved their goals but one might say that in Abbott's case there was too much urging and too little analysis and in Gillard's case too much analysis and too little urging.
We know of course that what matters most for the nation is the depth and quality of the analysis but also that such analysis needs to be coupled with plenty of targeted urging if it is to win out against simpler and more directed messages.
In Labor's case that has to mean more campaigning on the basis of their leader's analysis in every community throughout the nation. Their argument will need some sharp edges complementing the more conciliatory tone we associate with Labor governments these days.
In all of this one thing is certain – it is a war and Labor more than the Coalition is going to need clear air between now and September if it is to win back hearts and minds.
Given ongoing inquiries and court cases involving Labor, that isn't going to be easy.
It will be even harder if the caucus continues to present itself to the electorate as divided and lacking in discipline.