Australia’s federal election campaign has only just started, but already Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is locked in a public spat with Rupert Murdoch, whose Sydney tabloid, the Daily Telegraph, carried a front page depicting him as Colonel Klink, the bumbling Nazi TV character.
Mr Murdoch, who owns 70 per cent of the country’s newspapers, has already made clear he wants the conservative coalition, led by Tony Abbott, to win the 7 September election. In case anyone was in doubt, a front-page headline in the Telegraph on Monday, day one of the campaign, urged readers to “Kick This Mob Out”.
This week, Mr Rudd hit back, accusing Mr Murdoch of using his papers to attack the Labor government in order to further his own business interests. The media tycoon, he claimed, regards Labor’s multi-billion-dollar National Broadband Network, which is to be installed around the country, as a threat to his Foxtel cable TV network. A claim which Mr Murdoch denies.
The Prime Minister also accused Mr Abbott, whose Liberal-National Party coalition is narrowly ahead of Labor in the polls, of colluding with Mr Murdoch in relation to his own broadband policy. “I’ve only just been looking back on the files today, and I’ve discovered that, in fact, Mr Abbott’s NBN policy was launched at the [Murdoch-owned] Fox Studios here in Sydney,” he told ABC TV.
For Mr Rudd, the tables have turned. In 2007, Mr Murdoch’s News Ltd tabloids backed Labor, which ousted the conservative government.
Now, according to the coalition’s broadband spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, the man who was “once the darling of the News Ltd tabloids” is acting “like a jilted lover”.
Referring to Mr Rudd’s campaign to destabilise his predecessor, Julia Gillard, Mr Turnbull said: “His years of sycophancy, and duchessing editors with juicy leaks about his colleagues, count for nothing. No wonder he’s bitter.”
Mr Abbott denied speaking to Mr Murdoch – who took to Twitter this week to question how the NBN could be financed, given the “present situation” (a growing budget deficit) – about the coalition’s policy.
The Telegraph’s front pages this week are believed to be the work of Col “Pot” Allan, a veteran Murdoch editor who has just returned to Australia from New York, where he had been the New York Post’s editor-in-chief. Mr Allan was brought back to “ginger up” the Telegraph’s election coverage, according to Melbourne’s The Age.
The front page also featured the Deputy Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, as Klink’s inept sidekick, Sergeant Schultz, and a disgraced former Labor MP, Craig Thomson.