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Dr Victoria Fielding (nee Rollison) is an academic, independent media commentor and activist. Victoria’s PhD research investigated the media representation of industrial disputes by tracing the influence of competing industrial narratives on news narratives. She has developed a theory of media inequality which explains structural media bias in news reporting of industrial, political and social contestation. In her honours thesis, Victoria studied the influence of mining tax narratives on mainstream news media.

The dangers of biased media narratives

There is no better illustration of the dangers of biased media narratives – media inequality – than the differing perceptions about COVID-19 in NSW, as compared to Victoria.

Victorians are of course more wary about covid because of their trauma at enduring the health crisis in 2020, and the resulting extended lockdown. They take covid seriously because they’re scared not to. The public in NSW don’t have this same experience to scare them, but there’s also another reason for differing attitudes in Australia’s two most populated states: biased media narratives.

From the beginning of the covid crisis in Victoria, news audiences were repeatedly told that the crisis was caused by two things: the Labor government’s failure to keep infected international travellers quarantined in hotels, and the Labor government’s failure to run a health system that can adequately test and trace cases to ‘suppress’ the virus. To back up this narrative, NSW was held up as ‘gold standard’, as having inherently better contact tracing, than the ‘failed state’ of Victoria.

This ‘gold standard’ narrative started with Scott Morrison. Everything Morrison does, of course, has a political motive. His motive behind the divisive state versus state covid-hunger games framing was twofold. The first was to bash the Labor government in Victoria, and particularly to undermine the popularity of Premier Andrews. Morrison finds Andrews’ popularity particularly galling because he is a much more trusted leader than Morrison himself.

The Liberal Party has also always had a larger-than-ordinary vendetta against Labor in Victoria because they threw the incompetent Victorian Liberal Party out of office after only one term, humiliating the born-to-rule types and rubbing their nose in it by winning the election after in a Dan-slide.

The second reason Morrison divided the nation with the ‘gold standard’ moniker is to promote his anti-lockdown argument. On 16 July 2020, when Victoria was headed into a lockdown, Morrison’s lack of empathy was on full display:

 

 

That’s right – the PM told Australians they would be protected from covid by living alongside the virus. It’s like telling someone the best way to protect yourself from being eaten by a lion is to live in the lion’s enclosure.

This anti-lockdown gold-standard narrative not only made the experience of Victorians much harder by telling them that their trauma was their own fault, but it also infected the way the majority of journalists reported about covid in Victoria and NSW.

As I wrote about last week, journalists aggressively accused the Victorian Labor government of failing to protect the Victorian public against covid, while just as aggressively accusing them of doing too much to protect them. Lockdowns, border closures, mandated masks and restrictions on movement – all strategies to contain and eventually eliminate a deadly disease – were framed as failings of the Victorian government, as too draconian and not proportionate to the threat.

For example, the original breach from hotel quarantine was blamed on Andrews for hiring private security guards, and false-narratives were spread about a security guard having sex with a guest.

In reality, the first community transmission that started the crisis-outbreak in Victoria was a hotel manager who caught covid from a guest – probably from aerosol spread in a communal area. Little did it matter that NSW also used private security guards for hotel quarantine, and two security guards indeed caught covid from arriving guests – Victoria was held up as ‘different’ to NSW, and that false narrative changed the audience’s understanding of the risks of covid breaches.

Once the virus was out in the community in Victoria, its spread was blamed simplistically on sub-standard contact tracing. This biased narrative ignored the fact that contact tracers can only trace those cases that come forward for testing. It ignored the obvious fact that once cases reach critical mass, contact tracing becomes near impossible. It also ignored the role luck plays in a pandemic – everything from super-spreader events, asymptomatic spread, cases occurring in casualised workforces who were not compensated for isolating, and inevitable cases not getting tested or isolating when they have symptoms.

The false-narrative that ‘Victoria can’t contact trace’ not only simplistically blamed contact tracers for everything that went wrong in Victoria, it also dangerously told the NSW public their exceptionalism would save them from Victoria’s fate.

 

 

The fact is, viruses spread because that’s what they do. Victorians were told the virus spread because of their failings, while NSW were told their ‘gold standard’ system allowed them to live alongside the virus without resorting to drastic measures like locking down.

There is no doubt this ‘gold standard’ trickery, along with the media’s attacks on the Victorian government when they brought in health measures like lockdowns, has influenced the NSW Premier’s reluctance to lockdown, even as the Delta strain has grown exponentially in the past week. Gladys Berejiklian showed this reluctance when she refused to even use the word ‘lockdown’, preferring ‘stay at home orders’. The NSW government is so far resisting a total lockdown, with only a small number of LGAs closed, and even then the rules about when you can leave home so wide that even a wedding can jump through.

This divisive anti-Victorian blame versus gold-standard NSW has failed everyone – the people of Victoria who were told they were the problem, the NSW public who now have a major Delta problem on their hands, and the rest of the country who benefits from states getting their outbreaks under control before they spread across borders.

Morrison, and in turn the media, should have dropped the politics, and promoted a narrative of solidarity and support amongst all Australians, encouraging each state to learn from each other’s experience of the virus, to put the whole country in a stronger position.

I really hope journalists and many other commentators are watching what is happening in NSW and are having a think about the way they covered the covid crisis in Victoria to consider how they played a part in toxic media inequality. United we stand, divided we fall. Let’s hope NSW can get on top of this virus and our covid-future is one of solidarity amongst every state – Labor or Liberal led.

This article was originally published on Media Inequality.

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Explaining Media Inequality

As many of my social media friends and Twitter followers know, I have written a book about the cause of media bias – explaining media inequality. The book is done so it’s time to find a publisher. To help with this journey, your sharing of this post would be appreciated. Thank you!

The book is written for news audiences. It traces many recent and historical cases of media bias; it is cathartic in highlighting and explaining reasons for media inequality, making sense of mass audience exasperation. It is also for journalists who want to improve their work.

The 1st chapter describes how important news is to society and healthy democracy through related functions: watchdogs on powerful, and facilitators of what should be fair, diverse marketplace of ideas. When they fulfil these roles, democracy thrives. When they don’t, it dies.

In chapter two, I describe how frustrated audiences are with media bias – 500k signed Kevin Rudd’s petition seeking royal commission into the Murdoch media. Bias is the bogeyman under the bed: audiences know it’s there but find it hard to define. Yet, journos claim it doesn’t exist because of watertight routines of objectivity and balance.

To explore audience frustration at media bias, I delve deep into reporting of Vic COVID-19 crisis in 2020. I explain how many of audience’s explanations for bias – such as Murdoch conspiracy – do not fully account for bias, and how my ideas challenge much academic orthodoxy on bias.

To showcase media bias, in chapter three I tell a story of media bias by describing the one-sided coverage of 2016 Country Fire Authority (CFA) dispute. I quantified bias in over 300 news stories about this politicised industrial conflict in my PhD project. Bias existed in collective media narrative.

In chapter four, I argue CFA dispute the story to fit default industrial story-template used through Australian history – the authority narrative. Bias is about assumption. The assumption of authority story is that head of business/organisation (capital class) are automatically legitimate. The other side of this coin is those who challenge the authority story, who challenge power – trade unions, left wing political or social groups – tell an empathy story which is not the default narrative, and is instead assumed by media to less legitimate and gets little coverage. Dominant authority story explains taken-for-granted legitimacy of powerful ahead of less powerful: employers ahead of workers, right ahead of left, men ahead of women, white people ahead of people of colour – media inequality results from and contributes to structural inequality.

In chapter five, I describe how default authority story and less-powerful empathy story are evident in other historical industrial news narratives. Authority story dominated reporting of Shearers’ Strike and Hawke Accord – it is as old as the hills and as powerful as ever.

Chapter six shows that in rare occasions when the authority narrative is strongly undermined – when capital class and Liberal politicians who represent them overreach and damage public interest – undo their legitimacy and the news narrative flips from authority to empathy. Examples of empathy story dominating media reporting are the Pig Iron Dispute, the Waterfront Dispute and WorkChoices – all successful campaigns for the labour movement, but none having a sustained influence on the ongoing pattern of media bias towards the authority story.

In chapter seven, I present idea of train-track narratives to explain how journalists tend to follow-the-leader when it comes to collective storytelling. I discuss how characters in news stories are framed as villains, victims or heroes, and how info is moulded to fit on tracks.

Chapter eight builds on bias train-track idea to explain how extreme cases of bias result in disinformation. This occurs when news info is moulded and fudged to fit the dominant story, to the point where reality is misrepresented, is not verified, and represents false narratives. This chapter also discusses the perils of false-balance – or false-equivalency – referred to as ‘bothsidesism.’ I am reminded of a wonderful tweet: “If he says it is raining, and she says it is not, the job of the journalist is to look out the window and tell the audience which is true.”

Inevitably, chapter nine is about conscious bias by interrogating Murdoch media. The default authority story is unconscious bias, but in Murdoch’s case, it’s deliberate, partisan-bias. I describe how Murdoch runs interventionist campaigns and how their coverage infects the rest. In this chapter, I use the false-narrative of ‘African gangs’ to show how Murdoch media is responsible for divisive cultural wars, working in concert with right wing politicians, and how their intense media concentration is damaging the social fabric and distorting reality.

Chapter 10 is about media power. Although journalists claim to be passive and not powerful, they hold the power to craft reality for the audience. With this power comes responsibility to deliver more equality in the marketplace of ideas. I ask “who is watching the watchdogs?”

Finally, the last chapter is about the impact of media inequality on the audience. Like all inequality, those who suffer it feel a great sense of injustice. This includes the destructive impact of media bias on CFA firefighters and Victorian news audiences during the COVID-19 crisis. In this chapter, I give some insights into how journalists react (badly) to complaints of media bias, how they circle the wagons, call the audience names, and ultimately, how they work together to delegitimise those who critique them (as evidenced on Twitter), rather than self-reflecting.

So there you have it. If you’re keen to read more about each of these topics, please show your support by sharing or liking this post.

 

The research underpinning this book is peer reviewed – mine and others.

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Journalists need to be watchdogs in the marketplace of ideas

When Donald Trump launched his ‘birther movement’ in the lead up to the 2012 US presidential candidate race, his accusations about President Obama’s place of birth should never have been published in mainstream media. By publishing these demonstrably false accusations, aimed at delegitimising America’s first black President, the media gave the accusations, and in-turn Trump, an unjustified legitimacy. This coverage gave him a key step-up in his eventual rise to power in 2016. We all know how badly that ended.

Do the media ever adequately reflect on the part they played in this international abomination?

The answer is no if you consider the publishing of similarly egregious conspiracy lies in Victoria this week. When Louise Staley, the Victorian shadow treasurer, publicly asked questions about the ‘truth’ of Premier Daniel Andrews’ fall, she was promoting ridiculous and outrageous lies which had been spreading via social media and text message in Melbourne for weeks, all aimed at delegitimising the Premier while he recuperates from a near-fatal back injury. She chose to spread these unsubstantiated and frankly absurd lies as part of an ongoing aggressive Victorian Liberal campaign to smear Premier Andrews and the Labor government.

Did the media have to report these ‘questions’? No, of course they didn’t.

When media professionals complain about fake news, they are usually referring to the spreading of false information on social media. There is no doubt that fake rumours and conspiracies on social media – hello QAnon – are a huge problem which society is yet to adequately address. One way that the mainstream media could help in this fight, a fight to stop the erosion of public decency and trust in evidence and fact – a trust which represents the glue that holds society together – is by correcting false information when it is clear it is spreading out of control on the internet. Such correction would constitute the media fulfilling their most basic role as watchdogs for society – this time not as watchdogs on the powerful, but watchdogs for the quality of information spreading around the marketplace of ideas.

I describe fake news as the publishing of demonstrably false information on any platform whether it be social or mainstream media. By undermining the legitimacy of fake news, journalists are working in the public interest.

The opposite is also true. When the media give unearned legitimacy to fake news, like promoting Staley’s devious ‘question asking’ about the circumstances of Premier Andrews’ injuries, they are working against the public interest. And, they’re giving free rein to illegitimate behaviour, such as Trump’s dishonest birth certificate claims, and Staley’s deceitful spreading of politically motivated gossip.

Another example of the media failing to be watchdogs in the public interest when it comes to correcting false and damaging misinformation was the publishing of outrageous anti-vax conspiracies after a Queensland hairdresser banned covid-vaccinated customers from attending her salon. Her lies about vaccinations seeping out of the vaccinated and causing infertility had already gained unwarranted traction on social media. So why would mainstream news platforms give the misinformation not only more reach to a much wider audience, but also un-earned legitimacy? During a pandemic. When vaccination hesitancy is already a major issue. For clicks? What does that say about the ethics of some in the news industry?

Obama regularly mentioned his frustration at media norms in his memoir ‘A Promised Land’. He said from the start of his presidency, he was not just surprised at how much his Republican opponents peddled ‘half truths or outright lies’, but also by the media’s willingness to publish them. Trump used this willingness to his advantage by making lying a political weapon. His former chief strategist and editor of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, famously admitted this, bragging: “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with sht”. Much sht was thrown, and much was published – The Washington Post tracked Trump’s lies, which counted 25,000 during his presidency. If the strategy is working, why would he do anything differently?

Pleasingly, not all Australian journalists reported Staley’s conspiracy mongering as legitimate questioning of the Premier. And some chose not to report them at all. Yet, too many lazily followed the usual script of blindly repeating every public statement made by a prominent person as if it is automatically newsworthy and legitimate until proven otherwise. This is how fake news flourishes. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s not much you can do to put it back in.

Some media insiders do self-reflect, but even when they identify the problem, it does not seem to have an impact on media routines. For example, after Trump was dragged kicking and screaming from office, retiring executive director of The Washington Post, Martin Baron, admitted journalists and editors should have done a better job holding Trump to account for his lies:

“We had to be much more forthright about Trump’s mendacity, his lies over the course of the administration. We needed to call them that from the very beginning. We were very much operating on good principle; and let’s be fair, he was president, he was duly elected. But he was exploiting that. He was exploiting our principles.”

These ‘principles’ have been weaponised in bad faith by right wing politicians who give no thought to the long-term damage disinformation does to society. As evidence of just how bad this situation has got, a recent survey found one in seven Americans trust the QAnon conspiracy which peddles the laughingly outrageous accusation that the world is run by a cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles. It would be funny if it weren’t so scary. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has a close family friend who has been a leading spreader of QAnon nonsense. And of course, QAnon followers made up a huge number of the unhinged crowd who stormed the Capitol Building after being revved into an irrational frenzy by the only voice they seem to trust: Trump.

The sooner the news media act as watchdogs to maintain society’s fragile-grip on reality, rather than undermining it, the better. It is up to journalists if they want to use their power to be part of the problem of disinformation, or help solve it.

This article was originally published on Media Inequality.

Watchdogs asleep in their kennels

Political journalists pride themselves on being watchdogs who prevent abuse of power. Watchdogs are supposed to bark when they smell something suspicious. So how do you explain the news media sleeping through the exposé of suspicious secret correspondence between powerful friends in the Liberal government and the big banks? Are the watchdogs getting old and no longer have a scent for a story? Or worse, have they been muzzled by the powerful interests they are supposed to be watching?

This story is fascinating because the red-meat delivered to journalists came from an unusual source: – ACTU Secretary Sally McManus. On Tuesday afternoon 5 February 2019, the day after the Banking Royal Commission findings were handed down, the ACTU released letters they discovered through a Freedom of Information request.

These letters revealed a cosy friendship between the Liberal government and the big banks; so cosy the banks had a discussion with the Treasurer about how their possible misconduct would be investigated in a Royal Commission.

Recall on 30 November 2017 Prime Minister Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison announced plans for a Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. The day before, on 29 November, the ACTU found Morrison received a letter marked DRAFT and ‘for discussion’ from then NAB chairman Ken Henry.

This letter laid out for Morrison the bank’s recommendations on the Royal Commission’s terms of reference, the type of person the Commissioner might be, how long the Commission would last, and assurances the banks were well behaved businesses, nothing to see here, move along.

The next morning, the day the Royal Commission was announced, an almost identical letter was sent to Morrison signed by the heads of the big four banks. Low and behold, the Banking Royal Commission was relatively short. McManus pointed out it was a year as compared to two years for the Abbott government’s Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Of course there is no proof the Liberal government took advice from the banks in their design of the Banking Royal Commission. But the existence of the letters sent immediately before the Liberal government finally bowed to pressure from the Greens, Labor and their own backbench to hold a Banking Royal Commission, are highly suspicious. ACTU Secretary McManus said the letters were “another piece of evidence that the Morrison Government is protecting the big end of town.”

Social media audiences lapped the story up. In one week the ACTU’s video was viewed 210,000 times on Facebook and 73,000 times on Twitter. All this red meat, and the watchdogs slept through it. Two days after the social media release, the ACTU emailed union members asking them to share the video since they reported ‘Just one media outlet has covered this story – the ABC’. News.com.au and other News Ltd websites published the syndicated AAP video with a short caption, but never allocated a journalist to cover the story.

Where were the masthead watchdogs? Where was The Australian? Where was Fairfax? Or is Fairfax gone now? Where were the shock jocks and A Current Affair? Where was The Guardian? Where were the questions for Morrison about his correspondence with the banks? What could explain the media ignoring the ACTU’s investigation? In a week where journalists were barking for stories about the Banking Royal Commission, how was this story not a relevant contextual piece for how the Banking Royal Commission came to be? Asleep perhaps? Or muzzled by their owners who, as it turns out, also have a snug relationship with the powerful political class they’re supposed to be watching?

What makes this sleeping-dogs situation even stranger is the news media’s usual paranoia about news breaking without their input. Ever since the rise of social media, journalists have feared the threat of the audience finding news straight from the source and therefore bypassing the business model of the news media.

The ACTU’s decision to do their own journalism should be a worrying sign for the news industry. Freedom of Information requests are relatively easy to do. The ACTU showed any citizen journalist can place important information in the public’s hands by publishing it free-of-charge on the internet. Journalists chose to ignore this story, despite it being handed to them on a platter, but the ACTU reached a huge audience regardless.

There are plenty of journalists looking for work having lost their jobs in mainstream news rooms. Perhaps they will find homes in the media teams of political groups and organisations who have learned news stories don’t necessarily need to be mediated by traditional news media outlets; they can go direct.

If the old-school watchdogs are going to ignore red-meat, others will do their work for them. The public need the powerful to be held to account. If traditional journalists refuse to do it, someone else will fill the void.

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Playing the ref with a fake tax

The Liberals are playing the ref by tagging Labor’s dividend imputation policy a ‘retirement tax’. It is not surprising they see this as a productive strategy since the same thing worked with their carbon tax scare campaign.

Political journalists self-identify as watchdogs for democracy who hold the powerful to account by shining a light on the political system. This position places them between opposing political parties much like an umpire or referee neutrally enforces the rules of the game by calling out infringements.

But what happens when a team is infringing and the umpire fails to blow their whistle? Football fans know the loudest boo is reserved for bad umpiring. The rules are sacred. When they are flouted, the game is not fair, the cheaters prosper and sometimes it can even feel like the opposition has an extra player.

If rule-breaking becomes a winning strategy, umpiring business-as-usual needs an urgent review. Even with the best of intentions, if umpires are emboldening rule infringements or even encouraging blatant cheating, something urgent must be done to bring civility back to the game.

There is much discussion of journalism in crisis. Technological disruption, the rise of independent and social media and unprofitable business models are often cited as the problems. There is less analysis of how journalists’ media routines might be contributing to their own harm.

One of the most common routine formats which is supposed to represent balanced umpiring for reporting of politics is what media critic Jay Rosen refers to as ‘he said, she said journalism’. This style, however, turns journalists into stenographers rather than critical analysts of politics and is akin to an umpire ignoring the holding-the-ball rule while protecting their own credibility through the alibi of quotation marks.

Politicians take advantage of this media routine. They have learned they will get away with tucking the ball under their arm and striding boldly through the goal posts unencumbered by the whistle. The Liberal’s tagging of Labor’s dividend imputation policy as a ‘retirement tax’ is such an example of them successfully playing the ref.

By any definition, it is demonstrably false to depict Labor’s dividend imputation policy as a tax. No doubt journalists can see this for themselves. However, they have backed themselves into a corner by quoting directly Liberal government spokespeople and advertising which uses the phrase ‘retirement tax’. This coverage convinces the public Labor is introducing a new tax, thereby representing a distortion of reality.

The words ‘retirement tax’ are now in the public lexicon. The fake tax becomes a thing which is basically impossible for Labor to get rid of. The voting public rely on news media to tell them about politics. When the umpire fails to do their job, there are consequences not only for the health of democracy, but for the health of the journalistic profession. Who will ever trust the ump again?

It is not like journalists haven’t been here before and seen the damage for themselves. The Labor government’s Carbon Price was not a tax. Yet, from the very first day it was announced, the name of the policy was interchangeable with Tony Abbott’s tag of ‘carbon tax’. Using The Australian as an example, from the day Labor released the Carbon Price policy on 27 September 2010, the newspaper has referred to the carbon tax 7,735 times, as compared with the Carbon Price 2,260 times.

To add insult to injury, Gillard’s ‘failure’ to win this policy argument was then framed as her responsibility. For example, Ross Fitzgerald writing in The Weekend Australian on 30 July 2011 said the carbon tax debate was negative for Gillard because of her ‘flawed political judgment and poor communication skills’. By blaming the players for their poor result, the umpire maintains their self-perception as a neutral arbitrator of the rules and fails to see how their own actions have influenced, sometimes decisively, the terms of the debate.

In 2017, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, admitted the Carbon Price was not a carbon tax. She confessed the coalition ‘used that label to stir up brutal retail politics’. The players knew they were cheating. Why not if cheaters prosper? But what is the role of the umpire in brutal retail politics? According to The Australian’s Chris Kenny, ‘Scare campaigns are to politics what tough defence is to footy – an unavoidable part of the contest if you want to win’. When the umpires put down the whistle and see clear-as-day infringements as just par for the course, it is no wonder footy supporters are walking away from the game.

There is no such thing as Labor’s ‘retirement tax’. The Liberals are playing the ref by using journalists to pervert truth and in turn legitimise their misrepresentation. The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy said on ABC’s Insiders that Labor is ‘facing a battle to explain’ their dividend imputation policy. Labor have explained their policy numerous times. Of course it is up to journalists how they choose to frame such information. Murphy agrees that calling the policy a ‘retirement tax’ is clearly not an accurate description. Outlets who parrot this Liberal phrase are misrepresenting and constraining public debate about the policy, serving no one’s interests except the Liberals’.

Journalists are under no obligation to uncritically repeat and adopt false information from the Liberal government. Footy is a game, but politics is not. The public need journalists to blow the whistle in the interests of democracy. If they continue to fail to do this, they are forgetting the very reason they exist.

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#SolidaritySunday

They say a week is a long time in politics. Australia has just proven three weeks is an eternity. Although the days of the Liberal government seem to quickly be coming to an end, it’s still a shameful fiasco which reminds us that we’re just pawns in Liberal power games. That is why this post is a call to arms, a call to action, a call to the collective: a call for Solidarity Sunday.

So, what has happened in the last three weeks?

In a car-crash we couldn’t look away from, we saw Turnbull, Morrison and Dutton kick, scratch, claw and bite their way through a Morrison-orchestrated mud-wrestle. The Liberal Party was satisfyingly smeared with mud in the process, which was the major up-side. The major downside, however, has been watching Morrison simultaneously flooding the airwaves with vomit-inducing puff-piece-PR, while simultaneously invoking the-stuff-of-nightmares culture wars.

The Daily Telegraph has been running the charm-offensive, with ‘middle-Australia’ daggy dad photo ops and Howard-like-lowest-common-denominator waste-of-time media stunts, starting off on drought-stricken farms, moving to less than impressed toddlers, and of course the obligatory rugby-tackle-macho-press-conference. At the same time, this apparently happy-go-lucky larrikin Aussie bloke, who promised his happy-clappy religion wouldn’t interfere with his politics, has been proving me right when I said he most certainly was not a moderate. He’s gone turbo-charged-bigot by encouraging Australians to bully bisexual and trans teenagers. He’s asked a secular nation to pray that it rains. He’s brought up religious freedom again, to remind us that he didn’t want gay marriage, and he is willing to legislate to allow gay people to be discriminated against. Oh, and while this is going on, he’s also plagiarising his predecessor’s obsession with trade union bashing by calling for the deregistration of the CFMMEU, over a naughty word in a tweet. Morrison is literally trolling Australia.

These are just some of the lowlights of an extraordinarily bad start to Morrison’s term as PM, which includes the sick joke of making Abbott a ‘Special Envoy’ to Indigenous People, appointing an anti-wind-farm loony as Energy Minister, saying he wants to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, and of course standing by while Dutton heaps scandal on top of visas-for-rich-mates scandal, with no end to the potato-head-who-misled-parliament in sight. Just when we thought the Turnbull government couldn’t get any worse, Morrison popped up to show us that things can always get worse, and that when we said we wanted to see the back of the wet-lettuce-leaf-inept-Turnbull, we should have been careful what we wished for.

While this has all been going on, there have of course been other reasons to group-hug, to pull together, to show bravery in the face of adversity, to stand our ground: the Murdoch unravelling.

Again, the fireworks were fun, the popcorn was buttery, and the tweet stream as distracting as it’s ever been, but still, we face an uphill battle. This unravelling started with Chris Ulhmann’s on-air rant about Murdoch and shock-jock friends influencing the Libspill. Then Bruce Guthrie, ex Murdoch-editor jumped in and told us what we already knew: that Murdoch uses his media empire to campaign against his political rivals. Then, just to be sure, Kevin Rudd said – yep – totally true, the Murdoch media is run as a political party and is a ‘cancer eating at the heart of democracy’.

Amazing, isn’t it, how Murdoch can campaign against Labor every single day for my entire life, and suddenly when he decides a Liberal PM has to go, he’s crossed a line! Well, at least we’re talking about this now, and it’s all out in the open, so I can stop being called a conspiracy theorist.

The bad news, of course, is that Labor still has to deal with the fact that whether Murdoch wants puppet Turnbull, Morrison, Dutton or Abbott in the driver’s seat of his political arm, he most definitely does not want Bill Shorten. Now that the dust has settled, Murdoch’s minions are back obediently carrying out the core-business of ‘Killing-Bill’. That’s why all us tweeps need to protect our country, protect our collective interest, to stand together like a wall of ‘we will not be fucked with by the Liberal-Murdochracy’.

We need to defend ourselves against the oncoming anti-Labor onslaught that the Murdoch-media will heap onto us as we head into the next election, and we need to do this like never before. This could be Murdoch’s last chance at influencing an Australian election, so let’s make it his most disappointing result ever. Let’s kick Scott Morrison and his Liberal accomplices so far from office, they will never have a chance at screwing over our beautiful country ever again.

Who’s with me? #SolidaritySunday

We all know Rupert Murdoch runs the Liberal Party

We all know Rupert Murdoch runs the Liberal Party. Can we all agree it is time he stopped running the country too?

No matter who wins the ultimate cage fight victory, we all know who the real leader of the Liberal Party is. Whether Turnbull prevails to limp wet-lettuce-leaf-like to defeat at the next election, whether ScoMo blusters and lectures his way into high office, or whether the potato-man leaps triumphant from the boiling pot without being skinned, we know none of them hold any authority. No, the real leader all along is Rupert Murdoch. Always was.

Don’t believe me? Watch this rant by Chris Uhlmann who is being called brave by many other senior journalists who never had the guts to say the same. In a nutshell, Uhlmann has admitted that media commentators and journalists have become players in the political process, making themselves part of the story, and changing political outcomes because of it.

Uhlmann seemed fed up that powerful right-wing commentators have been helping Dutton to spill Turnbull’s job, suggesting that the game has gone too far. This reminds me of when I was a child. My sisters and I would be skylarking around, and my mother would say: this is going to end in tears. Uhlmann is crying because he doesn’t like the way Dutton’s media supporters are behaving, but that’s not to say Uhlmann isn’t a player too. He knows the game well. How else do you think he’s got where he is?

It’s lucky I don’t mind saying – I told you so – because I did tell you so. I’ve been talking about the disastrous impact of media ‘playing’ in the political arena for as long as I’ve been blogging. All the while, I’ve been criticised by the very few journalists who engage with me, for being a conspiracy theorist, for being ‘a broken’, for not knowing what I’m talking about.

There’s this idealism amongst media players about their role in society. They see themselves as the ‘Fourth Estate’, as watchdogs on democracy, holding the government and the opposition to account, all in the name of the public interest. We’ve been told that this leads them to be pure, objective observers of reality, and that they provide fair and balanced coverage of all things political, in order to help voters decide which leaders are worthy of our votes. This idealism tends to result in some fairly arrogant attitudes amongst journalists, such as believing they know better than the public, that they can see political events more clearly than us, and that they are un-biased in their analysis of news, unlike us ‘cheerleaders’ who take a side and can therefore not be trusted to have credible views on anything.

The clash between folk like me, who question whether journalists should be reporting leaked information from, say, disgruntled staffers in a Labor MPs office, when there is clearly a political motivation behind the leak, and the journalists who constantly claim everything is above board and there’s nothing to see here, move along, has become more and more toxic in recent weeks. I’ve been blocked by many senior political journalists for complaining they are inserting themselves into political games rather than being the objective and fair custodians of truth that they claim to be. I’ve complained that they, intentionally or not, bias their reporting towards ready-made narratives, without hearing, or seeking alternative explanations. I’ve complained that balance doesn’t mean ‘he said, she said’, it means investigating both sides of a story and giving the reader a fair assessment of the credibility of both claims. If one side says it’s raining, and the other says it’s not, it’s the job of a journalists to look out the window and tell us which is correct. I know it’s not always as easy as that, but at the very least, journalists could try.

I know there are good journalists out there, but there are also terrible journalists out there. Lot’s of them. Let’s get this straight. You are not a watchdog on democracy when you are a player in the political process. This whole situation has been made worse by the number of media players who have stepped straight out of political roles, and into the news media. There are media players who gleefully talk of vendetta journalism, like it’s totally normal that a journalist would campaign against political opponents (I’m looking at you Sharri Markson). Sharri, incidentally, doesn’t appreciate Uhlmann’s comments, what a huge surprise, and claims she can single-handily assure the public that News Corp has had nothing to do with Dutton’s campaign, because apparently she knows everything that is going on in that entire organisation, and the Daily Telegraph are pure news reporters who don’t play political games, and also there are fairies living in my bathroom cabinet.

The point is, the cat is now out of the bag, and we all knew it was there all along. So what? You don’t need to be writing a PhD thesis on this stuff, which I currently am, to understand why it’s dangerous for media players to be so tangled, twisted, intertwined and meddling in the political process. These people claim to be speaking the truth to power, when really they’re distorting the only version of political reality the voters can realistically access, using the voice of the powerful. This means that powerful people, like Rupert Murdoch, can, on a whim, decide to change the Prime Minister of Australia, and his media-playing-employees go about making that happen. It’s the stuff of dictatorships. It’s the stuff of corrupt, fascist, bullying regimes where the public are misinformed in order to control them. This is not small fry. This is our country, and Rupert Murdoch is pulling the strings.

I’ll finish on this. Jacinda Ardern, the young, optimistic, proactive, kind, authoritative and competent Prime Minister of New Zealand is paving a truly impressive progressive agenda for her country, and she is doing so with popular support from the public. New Zealand doesn’t have any Murdoch media. Enough said.

We need to talk about Mitchell

On Monday night, I had the pleasure of being one of the first ‘people’ to sit on the Q&A People’s Panel. I had a great time telling Matt Canavan that he has to break up with coal. The one thing I did not enjoy, however, was Mitchell.

Mitchell Walton, one of the other ‘people’ on the panel, is a certified troll. Here is some of his skin-crawl-inducing-work from his now defunct social media feeds:




You might think the point of this post is to call out the Q&A producers for having a person with such deplorable views (yes I chose that word on purpose) on the People’s Panel. But, I actually don’t think it’s the ABC’s job to sanitise the cross section of the community for the television audience. The reality is, there are Mitchells out there-a-plenty. And the scary part is I don’t think Mitchell is as ‘fringe’ or ‘extreme’ as you might think. Have you been on Twitter lately? Watched parliament? The Q&A producers chose Mitchell to represent the right wing of politics, and I think he did that in spades. Sorry to break it to you everyone: Australia is still a very bigoted country.

I got to meet Mitchell in the green room before the show, and he was a fairly nondescript person who showed absolutely no clue of the dark resentful mess that spews into his social media feed. He mostly stood quietly, so I can only presume he was hyping himself up to be as controversial as possible.

It was fairly clear from the outset that he was on the show to bring the bigotry. His video entry mentioned his dislike of paying tax – an amusing statement by an ex-police officer who has a school teacher wife, and I was relishing the opportunity to discuss the inherent contradiction in these positions. But, alas, tax fell by the wayside when it came to his A’s for the Q’s: he brought with him a cocktail of misogynistic and homophobic views in his bigotry handbag (see above tweets), but he chose racism as his priority insult.

His overarching narrative encapsulated the simplistic (and entirely incorrect) scapegoating of every problem in the country as being the fault of non-white immigrants. It didn’t matter when people like me made the point that the Australian economy relies on immigration for economic growth (even the Australian says that!), because Mitchell, I can assure you, is not changing his mind. He clearly doesn’t like black or brown people, and appeared to get a wicked thrill from accusing them of wrecking everything, at every opportunity.

Most of what Mitchell said was a mix between babble and uninformed resentment aimed at immigrants. He tied his argument in knots by trying to overlay overt racism with a patronising tone of conciliatory reasonableness, which meant his statements petered out into vague dog whistling. Sound familiar? Mitchell surely learned from the best of them: Donald Trump. Or maybe he had tutors closer to home – he voted for Australia’s very own Trumpet – Tony Abbott, and said he has considered voting for Pauline Hanson or Cory Bernardi.

And why do you think Mitchell applied to be on the panel? He never said, but I can guess he hoped to build a political following. Perhaps he wants to be a shock jock. I’m sure Sky News would have him. Or, perhaps more likely, he wants to run for parliament – maybe as a One Nation candidate, or side by side with Cory Bernardi. Why wouldn’t Mitchell aspire to lead a nation that has leaders like Matt Canavan, who happily nodded along in agreement whenever Mitchell spoke, and joined his racist chorus in saying:

“But now, today, I’m worried that most of our migration gets concentrated in our major cities and there is a certain ghettoisation in some aspects of this, where there is parts of cities that are different cultures. Now, I want to maintain one culture in this country. We should have… We’re multicultural, but we should have one Australian culture we get behind, and I think it would be a lot better if we could spread our migration patterns around the country, perhaps like we did do in the past”.

Don’t think for a moment that Canavan doesn’t know his right wing base. He knows he is speaking to hundreds of thousands of Mitchells when he says ‘ghettoisation’, ‘one Australian culture’, ‘we’re multicultural, but…’ These are lines straight out of the ‘how to win votes by being racist’ song book. So, the problem is not that the ABC allowed Mitchell a platform. Don’t shoot the messenger. The problem is that the country elects people like Canavan, Hanson and Bernardi, who further embolden the worst side of our country – the Mitchells – to believe their most bigoted ideas and their most offensive thoughts make for great campaign material.

As I said in response to the first question on the panel, we get the government we deserve. If we democratically choose to undermine the values and civility of our great nation by laying down with dogs, we deserve all the vile fleas we get.

The capitalism beast beneath the bed

One of my daughter’s favourite bedtime stories is The Beast Beneath the Bed. The little boy in the book is scared of the beast beneath his bed – his scratchy snarls and little growls echo in the dark. These are the sounds of the beast messing up his room at night while he’s asleep. The boy loses his temper when the beast crosses a line by gobbling up his teddy bear; he yells: ‘stop it now, you fiend, you’ve messed up all my precious things and I like to keep them neat’. He then realises the beast is just as scared of him as he is of the beast. Once the boy gets to know the beast, they agree to compromise and get along, and end up wishing each other good night as they live happily ever after. The moral is, they each had different priorities in life – the beast likes mess, the boy likes order – and if they could just both compromise and find a common ground, they could get along fine.

I thought of this book as I watched the delicious live telecast of the Banking Royal Commission on Friday. For many years, left-wingers like me have been worrying and fearful about the capitalism beast beneath the bed. We have been watching the messy damage the beast has left in our communities, but we’ve been finding it difficult to articulate what to do about it. We’ve been too scared to address the idea of a beast so big, and struggled to give it a name. But, now that we’ve finally had our chance to meet this beast, to put it on the stand and interrogate its intentions, we find it is just a tanned celebrity Financial Planner by the name of Sam Henderson who lives on the Northern Beaches, loves surfing, skiing and crossfit. Once we meet this Sam, and we look at the damage he has done, and why he has done it, we, as a community, can see how things must change if we are to safely live with this beast, side by side. Now that we understand what led this beast to eat our teddy bear, we can finally understand what it will take for us all the get along with capitalism.

Don’t get me wrong, the Sam Henderson capitalism beast is a messy little shit. And, he is representative of a lot of other messy little beasts throughout not just the banking industry, but no doubt any industry with the profit motive. So, basically all of them. What we learned from our little delve into the world of Sam is that, if a capitalist can make money out of something, they will do it, and they will make whatever mess it takes to do it, as long as there is nothing standing in their way.

I thought of the beast beneath the bed swinging across the room on the boy’s lampshade, and falling bump onto the floor, as I watched Sam be probed, in excruciating detail, about how he came to almost lose $500,000 of Donna McKenna’s super balance. The only reason Sam failed in this planned-financial-ruin is because Donna, who is a Fair Work Commissioner, was savvy enough to check the recommendations of this financial planning ‘Practice of the Year’ before signing on the dotted line and picked up the ‘error’ the messy Sam had made while racing to charge her big bucks for financial advice.

Sam’s mess included him having to admit he knew one of his employees impersonated Donna between 6 and 8 times to get her super account details from the fund she was in, while simultaneously claiming he didn’t know why his employee would do this. The mess included Sam admitting he advertised himself as having a Masters of Finance degree he had never actually graduated from. The mess also included Sam referring to the complaint Donna made about him to his professional body – Financial Planning Australia (FPA) – as ‘knit picking’. We saw evidence of Sam threatening the FPA that if they didn’t treat him well throughout the complaint process, he would make life hard for them with fellow-FPA-member colleagues.

Here lies the problem. Since when has it ever been a good idea for beasts to join together in a beastly fashion and investigate their own beastly mess? Taking a wider view, as I’ve said, Sam is just one of many beasts, in just one of many beastly capitalist industries. Now that we see the mess these beasts are making, and the failure of their bullied-self-funded-so-called-professional-beastly-bodies to clean up this mess, the little boys – the community – the society in which we live – must take back control of this capitalist beast. If they won’t behave, we need to set down some rules for us to live happily side by side. If they don’t follow these rules, they should be banished from our bedrooms.

The little boy compromises with the beast by making a special deal: he would ‘let him play with all his toys, if he promised not to steal’, and the beast agreed not to eat the boys shoes if he left him out some bread. So, as a community, represented by our government, we should agree with the beasts that we will let them keep making money by giving financial advice, let them keep eating their bread, if they agree to adhere to strict, legislated regulations which protect the community from their wilful disregard for our needs. Our needs include not being ripped off. Not having our teddy bears gobbled up. Not being screwed over in the role of consumer, and worker. Not having our lives made a mess by unconstrained-greed-from-messy-capitalist-beasts.

I’m so glad we’ve now met this beast, and we can urgently begin the process of legislating regulations to keep it in check. The only way the community can sleep well at night with a beast beneath the bed, is if that beast is forced to behave correctly. We live in a capitalist society, and whether people like it or not, this system is not about to change. The point is, we don’t have to be fearful of capitalism, and in fact we can get along with capitalism, once we name the beast, and rein in its mess. Now we understand how this mess is made, we’re in a much stronger position to do this. Bring on the regulations, properly and independently enforced. Let’s change the rules.

It’s the demographics, stupid

Why do the Greens exist? It depends who you ask.

Some say the purpose of the Greens is to pull Labor to the left. This strategy is justified by Greens voters as a way to ‘keep the bastards honest’, and is often coupled with misleading and unthinking statements such as ‘Labor and Liberals are just as bad as each other’.

I understand the theory here is that the more MPs Greens get into parliament, the more they can hold Labor to ransom on environmental policies and asylum seekers. But, when the reality of this position is that Greens block environmental policies such as Labor’s ETS because ‘it doesn’t go far enough’, yet then help the Liberals to pass pension cuts, I’m not sure how this is successful in practice.

When the Greens refuse to work constructively with the Gillard government to develop a regional solution to manage asylum seeker arrivals, because ‘it is not onshore processing’, only then to have Sarah Hanson-Young admit later that a policy like the Malaysian Solution, where asylum seekers are processed overseas before being flown to Australia, might be something the Greens would consider, it appears the Greens are less interested in working constructively with Labor to ensure policies are ‘left wing’, and instead are more interested in blocking Labor’s attempt to make progress.

The other problem with this ‘pull Labor’ theory is that it doesn’t pull Labor to be more left-wing. This is because most of the people who have left Labor to support the Greens, are from Labor’s left-flank. So, by losing numbers on the left, Labor’s right-flank is strengthened, which clearly won’t do anything to pull Labor to the left.

Others, like Ben Eltham in New Matilda, claim the Greens exist to govern in Coalition with Labor. This is a far preferable option for a Labor supporter like me, as rather than having the Greens constantly fighting against Labor, it would be to everyone’s betterment if Labor and Greens worked constructively as a team. However, the only hole in this theory is that, as far as I can tell, the Greens aren’t trying to steal seats off Liberals to make the Labor and Greens coalition unbeatable on the floor of the parliament. Instead, they are putting all their energy and resources into taking Labor’s inner-city seats.

Apart from a strong attempt at unseating Kelly O’Dwyer in the wealthy inner-city Victorian seat of Higgins, with the Greens candidate Jason Ball placing second in the 2016 election, the biggest recent campaigns from the Greens have been in Labor-held inner-city seats. Bandt took Melbourne from Labor after Lindsay Tanner retired in 2013, and in 2016, focused on taking the seats of Labor’s Tanya Plibersek in Sydney and Labor’s Anthony Albanese in Grayndler. So, if the Labor Greens coalition is going to happen, clearly the Greens want Labor to do the heavy lifting of winning seats off the government. Not really helping.

What about the Green elephant in the room that not many will admit is there? This, I would argue, is the real reason the Greens exist, as evidenced through their behaviour, and that is to replace Labor as the major party of the left. Bob Brown himself admitted to this when he said ‘we don’t want to keep the bastards honest, we want to replace them’. This week, former Queensland Greens candidate, Ben Pennings echoed Brown when he wrote ‘Rather than drag Labor slightly to the left, maybe it’s time for The Greens … to ‘cut out the middle man’ and replace them…?’.

Now the elephant has been identified, I want to talk about it. How exactly do the Greens plan to replace Labor as the major party of the left? Do they want to develop attractive progressive policies that address wealth inequality in order to persuade voters through real-life outcomes to make Australians better off? Judging by Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s cynical grab for conservative votes in Batman by calling Labor’s dividend imputation changes an ‘attack on so many people in this community’ the answer to this is no. Do they want to focus on local issues in each electorate, dependant on the varying needs and wants of the voters there, and do the hard yards work of incrementally improving their circumstances through the slog of parliamentary negotiation and legislative advancement? Not that I can see. Or, do they want to campaign with ‘stop Adani’ sloganeering and by framing the Liberal’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers as the work of the Labor Party, without offering any alternative policy solutions to actually help solve these complex policy issues? I think you can answer that one. So, if they’re not doing the policy work to replace Labor, what exactly are the Greens doing to win Labor’s inner-city seats?

The Greens are waiting for inner city suburbs to gentrify to the point where working-class Labor voters no longer live there. It’s the demographics stupid. Let’s look at the Batman by election. A lot was written about the Bell Street divide, such as this New Daily article aptly titled ‘The hipster-proof fence’.

From thenewdaily.com.au

The map of booth results from the 2016 election shows clearly that the northern side of the Bell Street divide, furthest away from the city, are still committed to Labor. According to Real Estate.com, the Batman suburb of Reservoir in the north has a median house price of $825,000. A suburb on the southern, inner-city Greens side of divide, Northcote, comparatively has an average house price half a million higher at $1,325,000. That’s quite a wealth-divide.

So, do the Greens claim it is just a coincidence that their voters live in more expensive houses, on the richest side of the electorate? When commentators, ad nauseam, say Labor’s inner-city seats are ‘under threat from the Greens’, do they realise what they are really saying is: traditional Labor voters have been priced out of this electorate and the class who have moved in don’t align themselves with Labor working class values and are therefore not buying what Labor is selling?

I have always found it odd how offended people get when their privilege is pointed out to them, but the truth is, Greens voters, by and large, are in the privileged position of not needing, and therefore, not caring as much as Labor voters do about Labor’s policy priorities.

Where Labor campaigns to save Medicare, to raise the minimum wage and save penalty rates, to fund public schools and to make work more secure, Greens voters needs are met in these areas and therefore they aren’t turned on by this message.

Greens voters, by and large, are less likely to be living in public housing, less likely to be struggling to pay the rent, and are much less likely to have seen their manufacturing jobs disappear, and are more likely to be in white-collar professions where wage rises are negotiated without union involvement. How else do they afford million-dollar homes in gentrified inner-city seats? So, with these needs met, they look elsewhere for a political message to resonate and they find it in the party promising to focus on humanitarian issues and environmental protection.

There is nothing wrong with being privileged. I would far prefer rich inner-city voters chose Greens than Liberals. And there is obviously nothing wrong with caring a lot about asylum seeker policy and environmental problems like climate change. I’m a Labor supporter and I care deeply about these issues too. But, when Greens focus solely on these issues as an electoral strategy to divert progressives away from Labor, with a narrow view of political progress that excludes the most disadvantaged in society, people who couldn’t dream of affording to live in Northcote, are they really helping the progressive cause? Are they really helping to make Australia a more progressive country to live in by stealing gentrified seats from Labor? I don’t believe they are.

You often hear Greens voters say ‘Labor lost me with XYZ asylum seeker policy’. Perhaps what they’re really saying is ‘Labor lost me when I lost the need for Labor policies’. The sad part is that while Greens take Labor policies for granted, and battle to take Labor seats, even when Liberals are in government, trashing the environment and doing all manner of vindictive harm to asylum seekers, who is really winning? It sure isn’t Labor. And it’s not the Greens. So how did we end up here again?

The triple-pincers: showing their true colours

There is a line in the brilliant Anat Shenker-Osorio’s book Don’t Buy It which Labor should use as their mantra when developing policies and communicating them. Attributed to political advertising expert Ryan Clayton, Anat says:

‘a winning message is one that engages the base, persuades the middle, and provokes the opposition to reveal its true colors’.

Too often, Labor seems to be trying to appease voters by being all things to all people. But this usually results in beige policy, and bland messaging which doesn’t cut through, and doesn’t rouse support.

It’s obvious why Labor does this. It’s particularly obvious to me, who is half-way through a PhD researching the way media reports industrial relations disputes and Labor policy. Labor, understandably, are wary of the media’s reaction to their policy announcements. And they have every right to be.

The patterned response by the media is the same whenever Labor offers up a progressive policy. Let’s use the example of the mining tax (which incidentally was the topic of my honours thesis).

Step 1: Labor announces the policy.

Progressives take a look and are impressed, noting that it is tackling wealth inequality and the two-speed economy, sharing the wealth from the sale of minerals owned by the entire community with that community.

Step 2: The triple-pincer-movement of opposition to the mining tax erupts.

The Liberal Nationals, mining company owners and the mainstream media commence a campaign of hyperbole, threats, doom and gloom, telling voters the latest Labor Great Big Tax is going to ruin us all, jobs will be lost everywhere, food will be taken out of children’s mouths, and the economy will retaliate against the little guys who should get back in their box and stop expecting wealth to be shared.

At this point I should note that my research showed 75% of mining tax newspaper articles from the day the policy was released, to the day the campaign culminated in Rudd being ousted as PM, shared the same ‘economy will suffer from the mining tax’ narrative as the Liberals and mining executives. So maybe not every article, but a dominant majority.

Step 3: The triple-pincer-movement discreetly shifts the doom and gloom narrative from complaining about the mining tax, to claiming it is an electoral problem for Labor.

This is a very clever strategy that certain vested-interests in the media use, fed no doubt by media ‘liaison’ from fellow pincers, to generate public opposition against Labor policies.

Simply, the media reports there has been a ‘backlash’ against the policy, and that creates a backlash against the policy. In a subtle form of agenda setting, the media know the news audience takes more notice of an issue when it is costing Labor votes than they do when it’s just the mining executives complaining about having to pay tax.

Where else have I seen this strategy used recently? Oh yes – Labor’s dividend imputation changes. Of course with any taxation change, there will be ‘losers’. In this case, Labor announced on the same day as they launched the policy that 200,000 non-tax-paying shareholders would stop receiving dividend cash back from the government. Immediately, journalists raced to find evidence of ‘backlash’ against the policy by framing these 200,000 shareholders as victims of a Labor policy.

Immediately, Labor was framed as villainously engaged in a ‘$59b grab’ – you grab something you’re not entitled to – therefore Labor was in the wrong for grabbing money from poor shareholder victims. And these victims were given various soap-boxes to tell their sad tale of victimhood, as evidence of the backlash against villainous Labor.

Then the narrative quickly shifted, in time for elections on the weekend to ‘how dumb of Labor to release a policy which incurs backlash on the same week as a state election and a Federal by election’. Greens leader Richard Di Natale piled on, trying to ‘capitalise on the backlash Labor has received’ and it certainly didn’t end well for him. History will show Labor won the by election and lost the state election, albeit with a 1.5% swing towards. But I digress.

The point of the imaginary backlash, or the focus on a very small number of unhappy well-off-people in the great scheme of things, which is to be expected when inequality is finally being addressed, or the focus on just the downsides of the policy, and not the upsides, is that the media is bringing about a certain response to the policy, by manipulating their reporting in favour of that certain response to a policy.

Back to the mining tax. In fact, the policy was broadly popular. As this Essential poll shows, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, after the pincer-movement-sky-is-falling campaign against it, and by the time the Liberal Party got their wish of using the promise to axe the tax to win an election, was supported by 52% of the population. Not exactly a mandated backlash then.

But there’s something even more important in this poll, which takes me back to Anat: ‘a winning message is one that engages the base, persuades the middle, and provokes the opposition to reveal its true colors’.

Look at the mining tax poll figures broken down by parties:

Approve of mining tax:
Labor voters: 76%
Greens voters: 79%
Liberal voters: 33%

Disapprove of mining tax:
Labor voters: 12%
Greens voters: 12%
Liberal voters: 55%

The base is clearly engaged. The middle is being happily persuaded; 33% of Liberal voters approve of the policy and therefore it can safely be assumed some of them might vote accordingly. Remember, Labor only needs a very small margin of people to stop voting Liberal and vote Labor in order to blitz the next election. A 3% swing would give Labor 14 additional seats. And the last bit – making the opposition reveals its true colours?

This is where Labor needs to embrace the obvious, predictable and reliable scare campaign that is thrown at them every time they introduce a Labor-values policy. And that includes the media. What do I mean by this? In the initial policy release, Labor should state in no uncertain terms that they expect the triple-pincer-movement – the Liberals, big business (the very rich) and their cheer squad in the media – to be enraged by the policy. Shorten did this nicely on the Today show, saying ‘I’m going to choose the battler over the top end of town’.

When the triple-pincer movement strikes, this just shows how the policy is the right thing to do. Because they would say that, wouldn’t they? The pincers don’t want to do something about inequality (show their true colours), and Labor do. The pincers always stick up the top end of town, and never the little guy (show their true colours), and Labor do. The media don’t report Labor policies in a fair and balanced way – and Labor should make this point clear.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says he is over the mainstream media, and I agree with him. There are thankfully growing opportunities for Labor to bypass the traditional news, to reach the voters directly, opportunities they are clearly embracing. But, while they still rely predominantly on the mainstream media to inform the public of new Labor policies, the best way to develop a winning message – to engage the base and persuade the middle, is to heap the mainstream media in with the other pincers, who show their true colours like clockwork every time.

We need to talk about Jean

This week, in response to Labor’s announcement that shareholders who pay no tax will no longer be getting cash back from the government, the Herald Sun introduced us to Jean.

Case Study 1: Jean is retired with a large self-managed super fund. She receives $29,810 in dividends from bank shares and $130,000 from other assets. As the fund is in the pension phase, and pays $0 tax. Jean is currently entitled to a $12,775 rebate. Under Labor, Jean would lose that.

Now, let’s just get something straight right up front. Jean only ever got this cash back in the first place because Howard and Costello wanted to sure up her vote in case she was tempted by racism to vote for Pauline Hanson. This is not a usual way for governments to manage shareholders and company tax – Australia is only one of four countries that offers such a scheme and the original dividend imputation policy designed by the Keating government had no such rort, I mean perk. I meant rort actually.

But, now that we know about Jean, who ‘would lose that’, I think this is the perfect time for us to talk about Jean. We should thank the Herald Sun for kicking off this healthy discussion.

Let’s start at the beginning. We knew the Liberals, in concert with their media arm, the Murdoch press, would launch a propaganda scare campaign against Labor’s very sensible, fiscally responsible, wealth-inequality battling policy to no longer give self-funded retirees cash they don’t need. How did we know? Because that’s what the Liberals and their media arm, the Murdoch press, exist to do. The sky is falling. Everyone is ruined. The economy will rise up like an angry god and smite us all for hurting those who have bestowed trickle-down wealth upon us. And so on and so forth.

I must admit, it’s a sad turn of events that the likes of Leigh Sales on ABC’s 730 is also playing this game, seeking out Lyle-we need those dividends to live-Essery, to show their sad sad faces on TV, to tell Labor how naughty and mean they are for hurting Jean and Lyle, who did nothing to deserve this. But that’s the thing. Jean and Lyle did do nothing to deserve this magical cash-back bribe from Howard and Costello, other than possibly considering voting for Pauline Hanson, and no one should be rewarded for that dirty idea.

But, now that the likes of Jean, and the ABC’s Lyle, are all over the media sharing their suffering, and being given a national audience to urge people not to even consider voting for the possibly-Communist Labor Party who want to spend Jean and Lyle’s cash-back on evil things like schools, healthcare, income tax cuts for workers who haven’t had a pay rise in years, and have the highest house prices and power bills of any generation ever, I have three questions:

1) Why am I meant to be sympathetic to Jean and her poor share portfolio, but I’m not being asked to be sympathetic to people with disabilities and the unemployed who are constantly being bullied and threatened by the Turnbull government who is working as hard as they can to pull their social safety net out from under them, leaving them destitute and possibly homeless? Could they possibly move in with Jean?

2) Related to the above, why is cutting welfare spending framed as a perfectly legitimate government policy, responsible in fact, in order to do the ‘heavy lifting’ job of ‘budget repair’ in response to a supposed ‘debt and deficit disaster’, but saving billions by not giving people with share portfolios most of us could never dream of owning, nor the tax accountants to minimise our tax to zero to help fund it, is apparently bad bad bad?

3) Why does Lyle get to tell his sad ‘my share portfolio might need to be rearranged’ story on TV, but we don’t get to hear the stories of workers who are locked out of their work for asking for a pay rise, or the people being villainised for being unemployed, or the families of children who attend underfunded schools, or the single-mother who can’t afford to take her child to the doctor because of Liberal cuts to Medicare? Why do the Liberals and the media, not just Murdoch-run, but Fairfax and the ABC as well, give Jean and Lyle a run, but don’t tell the other side of the story?

I would like to talk about this please. Because, the problem is not just this story. This same situation happens time and time again, political story after political story, the frame is always the same. I think Jean is just the wakeup call this country’s political landscape needs. What is the society we really want, and how are the Liberals, their media-arm and their rusted-on self-entitled Liberal voting Jeans and Lyle’s stopping us getting that? And if we’re really serious about doing something about wealth inequality, how are we going to get there with this tsunami of elite and powerful opposition against positive change? Answers can be posted below, cheers.

Barnaby Joyce: he doesn’t think properly

This is a guest post by Kay Rollison, my wonderful mother, who was so fired up about the Barnaby Joyce saga, she just couldn’t let it be until she had written about her ‘hierarchy of deeds’. Enjoy!

I know there’s already been a lot written about Barnaby Joyce from many perspectives. But I still think it’s worth distilling the whole affair into a sort of Maslow-esque taxonomy – Kay’s hierarchy of deeds. I’ll start with what is actually the least important and work up to the main game.

7.The Affair. In itself this is not really important, though it’s the only aspect of the whole saga that has attracted LNP – or was it Lucy Turnbull’s – attention with the bonk ban. Sex between senior and more junior staff in an office often creates tensions in the workplace, as it did in Joyce’s office, but sex is not the real issue here. Conflict of interest is. You can’t stop consenting adults having sex; outlawing it only makes it more fun. But you can at least try to eliminate the potential for conflict of interest by requiring staff to declare their involvement with each other, and prohibit a senior staff member from advantaging a junior partner in terms of work allocation, promotion or whatever. If you are ashamed of the liaison and don’t want it made public – like you already have a partner and kids – that’s tough, and maybe you should re-think the whole situation. But you only have to tell one person in confidence – in this case the Prime Minister, and refrain from advantaging your partner.

6. Hypocrisy. If you campaign on traditional ‘family values’ and oppose the equal rights of others in the community to marry, while all the time you are two-timing your family, then you deserve to be called out on it. Joyce’s comment that introducing the Gardasil vaccine might result in ‘an overwhelming backlash from people saying, “Don’t you dare put something out there that gives my 12-year-old daughter a licence to be promiscuous”’ didn’t help either.

5. Perks. Conflict of interest. See above. I won’t go into all the job moves, the non-jobs and the paid stress leave of Joyce’s partner. But people are entitled to know what was done for her. That Turnbull’s office didn’t know about it is beyond belief – why else were there crisis meetings about it before the New England by-election, as revealed by Sharri Markson. Turnbull’s assertion that they weren’t in a relationship so that the Ministerial Code wasn’t breached doesn’t pass either the Centrelink or the pub test. And his decision to kill the investigation into Joyce’s perks once he had resigned sounds pretty much like a deal: you go and I’ll stop the investigation. Though it may have been a National Party ultimatum after the new(ish) formal complaint of sexual harassment. Who knows? What a train wreck.

4. More conflicts of interest. The undeclared free apartment has raised questions about Joyce’s relationship with rich mates, and focussed attention on other potential conflicts of interest. These include moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority into his electorate at a cost to taxpayers of $25.6 million (meaning they would stay in his mate’s hotel) and the purchase of land adjacent to the inland railway route, Joyce’s pet project, which may or may not have raised the value of that land. Joyce denies any conflict of interest, but then he would, wouldn’t he. (Never mind that the railway won’t generate a commercial return.) When the conservative premier Tommy Bent did something similar in the early twentieth century, they called him for what it was: Bent by name and bent by nature. And who could forget Gina Rinehart’s $40,000 ‘award’ that Joyce had to give back?

3. The press cover-up. This comes higher in the hierarchy because a properly functioning press is a prerequisite for a properly functioning democracy, and we don’t have one. Since news of the affair was published in the Daily Telegraph, journalists from all sections of the mainstream media have fallen over themselves trying to justify why the story – which was clearly well known in Canberra – wasn’t reported before the New England by-election. The argument that it was a private matter simply doesn’t bear scrutiny; the hypocrisy and conflict of interest issues were there clear to see, and were matters of legitimate public interest. Accusing the public of being prurient for wanting to know such information is a pathetic reaction from people who couldn’t – or chose not to – do their jobs. Sharri Markson’s admission that the story wasn’t revealed as part of a vendetta against Joyce and was expected only to run for a couple of days is peculiar but revealing; did the Daily Telegraph really think people wouldn’t care about anything but the affair, news of which, if that was all there was to it, might indeed have quickly vanished without trace?

But it’s so much more than just an affair; it has legs and was off running as soon as it was revealed. People don’t care about the sex but do care about the rorts. Maybe the full story might have damaged Joyce’s chances at the by-election, or maybe it wouldn’t. But given that the LNP’s majority was at stake, it looks awfully like a cover-up, just in case. Politically motivated or just protecting other insiders? Bit of both maybe, but political coverup seems more likely. And the Murdoch press has form – lots of it.

2. The secret coalition agreement. This looks like a bit of a jump from the Barnaby Joyce affair. But there are significant connections. Turnbull had to sign it to get the Nationals to support him as Prime Minister. It apparently prevented him from sacking Joyce; only the Nationals could do that. It also apparently covers the allocation of portfolios, giving Joyce responsibility for water resources, then resources and Northern Australia (his friend Gina Rhinehart’s pet project), then infrastructure and transport. And it presumably has policy implications about what issues the government can or cannot tackle, and how they should do it. Turnbull’s weakness allowed Barnaby to do as he wanted – in matters large and small.

1. Bad policy. Allowing – and maybe even actively supporting – water theft in the Murray Darling Basin. Positive support for coal, opposition to renewables and inaction – or waste of money on Direct Action – on climate change. Pork barrelling in rural electorates. These policy disasters stem from the same sense of entitlement that Joyce showed in the conduct of his affair, but have much more significant results. They are the real legacy of Barnaby Joyce.

I’ll leave you with a comment from a local in Joyce’s electorate quoted by The Monthly:

“He’s a climate change denier, Barnaby Joyce, and I just find such people disturbing, and we lost him because he had sex with someone, I just find that also disturbing, we should be losing him because he doesn’t think properly.”

By Kay Rollison

Just a flesh wound

It was only meant to be a flesh wound, it wasn’t meant to end Barnaby’s career. That was his fault.

This is the basic message from the Daily Telegraph, where Sharri Markson revealed insider knowledge of the ‘crisis talks between the offices of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister’ in the lead up to the New England by election, about how to hide Joyce’s affair with his media staffer.

If you’re confused about how it could be that Markson, who on October 20, before the New England by election, reported the rumours of Joyce’s affair as ‘vicious innuendo’, can now be admitting to knowledge of the crisis talks before the by election (why would there be crisis talks about rumours?), and can also be the very same journalist to win the ‘scoop’ of the front page story confirming the rumours, with a photo of the pregnant mistress who used to work at the Daily Telegraph, you’re not alone. But it gets even more-confusing still, while at the same time making perfect sense.

Markson’s ‘analysis’ of these crisis talks reads like an apology to Joyce, as if everything got a bit out of hand, and he was never meant to lose his position as Nationals leader, Deputy PM and Cabinet Minister, and that this kerfuffle was not to be blamed on the poor innocent Daily Tele – any damage done was Joyce’s fault for not handling the story well. Markson writes:

‘The government got through the by election without the secret exposed’ – because Markson chose not to expose the secret – and Joyce’s resignation today ‘is down to his (Joyce’s) serial mismanagement of what could have been a one – or two-day story – which is all it was ever intended to be, for there was no vendetta against Joyce or malice towards him by The Daily Telegraph’.

Read it twice if you need to. I know I did.

Now let’s unpack that layered statement, shall we? We know the government got through the by election without the secret exposed, which raises questions about the integrity of journalists across the nation, who are all defensively claiming to have the upmost honour in never reporting ‘vicious innuendo’, unless of course that vicious innuendo in some way damages a Labor government, and then it’s a ‘questions to answer’ pile on with no end in sight.

Next. Markson only ever intended for the story to be a one or two-day story. Let that sink in. Markson is admitting here, or even boasting, that the Daily Tele decides how long a story runs in the media, and that if they decide to press go (with the shot of the pregnant mistress), they can also decide to press stop. This one just got away from them. Not like usual. I shit you not.

We’re not finished yet. The reason it was only ever intended to be a one-or-two-days-at-the-most story, a flesh-wound and not a career-ending scandal, is because, low and behold, The Daily Telegraph, in all its personified wisdom has ‘no vendetta against’ or ‘malice towards’ Barnaby Joyce. The Deputy PM from the Liberal National Coalition is a mate of the Daily Telegraph, naturally, so, as Markson innocently explains, they weren’t out to get him – he just tripped and fell of his own accord.

Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. As we knew, but we never thought the Daily Telegraph would admit, the Murdoch press holds vendettas against individuals, and shows malice towards them in their editorial positions. Like Julia Gillard, for instance. Like Craig Thomson. Like Peter Slipper. Like Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten, Dan Andrews, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Jay Weatherill, name any Labor politician from the last few decades and the story is the same: vendetta and malice by the truckload from the Murdoch media. And they’ve just admitted it.

You seriously couldn’t make this shit up. Sharri’s not making it up. Sharri, the journalist who ironically had to go ‘undercover’ to a journalism course at university in order to ‘expose’ the left-wing brainwashing of the media (ha!), who claimed not to know about Joyce’s affair, then did know, then apologised for knowing, and admitted she did know before after all, has laid it out very clearly. The Murdoch media is not interested in reporting about politics. They’re interested in playing politics. It’s just such a pity that so many Australians are still willing to be played.

The truth bomb that terrifies Turnbull

Image from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-18/prime-minister-malcolm-turnbull/7333460

There is mass outrage today at the news that Turnbull has pressured the ABC to take down and censor parts of an article by Emma Alberici which analysed how little tax some of Australia’s largest companies pay. This story reeks of a scandalous government intervention in a publicly owned free press. But this isn’t the only story. In fact, it’s not the biggest story. If you look closely at exactly what was removed from the article before it was reposted, you can see what Turnbull was so desperate to censor. And you immediately see where this desperation comes from: a fear that his house of cards is about to come crashing down, blown up by a truth bomb. Because the line that was taken out of this article smashes not just Turnbull’s entire political ideology, his political career and his government’s hold on power; it also smashes the right wing narrative the world over. The stakes are that high.

This is the key line which the public no longer have access to:

There is no compelling evidence that giving the country’s biggest companies a tax cut sees that money passed on to workers in the form of higher wages.

The Guardian reports that ABC director of news, Gaven Morris, gave in to Turnbull’s pressure to change the article because ‘he believed it sounded too much like opinion’. In other words, Turnbull told Morris that Alberici’s statement of fact – that there is no compelling evidence that tax cuts trickle-down to workers – is not a fact, and is instead an opinion.

At this point, we could waste hours of outrage, sending Gaven Morris every ABC news article ever printed, with segments highlighted to show how opinion is inherent in any news article – whether it be opinion about what is important to report, how the report is framed, which ‘facts’ make it in and which are excluded, who is used as a source, what order those sources are used, who doesn’t get a chance to speak, and what prominence the story is given on the ABC news agenda. But, again, this is not the big story.

The big story is Turnbull’s fear of workers finally understanding the truth. Finally understanding how they’ve been lied to for generations. Why else would Turnbull go to such extraordinary lengths to get this so called ‘opinion’ removed, if he didn’t know how damaging this truth is to his neoliberal worldview?

The truth is, Emma Alberici is spot on. The truth is, there is no evidence that tax cuts either increase wages or create jobs. If there was such evidence, Turnbull would be able to point to it, instead of censoring an opposing view. The truth is, the lie that tax cuts increase wages and create jobs has been engineered as conventional wisdom by right wing governments and the compliant media for so long, that workers have fallen hook line and sinker for the lie and punched themselves in the face by turning against unions, the only ones giving them the power to stand up to the liars.

The truth is, Turnbull is terrified the lie is no longer believable. And it’s no longer believable because workers are waking up to the reality that their Point Piper millionaire PM, who uses tax havens to ensure wealth created through the labour of workers doesn’t come back to the community, who uses the power of government to make rules enabling other millionaires to steal wealth from workers, is actually lying to them. These lies benefit Turnbull individually – giving him political power and more money. These lies benefit all the Turnbull’s kind – the one-percenters whose wealth has grown exponentially as compared to the wealth of those whose productivity produces the wealth. Once these lies are exposed, once the game is up, there is no turning back.

I have long said that once workers realise wealth doesn’t trickle down, right wing governments will never be elected again. Turnbull knows this too. So, he can censor all he likes, but editing an ABC news article is akin to pissing in the ocean when the waves of change are building like a truth-tsunami. Bring it on.

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