It’s the end of the first week of the federal election campaign
and, already, we have the mainstream media telling everyone within earshot that
this is a ‘boring’ campaign, and the electorate is ‘disillusioned’ and ‘jaded’
with the two main political parties.
But what are they expecting? What amuses these seasoned journalists that have probably been around for far too long? Would they like to see candidates playing saxophones, just like Bill Clinton during the 1992 US presidential campaign? Live twerking, just like Clive Palmer demonstrated in 2013? Even when a grand scandal is brewing just under their noses, they refuse to take the bait, so we’re left wondering what does it take for journalists to hold a conservative government to account?
Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton performs “Heartbreak Hotel” on the “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1992.
This ‘the-election-is-boring’ mantra is a tactic to have voters switched off from the main issues and remain disillusioned with politics, in the hope that a conservative government remains in office. It’s a tactic used by Fox News in the US, but it’s a standard now used by the Australian conservative media.
Aside from the boredom factor, we’ve also been told the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is an excellent campaigner – after just one week – is more ‘wily’ than his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull; and Labor leader, Bill Shorten, now has ‘every reason to be nervous’ about his election prospects.
Others in the media are suggesting Labor’s attempts to win government have much greater obstacles in 2019, when compared to 2016. Some are reporting the pathway for the Liberal–National Party to return to government is becoming clearer, without outlining how the LNP is going to overturn almost three years of negative polling, change the perception they’re a divided political entity, or overcome the lack of real policy solutions for the future, especially on climate change.
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We’ve also been told by The Guardian that Morrison is ‘master of the middle’, and is “closing in on Bill Shorten and unsettling the Labor leader”. As with most of these statements, no evidence is provided to support the claims, just aimless ramblings and endless unsubstantiated opinion, just like all of those inane and inaccurate opinions proffered during the 2016 election campaign.
And most in the mainstream media have commenced their interviews
with Shorten by asking him about his low popularity, a question never asked of
Morrison, even through his levels of unpopularity aren’t far behind. In the
latest Newpoll survey, Shorten’s disapproval rating is 51 per cent, while
Morrison’s is slightly lower at 45 per cent.
Shorten is unpopular, because the media wants him to be, and it’s a
narrative they’ve been constantly feeding ever since he became Leader of the
Opposition in 2013. Labor is ‘stumbling’, because there any many in the media who
actually want Labor to stumble. In the 2016 election, the media constantly told
us the amount of seats to be won by the Turnbull-led Liberal–National Party
would have an ‘8’ or ‘9’ in front it, even though polls were consistently
suggesting a much closer race, some polls even having Labor ahead with a slight
In the last week of the 2016 campaign, Laura Tingle from the Australian Financial Review wrote that “the
sense that Labor is a serious challenger has faded”; The Australian‘s Dennis Shanahan suggested “Malcolm Turnbull
is coming home with the wind in his sails, Bill Shorten is running out of puff”;
and the Daily Telegraph, claimed Malcolm
Turnbull was on the “brink of victory”.
The LNP did win the 2016 federal election, but it won just 76
seats, a bare one-seat majority, not the expected landslide the media wanted.
Many in the mainstream media refused to read the writing on the
wall then, and we’re seeing a repeat of this in 2019, even though we’re only at
the end of the first week of the campaign.
Let’s compare the respective low points of the week for the LNP and
Disability is an advantage
The Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, started the week with
a terrible slur on his opponent in the seat of Dickson, Ali France, claiming
she was using her disability as an excuse for not living within the boundaries
of the seat. The day after, instead of apologising for this slur, he doubled
down, claiming he was just “representing the views of his electorate”, before
apologising for his comments, three days after he first made them.
Ali France, Labor’s candidate in the seat of Dickson.
As it turned out, this was spectacular own-goal for the Dutton
campaign: France was able to outline her story of how she lost her leg –
protecting her young child while a car reversed into her in a shopping centre
car park – as well as outlining the difficult factors involved in finding
suitable accommodation for people with disabilities. France lives at a location
which is a seven-minute drive outside the seat of Dickson, compared with
Dutton’s primary place of residence on the Gold Coast, almost 100 kilometres
away. What is Dutton’s excuse for not living within the boundaries of his own
Dutton holds the seat of Dickson by a margin of 1.60 per cent, and
needs everything to go right over the next four weeks to hold. But in his
attempts to score cheap political points, he has only offered a greater
platform to his opponent, and is likely to lose the seat.
Love and the iPad in Manila
We also had revelations about the Liberal–National Party member for
Dawson, George Christensen, that he’d spent at least 70 days in each of the
past three years visiting his fiancé in the Philippines. Christensen spent 294
days between 2014–2018 travelling to Manila, the equivalent of nine weeks of
paid holidays each and every year.
We haven’t heard from Christensen about this matter, but fellow LNP
MP, David Littleproud, tried to downplay the episode by claiming “everyone is
entitled to love”, and Christensen could easily carry out his parliamentary
duties from the comfort of his iPad.
George Christensen in Parliament.
We can try to overlook all the security issues that would arise
from an MP carrying out their electoral work from an iPad in one corner of a
Manila district through an unsecured internet service provider, but to suggest
parliamentary work can be performed primarily with a mobile phone and iPad in a
foreign country is ludicrous.
Littleproud’s claim is also in contrast to reports of Christensen
missing one-third of the important hearings of the Inquiry into the Development
of Northern Australia, because he was in Manila, where he neither called in
remotely during these times, or engaged with the inquiry.
Dawson is one of the poorest electorates in Australia, starved of
economic and employment opportunities. For Christensen to miss one-third of a
forum that is critical to the future prospects of the region, as well as engaging
in a love-fest overseas junket for three years is certainly not going to
impress the voters of Dawson.
On water matters
But the biggest news of the first week of the election campaign has
been the revelations of the 2017 water buy-back from Eastern Australia
Agriculture, for the sum of $79 million. There are many questions that need to
be answered in this deal.
For a start, EAA sought a water buy-back twice during Labor’s time
in government between 2007–2013, but was refused on both occasions; one of the
establishing directors of EAA was Liberal MP Angus Taylor, who is now Minister
for Energy and member for Hume; EAA is a company registered in the Cayman
Islands, shrouded in a cloak of great secrecy; EAA made a profit of $52 million
from this one transaction; and Barnaby Joyce was the Minister for Water at the
This is not a new story, but has been bubbling just under the surface for some time on Twitter through a story thread provided by @MsVeruca (since removed by Twitter, under malicious legal threats from Taylor’s lawyers, Mark O’Brien Legal). Despite the allegations of mismanagement and corruption, the mainstream media refused to become involved until Channel 10’s The Project presented a video story on 18 April.
Others in the mainstream media then started to ask questions of the
Prime Minister on Easter Saturday about whether there was any impropriety in
the EAA water buy-back. While the questioning of the Prime Minster was strong,
the follow up was poor.
Morrison’s initial response was to say the buy-back was initiated
by the Queensland Labor Government, and that the federal government has been
very transparent. But a document released in 2017 proves the Queensland
Government had nothing to do with the transaction, and documents released by
the federal minister had 70 per cent of its content redacted. So much for transparency.
Perhaps journalists at Morrison’s media conference were flummoxed
by his statement the Queensland Government was somehow involved with a federal
government transaction, but no one had the wherewithal to ask for proof from
the Prime Minister, or which Queensland Minister they could contact to verify his
Or perhaps they were more worried their invitation to watch the
second episode of Game Of Thrones in
a cosy home theatre with the Prime Minister would be revoked if they asked
questions deemed to be too difficult.
A horror week for the LNP but, somehow, Labor still loses
Despite all of this, the mainstream media decided the
Liberal–National Party had won the first week of the campaign and, according to
Channel Nine’s political correspondent, Chris Uhlmann, “Labor was seen to have
a fairly bad first week”.
And how did journalists arrive at this conclusion of Labor having a ‘bad first week’?
Because Labor leader, Bill Shorten, was tripped up in a ‘gotcha’ moment when asked about his superannuation policy. The question, asked by Sky News reporter, James O’Doherty, had the hostility of an attack Rottweiler on steroids, and Shorten responded by saying Labor had no plans for new taxes on superannuation, even though he previously announced there would be superannuation reform if Labor was elected to government.
Did Shorten mishear, or did he not understand his own policy? It
seemed more like a stitch-up by a Liberal Party operative than a serious
political query. Labor released their superannuation plan to curb tax
concessions on superannuation contributions from high income earners towards
the end of 2016 – three years ago. Why would O’Doherty ask the question on a
long-existing policy if he wasn’t planning to trip Shorten up?
The media had a field day when Bill Shorten was tripped up on a question about superannuation. But was it a set-up?
Needless to say, the mainstream media ran with this story for the
rest of the week, promoting endless stories about Shorten not understanding his
own policy work, that somehow this was the turning point of the election and would
give ample opportunity for the LNP to surge ahead in the polls.
Intelligence is usually in short supply among the media throng during
election time, and it seems it won’t be any different this time around.
Journalists are ‘bored’, they report about how ‘jaded’ the electorate is, they
question why Bill Shorten is ‘so unpopular’, and report with alacrity when
Shorten misunderstands a question designed to fail him.
Some in the media are even suggesting that more pressure is being
placed on Labor because they now have a suite of policies that can be
scrutinised, while the LNP has none. For years, journalists have bemoaned the
lack of policy from all sides of politics but when one side of politics
releases a swathe of substantial material, it’s reported as a political disadvantage?
And, supposedly, as a result of this pressure and scrutiny on Labor
policies, the electorate will return to the LNP, even though they have an
absence of policies.
It’s this kind of logic that often makes me wonder how on earth
journalists get their jobs in the first instance. They complain about elections
being dull and boring because they’re cocooned from the results of whichever government
if formed. But for working people, elections are important events and
consequences from government decisions can be life changing. Elections do
matter. It’s just a pity the media sees it all as an entertainment sideshow.
And the real winner was…
Whoever the winner was during week one of this campaign, it’s not
really of great consequence. The mainstream media collectively agreed Malcolm
Turnbull was the winner of week one of the 2016 election campaign, even though
he ran one of the poorest campaigns since Billy McMahon in 1972, and ended up
with a slim one-seat majority. Sure, he still won the election, but the tight
result was against all media expectations, and caused Turnbull so many problems
throughout the term, until he was finally ousted by his own party in August
Week one is when both campaign machines get their wheels in motion,
clear their throats and start road testing their election scripts. Many people in
the electorate aren’t even aware an election is being held on May 18: they’re
still consumed with the long weekend, and worried about what to do with their
kids during the school holidays. And the other big factor is, they may have
already made up their minds about who’ll they’ll be voting for and the campaign
will be immaterial to their selection on election day.
But whatever the case, week one was not even a nil-all draw: the main
game hasn’t started yet. Let’s see what happens after Anzac Day to get a better
perspective of how the campaign is being played out.