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If you believe modern politics has become nothing more than a shallow pool in search of a deep end then surely yesterday's glimpse of a hairy chest offered further proof that the superficial will always triumph over the substantial.
As the French presidential election reached its final stages, incumbent Emmanuel Macron released official photographs of himself reclining on an expensive yellow sofa with his shirt half unbuttoned, exposing a chest so hairy and spiky it looked as if The Echidna itself had taken up lodgings on his upper body.
The photographs, which triggered a global social media frenzy, were seen as a ploy by Macron to woo over younger voters in his hotly-contested battle against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. But as Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese prepare to debate each other for the first time tonight, Macron's luxurious chest rug also serves as a potent reminder (as if we needed another) that image has become the all-powerful factor in politics.
Morrison and Albanese, two men with significant image problems, have already proved that this is the election you hold when your personal standing is poor and you actually don't have anything new to talk about. The first 10 days have seen the pair largely regurgitating old policies, recycling exhausted cliches and indulging in negative attacks.
It's been an insipid display reflected in the bland vanilla slogans their parties have adopted: Labor's 'A Better Future' and the Liberals' 'Strong Economy. Stronger Future.' Both could have saved their organisations a lot of money - and made a rare contribution to truth in advertising - by simply embracing 'Back to the Future.'
Tonight's debate - a town hall-style affair hosted by Sky News where 100 undecided voters will question both leaders - is unlikely to produce any bold new policies or insights. "Leaders go into the debates trying to ensure they minimise the risk of making mistakes and it's inevitably more a series of talking points than robust back and forth," says Dr Jill Sheppard, a political lecturer at the Australian National University. "The debates where leaders have really shined have been when they have showed off their policy prowess and that hasn't happened for probably 20 years."
But with polls indicating the increasing prospect of a hung parliament as almost one in three voters toys with embracing an independent, tonight offers both men an opportunity to improve their faltering standings.
Morrison and Albanese are no doubt aware of the emerging body of scientific work suggesting personal dislike of a political candidate can be a stronger motivating factor at the ballot box than any policy issue - something Bill Shorten and Labor learned only too well at the last election.
Humans are prone to a subconscious prejudice known as "negativity bias" which means we tend to recall negative information far more than positive news. According to many studies this bias tends to be much stronger in conservative voters. It's one reason why fake news tends to spread faster than real news - and why Donald Trump won the White House in 2016.
Tonight's "showdown" offers both leaders an opportunity to be positive and policy-oriented for the first time. It sure would be a change to the same old hairy-chested politicking they prefer.
HAVE YOUR SAY: What question would you ask Scott Morrison or Anthony Albanese if you had the opportunity? Will you be switching political allegiances for the first time at this election? Send us your views: email@example.com
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- The latest Newspoll showed a fall of one per cent in first preference support for Labor and the coalition. While Labor still leads 53-47 on a two-party preferred basis, Anthony Albanese dropped to his lowest approval rating since becoming Labor leader as 29 per cent of voters said they would back a minor party or independent.
- Anthony Albanese continued campaigning in Brisbane and visited an electric vehicle charging station while highlighting Labor's climate policies.
- Scott Morrison remained in WA - where the coalition holds 10 of 15 federal seats - and announced funding of more than $140 million for the construction of new hydrogen hubs in the Pilbara. Both parties claim they are not interested in doing deals with an independent crossbench in order to gain power in the event of a hung parliament.
- Labor pledged $38 million for Disaster Relief Australia. It also said it would review the $30 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme and deliver a wider range of services as part of a crackdown on waste.
- The Australian Electoral Commission announced that more than 17.2 million Australians are now registered to vote at the May 21 election - 96 per cent of the eligible voting public.
- Former Independent senator Nick Xenophon, who is standing again at this year's election, called for a royal commission into housing affordability.
THEY SAID IT: "The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later. In a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting." - Charles Bukowski.
"You go mad if you read the polls every day. There is literally no upside to your mental health." - Bill Shorten yesterday.
YOU SAID IT: "We've become the greedy nation. If everyone's house lost value, we'd all be in the same situation but it might give struggling young families a better start." - Linda.
"We almost own our own home but we have young adult children - 23 and 20 - who are questioning their ability to ever buy their own home. The cost of housing now is completely out of control and out of reach of most people, especially young people trying to enter the market. With the increasing cost of living, the future for the next generation is looking very dire." - Elizabeth.
"I grew up in a rented Government house which allowed my parents to care for their large family in reasonable comfort and dignity. The rent was affordable and no one was going to be evicted on the whim of a landlord. Governments choosing to reward investors rather than providing houses so all citizens have a safe place to live is a bad choice." - Lana.
"We don't have a housing supply problem - it's really a housing distribution issue." - Felix.
"The best way to address the housing problem is for the federal government to build more public housing and to increase the housing stock so there is an oversupply. I am a home owner and such a policy would reduce the price of my house but it is in the national interest that this be done so that we reduce the growing gap between the rich and the rest." - Michael.
"Of the 11 million home owners, some of their self-interest is about looking after their children's rent and purchase challenges. How many would prefer house prices and rents to drop, while not worrying about their own property value?" - Russell.
"We are fortunate in owning our own home, and the "Dad Bank" has been able to help our daughter own hers, otherwise she would have missed out like so many others. No need to increase the supply of housing. Just ban negative gearing and only permit house/unit/land ownership by Australian citizens, excluding those with dual nationality." - Bob.
"The term of governments is irrelevant: until we have an anti-corruption commission with teeth, we are simply going to get more of the same shameful "government" who are only interested in themselves. There is a putrid stench around government at the federal level." - Ian.
"The practice of doling out money to marginal seats is despicable. It is morally and ethically wrong. I expect much better from the leaders of our country." - Lyn.
"We don't need a fixed four year term. That is just one more year for any government to inflict more damage without being brought to account. What we do need is an Integrity Commission, with the power to investigate all and sundry." - Marilyn.
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