Election 2002: A long day for the Doyles


He might have been the only convert Robert Doyle spoke to all day yesterday. He didn’t sound like one at first. “At least you registered,” he said drily, accepting a how-to-vote card from Mr Doyle on his way into a Caulfield polling booth.

But on his way out the man came back to Mr Doyle. He looked briefly over his shoulder, as if to check who might be listening, before saying, “You got me on the speed cameras. I just hope you (look after) education and those things as well. I’ve voted Labor all my life, but this time . . .” Mr Doyle and his wife, Jennifer, laughed and thanked him.

It was only mid-afternoon but they had already had a long, cold day, standing in wintry wind at a string of polling booths. Mr Doyle and his wife visited all 13 in his own electorate of Malvern, joined at some by their 15-year-old daughter, Bridie. They also stopped off in the marginal seats of Prahran, Caulfield, Bentleigh and Narre Warren.

Mr Doyle’s booths were all wrapped in red plastic bunting warning of a Labor landslide. At the top of each poster was a reprint of part of a newspaper article with the headline “Labor surges to huge lead”.

But someone had apparently failed to read the fine print. The reprints also contained a reference to Robert Dean, inadvertently reminding voters of the shadow treasurer whose failure to register as a candidate has been the single biggest blow to Mr Doyle’s campaign. Was this an oversight? Mr Doyle would not engage with that question. But he did acknowledge the fallout from the loss of Dr Dean: “From that major setback, yes, it has been hard for us.”

Mr Doyle was at his campaign office by 8am after having read newspaper polls that predicted his party could lose another 20 seats to Labor. Asked if he believed it possible that the Liberals might keep as few as 15 lower house seats, Mr Doyle said: “I think there’s no doubt that if those published polls carry through, then it could well be a landslide Labor majority.”

Would this keep the Liberals on the opposition benches for another two terms? “It is difficult to claw back if it’s a landslide like that.”

He did not let the possibility of disaster dampen his outward bonhomie. He spent much of the day shaking hands, patting backs and exhorting strangers to “Vote for me!” He told journalists: “In modern elections, people often don’t actually make up their mind until they are in the polling booth marking the pink and white cards with their pencil.”

He cheerily accepted good wishes. During the half-hour that television cameras were present at one Malvern voting booth, Kennett-era treasurer Alan Stockdale arrived to vote. “Great campaign,” Mr Stockdale said.

Shortly afterwards senior Liberal Party figure Michael Kroger greeted Mr Doyle with, “Hello, great man, how are you? Congratulations, you’ve done a great job.”
Mr Kroger said he had left federal Treasurer Peter Costello handing out how-to-vote cards up the road at Sacre Coeur.

Not everyone was so encouraging. At a different booth in Malvern, one woman brusquely brushed aside Mr Doyle’s offer of a voting card.

“No way. No way. You’re gonna lose, mate,” she said, striding on.

“When all else fails, courtesy remains,” he called after her, reprovingly.

It seems fear of a negative reaction caused Mrs Doyle to delay her first foray into active vote-grabbing. At 11.40am, she announced, “I handed out my first card and it was successful. I didn’t have it hurled in my face.”

Mrs Doyle said she was looking forward to the election with “in equal measure, excitement and trepidation. Anxious for it all to be over but pleased that it will be over, too.” She said her husband had worked “amazingly hard . . . he has really dug deep . . . and shown me how determined he can be”. He would be very disappointed if he lost “because it’s taken so much out of him and he’s given it everything”.

And if he wins? “Well, that’s daunting, too, but exciting.”

First published in The Age.