The Minister for Trade Dr Craig Emerson is arguably the Gillard government’s greatest asset at the moment. A veteran politician with a PHD in economics, he is articulate, photogenic and relaxed on camera. Emerson seems to back himself to win an argument with his own words instead of reciting focus group tested catchphrases like Wayne Swan or Penny Wong. In February he was unequivocal in his support for Gillard against Kevin Rudd’s parliamentary challenge and since then he has been dispatched all over the media to aggressively spruik her cause.
Yesterday Dr Emerson did another interview, this time with ABC news 24 in the course of which he again set himself above the pack in terms of his ability to navigate an interview. Sort of.
Dr Emerson had just returned from a nineteen day Asia trip and had agreed to the interview so that he might talk a little about trade which is his portfolio. Predictably however he was asked about Craig Thompson, less predictable was his response. Crankily he admonished interviewer Andrew Geoghegan for his lack of interest in policy before firmly insisting he would not discuss the Craig Thompson affair. The next question was about Labor leadership and again Dr Emerson chided Geoghegan for not asking him about policy and curmudgeonly informed him that the matter of leadership was settled and that he would not be discussing it.
Dr Emerson chided interviewer Andrew Georghegan for not asking him about policy matters
Dr Emerson’s technique was ultimately effective, he was not drawn into commenting about Craig Thompson or leadership and Geoghegan then asked him about policy for the rest of the interview and mostly trade policy at that. Dr Emerson answered the questions on policy convincingly, he seemed across the details of his portfolio and conveyed a genuine belief that the policies were going to deliver good outcomes for Australia. But very little of this policy discussion filtered through to the public attention, instead what people were talking about was his confrontational showdown with Geoghegan.
I’m not saying Dr Emerson did poorly but he did not take back control of the daily news cycle. The interview was a failure in terms of selling the government’s policy successes as the drama of the disagreement overshadowed them. Still I have concede it is better that people are talking about Dr Emerson’s attack on poor journalism than Craig Thompson or the Labor leadership. Better for Julia Gillard anyway.