The first week of the official Victorian campaign period ended with the one and only televised leaders’ debate, which Labor staged in textbook fashion for a modern election front-runner: it was held as early in the campaign as possible, with no offer of a re-match on the table. It was precisely thus for John Howard at the 2004 federal election, except that Steve Bracks went one better by holding it on a Friday night, which minimised the size of the potential audience. The Poll Bludger caught bits and pieces of the audio webcast through a faltering internet connection, and agreed with the consensus that an initially shaky Ted Baillieu improved as the debate progressed, while Bracks performed with sufficient competence to ensure the occasion would be forgotten within a week. "A dull nil-all draw", reckoned Monash University’s Nick Economou, which is the usual verdict on these occasions. Accordingly, Bracks got what he wanted: he avoids the charge of cowardice levelled at Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke when they refused to face their opponents in 1983 and 1987, while still depriving his opponent of meaningful campaign oxygen.
Beyond that, the main theme to emerge in the first week was the negativity of both sides’ advertising, prompting much tut-tutting about Americanised campaign tactics. Another feature was the localised nature of early election promises, which provided grist for the mill of the first round of election guide Campaign Updates:
Cranbourne (Labor 10.8%): The Coalition took advantage of a local sore point with Thursday’s promise to spend $10 million extending the Cranbourne rail line 1.5 kilometres to a new station at Cranbourne East, which Labor promised at the 1999 election but has so far failed to deliver. Also on Thursday, Environment Minister John Thwaites promised $21 million would be spent on an extension to Cranbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
Yan Yean (Labor 9.5%): and Mill Park (Labor 26.8%): Here too the Coalition has promised to come good on an unfulfilled Labor rail line extension promise from 1999, extending the Epping line (which until 1959 extended a further 15 kilometres to Whittlesea) to South Morang at a cost of $12 million. Labor claims this costing ignores the factor which has prevented the government from proceeding with the project: the resulting need for track duplication further down the line, which it claims would cost as much as $300 million. Local residents have received letters from Transport Minister Peter Batchelor apologising for the decision to delay the project.
Ivanhoe (Labor 12.5%): The $1.7 billion health package announced by Steve Bracks on Thursday included creation of an elective surgery centre at the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg.
Bellarine (Labor 8.3%): A poll in the Geelong Advertiser last Saturday showed Labor member Lisa Neville trailing Liberal candidate Don Gibson on the primary vote. The paper provided results from its survey of 352 respondents to within one decimal place, from which it can be inferred that the raw figures were Liberal 119, Labor 101, Greens 42, Family First 6 and others 15, with 69 undecided. The size of the latter figure suggests that undecided respondents were not given a follow-up question asking who they were leaning towards, a common failing of polls run by local newspapers. After distribution of the undecided, the results are Liberal 42 per cent, Labor 36 per cent, Greens 15 per cent, Family First 2 per cent, others 5 per cent.