Newcastle Herald, by Michael Parris

HEALTH PLEDGE: Anthony Albanese with Labor candidates outside Cessnock Hospital. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Labor campaign HQ let out a big sigh of relief after Anthony Albanese completed a gaffe-free media conference in Cessnock on Thursday.

The Opposition leader made a shocking (and inexplicable) start to the campaign when he failed to recall the national unemployment rate and Reserve Bank official interest rate during a doorstop in Tasmania on Monday.

He has also faced criticism this week for somewhat rambling responses to some journalists’ questions, then for cutting short a media conference on Wednesday.

Labor insiders declared Albo “back on track” after Thursday’s visit to the Hunter, which included a 33-minute presser with the media hacks outside Cessnock Hospital.

Albanese, who has been prone to spin a yarn while on camera, flirted with danger when asked what had been the hardest working day of his life before he went into politics.

The man who could be Australia’s next prime minister recalled overnight shifts at Pancakes on the Rocks and a day in his youth spent hosing “pigeon poo” off the roof of an old wharf on Sydney harbour.

“To tell the truth, the pancake mix got into your skin, and people knew that you had worked for two or three days afterwards that you’d been there,” he said.

“But probably the hardest job I had when I was at uni in terms of a one-off was a thing that was up on the board there it was payments to clean one of the wharves down near now where the Wharf Theatre is and the Sydney Theatre Company there. They’d been abandoned at that time.

“And we had to go in with high-powered hoses that really tall roofs [sic]. They hadn’t been used for a long time. And we basically, and I think back on it now, no occupational health and safety, we were hosing with high-powered hoses essentially pigeon poo, probably decades, and it went all over us and it was an absolutely dreadful day …”

Perhaps to everyone’s relief, Albo wrapped up both anecdotes inside one minute and 38 seconds.

The Labor leader was also asked if he was “comfortable standing next to a candidate who’s been forced to delete social media posts and profiles over controversial things he’s said online”.

The question related to Labor’s Hunter candidate, Dan Repacholi, who was forced to apologise to branch members last year for his past activity on Facebook and Instagram, including sexually suggestive remarks and referring to India as a “shit hole” after competing as a 28-year-old in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

One of his apology letters included the immortal line: “I am not a misogynistic prick like the media has portrayed me as.”

Albanese, who hand-picked Repacholi as the candidate over the wishes of many rank-and-file members, said on Thursday that “the truth is that if everyone is held to account who now is a young person on social media for what they might put on social media in their 20s, then, I tell you what, in 10 years’ time you’ll struggle to hold a press conference because there won’t be candidates”.

He went on to describe Mr Repacholi as a national sporting representative, coalminer and manager of 78 employees before he quit to go into politics.

“Were all of his social media posts perfect? No, they weren’t. He regrets that. We need to actually have real people coming in. This bloke is as real as they come.”

With that Albo wrapped up the media event, and the party head-nodders looked relieved to have survived the ordeal unscathed.

35 days to go.

Hitting the jackpot

Election Diary has tallied up more than $2 billion in Hunter-linked funding commitments, either budgeted or merely promised, from both sides of politics in recent months.

Half of that is railway funding in the marginal seat of Dobell, slightly south of the Hunter but benefiting this region’s train commuters.

Committee for the Hunter CEO Alice Thompson was bang on the money when she wrote in the Herald two weeks ago that the political, policy and economic planets had aligned for the region to get a much larger wedge of the national pie this election cycle.

Since then the Hunter has been able to cross the Newcastle Airport terminal and Mandalong Road, Morisset, off its wish list of major infrastructure projects required to grow the regional economy.

Another key project, the port’s hydrogen hub, had already received $100 million in the budget.

And we’ve been graced by the presence of the prime minister, deputy prime minister and opposition leader in the space of a week.

How much can we read into the fact that Shortland, where the Libs’ Nell McGill is trying to unseat Pat Conroy, has not yet attracted a major funding announcement specific to the electorate?

Off the flight menu

This week’s announcement of a new $55 million international terminal at Williamtown raised the question of whether the airport will chase new routes in and out of China.

Airport execs are off to Asia next month to talk to airlines about new services to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, but Election Diary has been told the RAAF is not keen on Chinese commercial aircraft landing at the home of the new F-35 fighter jets.

Sign of the times

The Libs’ Paterson candidate, Brooke Vitnell, says her campaign sign on the New England Highway at Tarro appears to have been vandalised after a strip of it was torn away.