On day one of the election campaign, Opposition leader Anthony Albanese made a mistake.
It was a spectacular “gotcha” moment, declared the “first of the campaign” and something he can’t afford to do again.
The moment happened when Albanese failed to name the unemployment rate (which, for the record, is at 4 per cent) and later the cash rate. The error in the lead story on The Australian today, declared “Economics not so Albanese”. The Daily Telegraph labeled it an “astonishing” failure — writing that citing the jobs figure “isn’t an error, it’s a lack of awareness.” The gaffe was declared a “stark lesson in the dangers of complacency” by a lead Murdoch opinion writer.
Of course, the opposition leader should have been able to quote back these figures. He should have been prepared for such questions, and have key figures in the back of his mind, constantly. Because these stats in part reflect – although never tell the full story — the financial situations and current challenges being experienced by voters.
But it’s what happened next that was interesting. Sure, Albanese fumbled during the press conference in Launceston which immediately started to look and feel very awkward. But instead of attempting to avoid the question with another statement – which politicians are particularly skilled at – he tried to grasp the figure, and then simply stated, “sorry, I’m not sure what it is.”
And then within hours, he’d owned up for failing to name the specific figures. He apologised for making a mistake, noting that owning up to such failures is “what leaders do.”
“Earlier today, I made a mistake. I’m human. But when I make a mistake, I’ll fess up to it, and I’ll set about correcting that mistake,” Albanese said. “I won’t blame someone else, I’ll accept responsibility. That’s what leaders do.”
And while this gaffe has become prime fodder for the Morrison Government, and much of the media it’s worth remembering that the PM has made many mistakes himself.
There are those that have been a little less consequential and similar to Albanese’s — like failing to name the cost of bread or a litre of petrol, for one – and there have been those that have been far more significant and offensive, like suggesting that those participating in the women’s march in 2021 were lucky to have “not been met with bullets”.
Morrison did not apologise for the bullets comment, rather he acknowledged they may have come across as offensive. He never apologised for the “I don’t hold a hose” remark, or for comments made in parliament — like that time he humiliated one of the most senior businesswomen in the country. He did not apologise for holidaying in Hawaii while Australia burned, rather suggesting he “deeply regretted” any offence caused. He never apologised for the slow vaccine rollout.
What we know is that there will be more gaffes and more gotcha moments during this election campaign. There will be more politicians put on the spot who find they can’t recall the price of petrol or the cost of bread or another quick metric concerning the financial security of Australians.
What matters is the policy and leadership available to address such financial insecurities, with substance that goes beyond naming the unemployment rate – a rate that fails anyway to acknowledge the underemployment of Australians, as well as the inability for so many to ever be in a place to seek employment due to illness or disability, or caring responsibilities that would make meaningful employment impossible to maintain.
On day one, the gaffe test may have been won by Morrison but the leadership test went to Albanese – who presented himself as someone who owns up to his mistakes.
It’s something Australians are unfamiliar with, given the past three years.