The policies may have been a little ambiguous and the debate largely peaceful but there was one thing capturing the headlines this morning: the worm. Last night Australian Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Coalition (Opposition) leader Tony Abbott bumped heads in the traditional democratic ring in an attempt to entice voters to place their number 1 in the “correct box” on voting day. In a night filled with “fair dinkums” as opposed to the “working families” of 2006, no leader appeared to deliver the so-called “knock-out blow”. However, while the polls may not be for another few weeks, there is no doubt a pattern is emerging.
In 2007, former PM John Howard debated alongside the then-opposition leader (and now former PM) Kevin Rudd in, what some would call, a “controversial” forum. In Australia, the television networks broadcasting the debate defied the wishes of Mr Howard by allowing the live audiences to ‘react’ to what each leader was saying and calculating those reactions in the form of an ‘electronic worm’. Essentially, the worm is used as an ‘audience metre’ that represents a ‘reflection’ of voter confidence (SBS World News Online). In the past Liberal leaders have been particularly averse to the use of the ‘worm’, but Mr Abbott was surprisingly unaffected by the hype. In an interview he stated:
“certainly I know the worm dislikes Liberals…and I suspect that the worm’s not going to change its character. I’m expecting to see a pretty unenthusiastic worm tomorrow night, but I know that I have good arguments on my side”
(SBS World News Online).
Admittedly the ‘worm’, despite its rather inconspicuous name, has a huge impact on public opinion and indeed on the lineage of political debate. This was no more evident than last night.
For the first time in Australian ‘worm’ history, broadcasters decided to divide the measurement system into two distinctive categories: ‘male’ and ‘female’. It seemed suitable because (also for the first time) Australia has a female Prime Minister and could continue to have one should Ms Gillard win on 21st August. But I couldn’t help but find the decision slightly immature. While most news stories post the debate were talking about the gender division, no-one seemed to note that the whole thing was a little stupid. If the Australian public are actually going to vote merely on the basis of sex then the media should be worried about the maturity of our nation. For me, a woman who has traditionally voted Labor , I am admittedly opposed to many of the Coalition’s policies. However, as a woman who traditionally votes for Labor, I didn’t automatically ‘lock-in’ my vote for Gillard – unlike many Australian women. Watching the debate live you could see a real-life ‘battle of the sexes’ taking place, the worm was weaving up and down, crossing paths when the speaker would change.
There is no doubt that a female Prime Minister is ideal for many, there is no doubt people are hoping for change (if only visual), there is also no doubt that people ARE listening to the policies on the table, but, at the same time, there is no doubt some people are undoubtedly a little immature!
SBS World News Australia (2010) “Worm to Appear in Leaders Debate” [online news article]. Available from: http://www.sbs.com.au/vote2010/news/1308572/Worm-to-appear-in-leaders-debate (Accessed 26th August, 2010)
SBS World News Australia (2010) “Worm Will Be Against Me – Abbott” [online news article]. Available from: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1308572/Worm-will-be-against-me-Abbott (Accessed 26th August, 2010).