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The Moment This Election Moved Past Meaningless Symbols

The daily grind is about symbols.

The Prime Minister hefting sacks at a garden store.

(“Small business will do better under us”)

The Opposition leader at a hospital.

(“More money for Medicare”)

Election campaigns are not exciting. They are an hourly battle to register images to reinforce a message.

Even more than unusually, voters are disengaged. The Coalition is like a backwoods family, full of hatreds and scars, pretending unity only because the alternative is annihilation. On the other side, Labor is led by a man voters don’t much like and don’t much trust.

So what, then, is the symbolism of Michael Sukkar?

Liberal member for Deakin Michael Sukkar and Prime Minister Scott Morrison visit the landscaping business of Daisy's at Ringwood in Melbourne. Photo: AAP.

His seat of Deakin stretches across Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs – Nunawading, Vermont, Ringwood and Croydon. He holds it for the Liberal party with a margin of more than six percent. There are precisely 28 seats currently held by the Coalition that are more vulnerable on paper.

So why then, did Bill Shorten choose Deakin to launch his first news conference as the campaign began? And why was Scott Morrison in Deakin today, reminding voters that instant asset write-offs for small business have been extended in the latest budget.

It is because Sukkar is marked by the toxic taint running through the Liberal Party.

Sukkar didn’t support his last Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. He didn’t want the current one, Scott Morrison, either.

He had a better idea.

As a member of the Liberal hard right, Sukkar worked for a Peter Dutton prime ministership.

Morrison doesn’t rate him. One of his first acts as PM was to dump him as Assistant Minister to the Treasurer.

But in the irony of politics, Sukkar needs a campaigning Prime Minister to save his seat and the Prime Minister knows if he loses Deakin he has no hope.

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“I’m confident of the good judgement of the Australians here in Deakin,” Morrison said, declaring that Sukkar is “delivering results for his local community.”

A travelling journalist jumped in: “The judgement of the member for Deakin was that Peter Dutton should have been the Prime Minister. How much has that contributed to the problems you’re facing here in Deakin and Victoria?”

Scott Morrison said that was “a bubble question” – and refused to answer it.

Bill Shorten’s big media event was at Casey hospital in the even more marginal Liberal-held seat of La Trobe.

But his message ran smack into Rob Gibbs.

Sitting barefoot in a wheelchair, the former CFA volunteer has a cancer his doctors blame on exposure to chemicals as a firefighter.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten speaks to cancer patient Rob Gibbs at the end of a press conference outside Casey Hospital in Berwick in Melbourne. Photo: AAP.

Gibbs told Shorten that Victoria’s Labor Premier Daniel Andrews reneged on a promise to look after CFA volunteers.

“Mr Shorten, how are we to believe your potential government when Mr Andrews has done nothing but make my life hard?”

Shorten promised to “pass on your disappointment” to the Premier.

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But Ron Gibbs was fired up. He’d spent thousands funding his own treatment. His six-year-old daughter often cried at the thought dad might never come home.

“Honestly, Bill, it’s just hard to believe,” he said, as Labor promises to boost Medicare and remove out-of-pocket expenses for cancer patients.

“I want to do better,” said Shorten. “What you’re talking about is the exact reason why I’m running for Prime Minister.”

Suddenly, for just a moment, politics became real. No symbolism, just a real life struggle.

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