The Internet is proving both good and bad news for the major players in Australia's election campaign, as online satirists gleefully mock politicians' carefully crafted messages to voters.
Both conservative Prime Minister John Howard and his opposition rival Kevin Rudd have sought to harness the power of the Internet in the lead-up to the Nov. 24 election, hailing it as a powerful tool to generate debate.
"I recognize that this medium is not some sort of gimmick but can provide an uninterrupted, direct and open channel between decision makers and voters," Howard said recently.
The prime minister has announced policies online on the video-sharing Web site YouTube, while Rudd promotes his message on kevin07.com.au.
But such is the democratic nature of the Internet that the leaders' earnest appeals, prepared at great expense by campaign managers, can be upstaged by a technologically savvy student with a bit of free time.
That's what happened when Sydney law student Hugh Atkin posted a YouTube clip depicting Rudd as Chinese leader Mao Zedong (
The Internet also means politicians' gaffes are available for all to see, with a clip of Howard tripping over earlier this year downloaded almost 40,000 times.
Rudd may also find it difficult to maintain his image as Australia's alternative prime minister after footage showed him apparently eating his ear wax in a parliamentary debate.
"Ugh! That's terrible, imagine getting caught out like that," said Stefan Sojka, who by day is a Sydney Web specialist but by night posts political satire online.
Sojka's most popular work so far has been a parody of a Led Zeppelin song using the name of Howard's Sydney electorate.
"Bennelong time since I wasn't old," Sojka sings over the screaming guitar riffs. "Bennelong time since I was ahead in the polls."
The online satire ranges from the juvenile -- footage of Howard addressing parliament with a flatulence soundtrack -- to sophisticated clips of lifelike latex puppets and professional animation.
Peter Garrett, the former singer with protest rockers Midnight Oil, who is now the opposition's environment spokesman, said that allowing people to "vent" frustrations on sites such as YouTube was a small price to pay.
A former campaign director for Howard's Liberal Party, Greg Daniel, said online amateurs were showing more creativity that the highly paid experts hired to shape the Australian electorate's views: "We are seeing a generation rise up who have creativity at their finger tips, both from a technology point of view and strategic point of view."