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Abbott’s ‘narrative’ and false advertising

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my marketing career, it’s that a brand does not belong to those who own it. Nike is not defined by what Nike chooses to say about Nike. Your local restaurant can claim to be sell the best meal in the city. But none of what they say matters nearly as much as how those who consume the brand identify with the brand. Perception is reality when it comes to branding. No one is ‘cool’ because they say they are. Even people’s personalities are a reflection of what others think their personalities are. Someone else decides you are shy and it doesn’t really matter what you think you are. If others see you as shy they will treat you like a shy person. People are cool because other people think are cool. People who try to be trendy are the least trendy. Trendy is other people’s perception of you.

It’s exactly the same with political narratives. I’ve been learning this the hard way by studying the political narratives of the major parties in relation to Labor’s mining tax. What I’m finding is that Labor did have a clear message when it came to the mining tax, but they never had a consistent narrative because the electorate never saw the mining tax the way Labor hoped they would. I’ve been reading everything Labor said about the mining tax from the day it was launched in May 2010 to the day Kevin Rudd was fired from the position of Prime Minister (an excruciatingly long seven weeks), and I’ve seen with my own eyes the effect that the electorate’s perception of the mining tax had on the Labor Party. In the first couple of weeks, Labor announced the policy with the confidence of people who think they’re going to be patted on the back. They felt they were the bearers of good news. But it all fell apart very quickly.

Why wouldn’t Labor expect to be congratulated for introducing the mining tax? Ordinary Australians were being told that their retirement savings would be pumped up at the expense of billionaires who would remain as billionaires while they chose to keep making billions out of mining. Every company in Australia was being offered a tax cut and small businesses were getting generous tax allowances on top of this. Infrastructure spending was increasing, equating to many new jobs in construction – an industry that employs thousands more people than mining and that has a much bigger multiplying effect on the economy. A super profits tax, by its very nature, does not affect jobs. The argument for the mining tax was sound and Labor communicated this argument clearly. The resources the billionaires were mining were owned by us. So why shouldn’t we see some benefit from them being pulled out of the ground, something that can only happen once? Why shouldn’t we each improve our own individual sovereign wealth fund, our superannuation account, during a once-in-a-generation mining boom?

The argument was sound. But for some reason, all Abbott had to do to oppose the mining tax was to say it would cost jobs (something which is completely untrue) and the whole Labor argument fell to pieces. The electorate preferred the doom and gloom negative message from Abbott which was dutifully reported as fact by an always-compliant-to-right-wing-messages-of-doom media. Even when the mining tax was still a popular policy, the electorate still turned on Labor and took the word of Abbott and his big-mining donors over the word of the Labor government. As soon as Labor realised they weren’t being patted on the back, their argument wobbled, and then cracked, and then broke. There was chaos. They lost confidence in what they believed in. If the electorate doesn’t want the mining tax, what do these ungrateful sods want? For Rinehart to keep getting richer while they all stagnate or get poorer? You can see it right there in Hansard. You can feel the Labor government pulling their hair out in despair. Their mining tax argument died because the electorate didn’t buy it. The narrative is owned by the people, not the government. The perception of the policy is owned by the voters. And once they decide they don’t like it, there’s very little you can do, or more importantly, say to change that.

There’s a lesson in this for Abbott. Not that he’s the type to learn lessons. I’ve seen right wing commentators, and even members of Abbott’s governments complaining that they need a better narrative. But a narrative is just a reflection of the story voters are seeing rolled out in front of them through everything the government does. Every policy announcement. Every policy outcome. Every press conference, every interview, every comment. All of this shows people the story of the government. You can’t fake it because it is what it is. You can manicure your Facebook profile to look like you have a glamourous, exciting, interesting life, but if your life is ordinary, unglamorous and run-of-the-mill, your Facebook friends aren’t going to be fooled. And the electorate hasn’t been fooled by Abbott. He can say all he likes about what his government stands for. He can sprout three word slogans like ‘open for business’ and he can promise a grown up government and one who takes responsibility for their actions. He can also try to focus on the parts of his first year which he thinks were successful, and hope that everyone forgets all the bad bits. But there’s no lying because we’re all here. We can see the economic figures which show the country is worse off than it was under the Labor government. We’ve watched Abbott break promises. We know we don’t like university deregulation or the end of universal health care or cuts to the ABC or innumerable other policies which have been inflicted on an unsuspecting electorate. Abbott can try to justify his cuts to welfare as good for the economy, but we can all see these are ideological attacks, inconsistent with the Australian value of fairness and egalitarianism.

People need to stop talking about the narrative as if it’s something that can be manufactured to justify behaviours of the past. Everyone’s personal story is told in the way they conduct their lives and a political narrative is no different. Abbott’s narrative of petty ideological revenge on his political enemies is as clear as day to anyone who cares to look. We own Abbott’s narrative and there’s nothing he can do about it except to change his behaviour. He’s made it clear he has no plan to do that. So his ever growing unpopularity will continue to increase. And his government will be voted out after its first term because of it.


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  1. jagman48

    I am still waiting for my $500 odd he keeps promosing. So far I have on seen $17 paid back to me.

  2. townsvilleblog

    G’day Victoria this is very much just an extension of stupid yank hype we have experienced since the early 1990s before that time in Australia it ok OK to answer: good in reply to the question “how are you.” Now with the yank influence your answer is a superlative i.e. sensational, amazing, tryannawolagong dingdong. unAustralian, pro yank and absolutely ridiculous in my humble opinion. Why must we live in a totally unreal world of exaggeration, it seems that the overwhelming majority of our people have been converted to defacto yanks!

  3. Florence nee Fedup

    Yes it is all about perception. We need to teach that all perceptions must be questioned. I suspect that when many say narrative, they mean spin. That is the level our politics has sunk to.

    What we need is more to present their case, and then prove it. Slogans, motherhood statements aspirations and intents tell us nothing.

    We need to demand substance in dialogue, not spin.

  4. Richard Leggatt

    The current Government, are committed to an economic fantasy that has it’s roots in the Libertarian, Randian philosophies of 50 years ago! It was nonsense then, and the experience of the GFC should have taught us that it’s nonsense now! What is the purpose of the economy unless it is to offer BETTER health, BETTER education, BETTER support for the weak and vulnerable, This Government is trapped into the mindless mantra, taxes bad, Science bad, Education bad, Environment bad, Coal gooood! While Abbott is on the ropes, Labor now needs to step up and define the narrative, (and itself). It seems clear to me, that most Australians (even across party lines) support Medicare without qualms and I believe there was strong support for Gonski and the NDIS. Certainly a majority see the need for a strong and independent ABC. The CSIRO also has many supporters, and could play a vital role in the nations future. High speed broadband will be essential to our competitiveness in the future. (if you don’t realise that stop reading now)
    The question therefore, is how do we pay for these things? There are aspects of all of these that require debt over a certain period (Gonski, NDIS, NBN, CSIRO?) but the big issue is how to maintain these institutions with their recurrent (Annual) spending out of recurrent revenue. (taxation) I don’t have Treasury to assist me with the calculations but given the current tax to GDP ratio is about 23.5% my back of an envelope estimate is that all these recurrent costs could be funded with a tax increase (or better collection) (Google, anyone?) of less than 3% of GDP. Intelligent and responsible people from all over the political spectrum can surely accept a 3% tax increase, if done fairly and cleverly. I think that the GST needs to be on the table along with the shutting down of many upper level rorts. The tax free threshold has already been raised under Labour to $18,300? from $6000 or so. this could be tweaked a little more to assist low income individuals and households. I understand when people call it regressive, but the ability of the GST to raise billions is undisputed and has to be considered. Labor should take this opportunity to condemn the extremism of the current right wing ideology and embrace a fair and equitable middle ground, embracing the new markets of environmentalism but supporting all Australians with the Education, Health and Welfare that they need to fulfil their potential.

  5. stephentardrew

    It’s classic stupidity and quite funny. Abbott is so damn useless that he and Murdoch bounded off the back of owning the medium subsequently getting control of the message as Marshal McLuhan noted “the medium is the message” yet they owned the medium but blew control of the message through unmitigated lying and deception. Murdoch does not have the economy of scale in Australia he has in the US so he subsidizes his unprofitable papers, which is uncompetitive for beginners, then hires a fool for a front man. Roger Ailse would be tearing his hear out if Abbott was one of his paid and owned political puppets.

    The absolute incompetence of this lot is our Saviour because they really are totally out of their depth even though they have talked people into voting against their best interest. Set up the King, with the backing of a media empire, who ends up being a raw pawn of lying irrational and blustering incoherence. One term is too many for this fool. Watch em try to put asbestos laced lipstick on a pigs carcass.

    Funnily enough Murdoch, the Australian, and their sad excuse for journalists have been hung out to dry by their inability to detect the prime fool in their presence, the fallen hero, the Black Night of lying trips, mendacious slips, and lost in the headlights of anger stares into the vacuous void of emptiness. The king goes to Black night who then morphs into a weak and ineffectual armless, headless, legless Prawn.

    Suffer your fool Murdoch for he is a reflection of your own deceit and immoral greed infested dogmatism.

  6. Loz

    This government has no idea how to govern and must be thrown out of office. They are an absolute disgrace. Their negativity and the msm destroyed all that was going to benefit Australians. Good article Victoria.

  7. mars08


    The absolute incompetence of this lot is our Saviour because they really are totally out of their depth even though they have talked people into voting against their best interest…

    “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
    ~Abraham Lincoln

    The ironic thing is that, those of us who cared to notice could plainly see that DumDum couldn’t even handle adversity with any dexterity or subtlety.

  8. donwreford

    Abbott reminds me of my father, a authoritarian bastard, I think their are two types of people, those who feel secure having some one dogmatic and disciplinarian, the sort that joins say the army, through lack of self creativity and personal responsibility and lack the ability to find enough energy to to find the energy within to comprehend, and those who detest liars, conceit, hypocrisy and the negative attributes that this failure is, that Abbott portrays, his propaganda is to state with authority as a repeated type of brainwashing, the message that the population at large require austerity and our saviour is the elite of finance, the reader is well aware the rich are getting richer and the rest of society is getting poorer.
    Abbotts policy is to ship jobs overseas, so oversea tax havens are encouraged, and jobs are scarcer to bring down wages and exhaust workers in Australia, in not just economic terms but to demoralize the work force, and for him to pontificate on himself becoming more powerful and controlling peoples life, of recent on Australian TV, I heard a politician say he wanted power, that is what these people are on about to empower themselves and to disempower the population, not only do the liberals have no vision, what little vision they have in circumcision to cut back ABC, programs to reduce information and making education more expensive, so people like Abbott can sound more educated.

  9. lawrencewinder

    Dear VR, you are too sane. You don’t belong in this place, perhaps Denmark, Finland, Sweden or Norway would be a more suitable fit.
    But certainly not Oz or IPA-Land (as it should be known) where Lewis Carroll would feel at home and where soon, we’ll all be unemployed as we don’t speak Mandarin…. and we have said Sayonara to all manufacturing as the Japs have wanted for 30 years.

    Poor Fellah, my Country.

  10. Cassmiranda

    I have been reflecting on narrative today after a heated Facebook exchange about Scott Morrison’s legislation. So many people seem to just regurgitate the spin, in this case ‘it’s better to stop the boats and stop people dying at sea’. Very few people even bothered to read the actual article (in The Guardian) explaining the appalling manner in which the legislation came to be passed and the concern that he now has complete unquestioned power over a group of people.

    We are actually up against the common stories that people believe to be true rather than a political party.
    Senator Ludlam pointed this out at the end of his speech:

    The battle really is to force people to examine their assumptions.
    I can only see this happening if people are willing to have difficult discussions (on & off-line) because how else will those that think differently from you change their ideas. The prominent media reflects their existing worldviews and sites like this, as wonderful as they are, are really for the converted.

  11. swg22

    Cassmiranda is right. We have to find a way of making all Australians think before voting. Unfortunately, I think the writers here are the people who did not vote this government in and this government is not seen as bad by all people, so the only people reading and agreeing are the ones who already knew this government would be a problem, because they had no clearly enunciated policies before the election – it is like preaching to the converted. I hope commentary like that read here is reaching the LNP fans but many people still believe the spin fed to us before the election and perpetuated by the media, which, as we all know, is controlled by the very people that love this government because it looks after them – or leaves their wealth alone while targeting those less well off. What the Abbott government is not listening to is the people. We may well all realise that savings must be made and costs must be cut but we do not agree that this should be made possible through targeting the lower and middle ends of town, but rather through policies that target savings in different areas.”Earn or learn” but you can’t afford Uni and there are no jobs for U25s and we won’t permit access to benefits, so where does that leave young people (and thus the country) and with what hope for the future? The government is too arrogant to listen to the people and they have no concept of a life without privilege. My fear is that no matter how many analytical thinkers can see this government for what it is and what it is doing to the future of this country, the media will help this government to be re-elected. For the first time in my 59 years, I feel like migrating. Is Labor doing a strong enough job to convert voters or to at least make voters think? I hope so, but fear not. The future prospects are frankly depressing. Labor and analysts must all do their bit to help people think. This does not happen if all politicians do is criticise each other rather than policy. Just address the policies and not the people delivering them – they do their own damage to themselves. Just provide alternatives to the policies, not bad behaviour and rudeness which impresses no-one. It is all just a whole lot of mess. How can ordinary Australians find their way to an informed decision on government?

  12. dennis

    ‘it’s better to stop the boats and stop people dying at sea’. Well yes, if you would rather keep them alive on an island and torture them.

  13. mars08

    Given operational security bullshit… how can i know that the boats HAVE been stopped or that people aren’t dying at sea?

  14. DanDark

  15. Annie B

    @Mars08 ……..

    Food for thought in your post. …… How indeed can we possibly know that the boats have been stopped .? Considering the lying pack of mongrels we have at the helm at this time.

    They could say anything they bloodywell liked, and expect us to swallow it —- and unless we are prepared to stow away on an RAN ship, or swim out there – we cannot know.

    Agreed – I would not trust ONE thing this rabble tell us, especially anything that unspeakable, vile Morrison creep, utters about refugees and their ‘status’.

  16. Kaye Lee

    The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Indonesia, Thomas Vargas, said last week, as reported by the ABC Indonesia correspondent George Roberts on 28th Nov 2014 that, “People were still getting on boats and Australia’s policies would not stop them. “It’s not going to solve the problem,” he said. “It may, in the short term, show some boats being stopped but these boats continue to leave from various places in the region and outside of the region. “This policy, a unilateral policy from any government is not going to stop it.” He said 100 asylum seeker boats had departed towards Australia since the start of the year.“ ”

    Refugees at Sea; Dec 7th

  17. Annie B

    Kaye …….

    Thanks for the link and your comments ……. very interesting and very un-nerving.

    Another 3 word slogan …. ” Stop the boats ” ….. or 5 words …..” we have stopped the boats :” …

    Who the hell could believe anything this Government, particularly Morrison, would tell us. ? ….. a pack of sleasy, secretive and lying bastards.

    As this article says …….

    ” So what is the truth?
    No one knows. But we do know this Government is full of proven liars.
    How much has Scott Morrison lied to us?

    Someone who is man or woman enough – just might come out in the near future – and ‘blow the whistle’ on it all. !!!!

  18. Annie B

    Was talking over lunch today with a Liberal voter.

    She is very MUCH less than impressed with the Federal Government, and surprised me with her comments on the lies she knows they have told.

    I backed off, and listened. ……… Then delivered just one statistic – that of the increase ( not decrease ) in the deficit / debt complexity, that this Government has done – while all the time they hark back to blaming Labor. ……. I figured less was more !!

    That’s one down ( I hope ) – many to go.

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