Election 22 / 03 May 2022

A day on the campaign trail

For the major players on the inside of an election campaign, it’s a hectic whirlwind of travel, announcements, meetings, event, press conferences and politicking. With a lot at stake, it’s a fast and furious few weeks. So let’s get into the nuts and bolts of how they pull it off.

So there’s a lot of organisation and logistics involved… 
Yep – one day they’re in Perth, the next it’s Darwin and then it’s onto northern Tasmania. And it’s not just the leaders that have to move around…

Who’s with them?
There’s a whole entourage that comes with an election campaign if you’re the leader of a major party. You get a couple of planes when you’re in an election campaign – a small one for the leader and their advisers, and then there’s a larger plane for the press pack.

When you say they get a couple of planes…
These are from the RAAF, the Royal Australian Air Force, they’re part of their SPA fleet – that’s special-purpose aircraft. Five of these planes are made available – 2 go to the Coalition leader, 2 to the Labor leader, and one goes to the Nationals leader for their famed Wombat Trail.

That sounds expensive…
Well, for example, the cost of one of these RAAF flights between Canberra and Sydney cost taxpayers about $4,600 for one plane in 2018, you can see how the expenses will add up over five planes over 6 weeks of a campaign. And when you look at the map of where they’re travelling, that’s one helluva bill taxpayers are footing…

So we’re paying?
Well, we don’t pay all of that. So you know the campaign launch that the government has just a few days out from polling day? That’s technically the official start of the campaign period, and from there the parties have to pay for the travel expenses for politicians and staff. And the media will also be chipping in for their seats on the crazy ride too…

So that’s the transport, what about getting your luggage, checking into hotels, having a set up to do some work…
So the campaigns have staff to get bags off planes, to the hotel, and into the rooms. That way you can get back at the end of a long day and at least know where your stuff is while you prepare for the next event, or in the case of the media, file your stories for the day.

So they set up an office?
A fully functioning office in a hotel room or two for the leader and their team to meet and set up. That includes computers, wifi, printers, TVs, and something to eat. And in the olden days, a fax machine… 

Why is that?
Because along with doing the stuff we can see – the visits to businesses and factories and footy stadiums and schools, and the press conferences that shape the media commentary – there’s a lot going on in the background that the travelling team need to set up for their next day on the ground – the ads going out, the policies that are announced.

So the days are pretty hectic – what about the nights?
Well, it’s not uncommon for the leader and their team to do fundraising events, whether they’re with a small exclusive bunch that the media will get nowhere near, or bigger events where the media can come and film the speeches and guests.

Ok, we’re set up – but what are we doing, where am I going, what am I announcing – how does that all that work?
Now’s the time to turn our attention to ‘the program’. The program is everything – she or he who keeps the program in the leader’s entourage is one of the most important people in this show.

What is it?
So it’s literally a document that the advancers have put together, in consultation with campaign headquarters and the leader’s senior staff, covering the events of the day from sunrise to well past sunset.

Is it detailed?
Let’s just say it includes everything from sunrise time and the weather… Sounds OTT, but it’s important for planning morning and evening TV interviews. There’s a guide on what to wear – the advancers will have discussed the dress code with the people hosting and meeting the leader to ensure everyone feels comfortable and so the leader isn’t embarrassed by turning up over/underdressed.

What else is in it?
The key information on who is the leader meeting? What is their role? What are the key issues? What are the sensitivities?

When is this put together?
And with the best intentions, these plans are meticulously made weeks and months in advance. But once the campaign starts, it can change a lot. Safe to say, it is always the last thing that’s distributed each evening. 

You’ve mentioned the advancers a couple of times, give me a rundown on their part in all this…
Advancers are the people whose job it is to go ahead and make the day run smoothly. They are also responsible for identifying and arranging the campaign stops. To do the job successfully, you need high organisational skills, high political nouse, and high ability to know what would make good pictures for the media.

There must be a million of them? 
Nope – just a couple of small teams. And because the campaign moves fast, during a campaign they leapfrog each other.

How does that work?
So Team A goes ahead the day before a visit to sort out the arrangements and then stays for the visit, while Team B goes ahead to the next day’s events. And repeat for 6 weeks.

What’s their biggest job?
We don’t know that it’s the biggest, but they are experts in is flag fluffing…

When it comes to setting up the big political moments, there’s no more important symbol than the Aussie flag. The federation star (the big one) should be the prominent star on display. This is achieved by forming a neat triangle and draping the flag to bring it to the fore. 

Where do they get the flag?
Morrison’s and Albanese’s advancers will be travelling with a flag and a telescopic flag pole for ease of transportation. This is not without risk as experienced advancers will tell you it’s important to ensure it’s securely extended and not at risk of a mid-speech collapse.

Exactly. A flag collapse mid press conference or speech would be one of the shots of the campaign to be played over and over again. You just don’t want that to happen…

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