Madonna King: Shaking hands and kissing babies is over. Time for election campaigns to head online

Bob Hawke liked people. And he starred on the campaign trail, ducking into shops, shaking hands, nursing babies. Unprompted and unscripted.

And it showed.

Paul Keating looked like a duck out of water; those Italian suits didn’t always sit well in the shopping malls of marginal seats clinging to the edges of our big cities.

John Howard tried his hardest, but found another way to look like he belonged in the ‘real’ world of voters. He donned a green-and-gold tracksuit and religiously committed to an early morning walk, wherever the campaign landed.

Perhaps on the Coalition side, Joe Hockey looked as though he liked campaigning as much as his Labor friend Bob Hawke. He didn’t mind whose hand he shook, or who he met. He enjoyed the banter, and saw campaigning as one big electoral barbecue.

At least until he became treasurer, and the personal and angry vitriol served up on the street, and at public functions, and in the drive-through of the local McDonald’s – at least on one occasion – risked the safety of his family.

That was around the same time as the massive growth in social media, which allowed voters to contact politicians directly.

And since then, old-style traditional campaigning has looked just like that – old style. And even a bit risky.

If they needed an example of that, both Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese had a lesson this week.

Anthony Albanese looked awkward dealing with a gatecrasher at his Perth press conference, but he looked positively ridiculous nursing a baby for the launch of some baby-screening program.

I wonder when he last spent a morning nursing babies? Or playing in a park with them? And why use a baby as a prop?

It might have worked once, but it is difficult to understand its appeal in 2022.

The Labor leader certainly had an easier run of campaigning this week, but perhaps that’s because so many don’t have a clue who he might be.

“We saw that he was on the news, but we didn’t know much about him, to be honest,’’ one voter said.

Back on the east coast, at the Edgeworth Tavern in Newcastle, Scott Morrison was having a harder time.

“Listen to me for a change,’’ one angry voter scolded him. “You better f—ing do something. I’m sick of your bull—t’’. And you got the impression he was talking on behalf of a few voters.

After that episode, and the interview in which he was skewered by two teen journalists, Scott Morrison must have thought his luck was turning … until a woman asked for a photo, but then filmed herself saying “Congratulations on being the worst Prime Minister we’ve ever had’’.

It couldn’t have been more different to campaigns of past decades, like the 1990 campaign when Bob Hawke did the inconceivable and won a fourth historic term. He loved it. He was unscripted and unprompted. He took on the pilots, won over anyone holding a beer. It was playing to his strengths. In 1990.

Bob Hawke’s campaign tactics from 1990 won’t really work in 2022. Photo: Getty

In 2022, campaigns need to face disruption – in the same way most of our lives have. We don’t have time to stand around in malls chatting.

We’re more likely to say what we think. We respect politicians less. And most of our communication is online.

More than 600,000 Australians will vote for the first time next month – and almost every one of them are on social media. So isn’t it time it became more than a distribution channel for abuse directed at politicians by voters?

Can’t our leaders begin to engage via social media throughout live videos, Facebook Q&As, and virtual town meetings across the nation?

These voters might never have been in the public bar of a Newcastle pub, but they are switched on in lounges and kitchens and back decks across the nation.

This is how business communicates. It’s how schools have learnt to teach, during remote learning. It’s how people win Grammys and Logies.

They use social media to convey their message, show us who they really are, answer our questions, provide information – and engage with us, not talk at us. They even show us how they deal with trolls.

They’re also largely positive and interesting. They post regularly (not just at election time). They enlist supporters, and they know the difference between TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.

It’s not rocket science – but it is 2022. And if either of our political leaders need help, perhaps they could ask one of those 13- and 14-year-old journalists who put the Prime Minister on toast this week.

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