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Breaking the Dog Whistle

You can’t blame the Liberals and their communications strategists for believing the demonization of refugees is a vote winner. The rise of Pauline Hanson, who stole votes from the Liberals, Howard’s success with Tampa and ‘children overboard’ in 2001 and Abbott’s ‘stop the boats’ election win in 2013 have given the Liberals a sense of security in their boat-people-threaten-national-security narrative, which they roll out whenever they have poll-insecurity.

We saw Peter Dutton do this yet again on Sky News on Tuesday, with a dog-whistle that was more like a fog-horn, claiming refugees would both simultaneously steal people’s jobs, presumably cat-burgling them from under their noses while they sleep whilst also languishing on the dole, costing respectable-tax-payers their hard-earned-money and contributing to the ‘debt-and-deficit-disaster’ in a neat little package tying refugees to all voters anxieties all at once. Both Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull had opportunity to repudiate Dutton’s statement, but both chose not to, and rather smoothed the edges while still maintaining the frame.

It was clear at this point that opinion polls, both published and possibly internal polls, have shown Turnbull the Liberals are in trouble. To hit the refugee-demonization-panic-button so early in the election campaign, it had me wondering how much lower the Liberals could go since there are still many weeks of campaigning left. They had already spent a couple of weeks trying to tie Labor candidates in knots over their inconsistent positions about Labor’s asylum seeker policy, a narrative which possibly was failing to have the desired effect, forcing Dutton to go hard or go home. But has Dutton over-reached and blown the whole strategy, sullying Turnbull’s squeaky-clean-I’m-not-Abbott-in-disguise image in the process?

Yes, I believe he has.

This is where the unlikely hero of the story, Karl Stefanovic, popular host of Channel 9’s Today Show, enters the scene, smashing a hole in the Liberal’s refugee demonization strategy and possibly damaging it beyond repair.

You can watch Karl’s editorial here, where he calls Dutton’s comments ‘un-Australian’ and urges him to apologise. Powerful stuff.

The key to Dutton’s undoing has been the response from various groups, including Labor, the Greens and refugee advocates, as well as influential personalities like Stefanovic, moving the frame from ‘boat people’ to all immigrants.

A poll taken last year by the ANU showed that 9 in 10 voters think immigrants ‘improve Australian society’. The poll also showed evidence that Australians are not so positive about what they often refer to as ‘illegal immigrants’. However, if Dutton’s comments are seen through the prism of all immigration, and not just people arriving by boat, those 9 in 10 voters who favour immigration, many of whom are from migrant families, may start to question whether the Liberal government is trying to demonise all migrants, and therefore will start to feel very uncomfortable with the dog-whistling strategy.

Our leaders should never use hatred and fear to win votes. The only way to stop them doing this is to ensure the dog-whistling strategy doesn’t work. I don’t know how the ever-important marginal seats will respond to the current debate, but I do know that Karl’s landmark speech goes a long way to improving this situation, and is hopefully the start of a positive shift which is both a good thing for political discourse and for cohesion in our community.

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  1. Miriam English

    Here is a very uplifting video about refugees that counters the dirty, small-minded views of horrible cretins like Dutton:

    Ship of Miracles – documentary by RJ McHatton

  2. Steve Laing -

    I think, and hope, you may be right Victoria. There are far too many migrants here that fit the description that Dutton tried to associate purely with refugees. His words were insulting and nasty, and straight out the Textor Crosby book of political tactics which has worked so well in the past… until the recent London mayoral election, when their attempts to smear the Labour candidate due to his religion and ethnicity backfired spectacularly.

    He has over-reached, and Turnbull and Bishop, with their myopic societal lens, fail to realise that the majority in Australia are migrants, or the sons, daughters or grandchildren of migrants, and many arrived not being able to speak the language.

    They truly deserve to suffer the indignity of being a one-term government. Their management of the country, and their sell-out to the corporates, has been nothing short of treasonous.

  3. bobrafto

    If it wasn’t for the immigrants, the rednecks wouldn’t be enjoying the lifestyle they enjoy now.

  4. Glenn K

    I can’t help but think Shorten and the ALP have spent the past 24 months preparing for this election, with detailed policies and detailed rollout strategies. It is not the exclusive territory of the LNP to use strategy consultants like Textor. I expect we will see a gradual crescendo of smart electioneering from the ALP which will keep the LNP permanently on the back foot through to 2nd July.
    As much as I hated the ALP’s decision last year to go lock-step with the LNP refugee policy, I understood what they were doing. Already the ALP are hinting at what they will do – quick assessments, better care, etc. I expect that once in government they will change their refugee policy. For now it is a pragmatic approach to negate an election losing issue.
    The ALP will win, my only question is if the Greens hold the balance of power or not. Certainly the LNP are dead in the water right now. There’s just a delayed reaction fro everyone to realise it.

  5. diannaart

    Too bad Bishop & Turnbull tried to cover over Dutton’s doodoo, winding up with it sticking all over them.

    Good opportunity for Shorten to distance himself…

  6. jimhaz

    Moderate immigration made Australia a better place, but in the last 15 or so years excessive immigration has made Australia a WORSE place. Pretty obvious really when someone like Abbott can get elected.

    Stefanovic was just ranting on as his pride was hurt. Completely ignorable. It is early in the election – you can expect 9 to even the score latter on in the campaign when it counts more.

    [A poll taken last year by the ANU showed that 9 in 10 voters think immigrants ‘improve Australian society’]

    This is an appeal to popularity (an argumentum ad populum). 9 out of 10 people do not think deeply of such issues and as such are unable to join the dots. They see the 2 dimensional aspect that immigrants increase the GDP and thus “the economy” and provide variety, but do not see the unintended consequences of excessive immigration such as excessive housing inflation or the lost improvement rather than expansion opportunities. Perhaps the worst part of excessive immigration is that it enables governments to introduce neo-liberal policies on the basis of jobs and growth.

    I have also come to the conclusion that immigration makes born here residents more apathetic than the apathy inducing effects of wealth and freedom. I feel our high percentage of uncouthness, our boganism, on excessive immigration, partly because immigrants do take the jobs we are now reluctant to do – cleaning etc. With halve the level of immigration the number of long term unemployed would be very few and life would be better as suburban infrastructure improvement.

    High levels of immigration to the West is not so great for developing countries either – they lose too many of their skilled people and have the cost of training them. There are some gains such as motivating people to study so they can immigrate and sending money home, but I still think they lose more than they gain.

    For me, I see high levels of immigration as one of the major tools of the rich to maintain their status. It stops the masses from rebelling.

  7. Diane

    Glenn K – I really hope you are right, but can the opinion polls really get it so wrong? The thought of this government getting re-elected, and taking that as a mandate to bring in all their previously blocked horrendous policies (privatising Medicare, deregulating Uni fees, giving ever more powers to Border Force and the Immigration Minister, giving more to those that have by taking from those that don’t etc), is really quite scary!

  8. kerri

    Karl has shown before today that he is more than just a fluffy, silly, morning host.
    When an issue strikes him as unfair he uses his position to call it out.
    And good for him for doing so! Karl has the audience that more serious political commentators often miss.
    One of the biggest failings in oyr society is to brush off those harmless public figures who do not take a hard stance on everything as having no principals. Many of them have principles that they will bring out when the occasion calls for it and we should bothe take notice and applaud their actions.
    Disclaimer I do not watch Karl. Never have. Probably never will but I do respect his values as outlined on this issue.
    Having taught many Vietnamese, Laotion and Cambodian refugees in both Richmond (Vic) and Mitcham for many years I completely concur with Karl. So many wanted to give back to the country that so willingly rescued them from their life of hell. Politicians on both sides could do well to value refugees as more than political wedges.

  9. paul walter

    Thought provoking, deals with the sort of things that Ivé found puzzling also.

    No easy solution is sight yet, no one has been able to figure a way of reassuring a public whose fears are stoked by tabloid racist stereotypes and the bogus war on terrorism to a more complete understanding of what has been going down.

    There will be comeuppance one day, for all this Hansonist hysterical nonsense over a twenty year period.

  10. abbienoiraude

    Most on the ‘Right’ ask; What is the alternative.
    Just look to Julian Burnside.
    Some say; “Less population”.
    Unrealistic in a world where if we educate women we get less babies, not more.
    Others say; “Close the borders”.
    And yet we are citizens of the world and when we rail against other humans who have as much right to live as we do, to desire as much for their children as we do, who dream of freedom and a future as we do, do the whole of the Human Race a disservice.

    Who are we to ‘close our borders’?
    Who are we to think we are ‘special’ and have a right to such that this Land can offer?
    When the rednecks scream; “Oh so you say ‘open the borders'” I just think:
    Who are you to say another brother or sister has no ‘right’ to the life of freedom, work, tolerance, Future, education, health, like we have?

    What a nasty cruel and vicious people we are, steeped in selfishness, narcissism, divisiveness, and elitism.

    I don’t want to live in a town, city, country, world like that.

    Dutton, (and all his ilk) be damned…for all time!

  11. John Lord

    I don’t know much about this fellow Karl but I do now.

  12. Michael Taylor

    It is more than likely that around the country over 100,000 people have been critical of Dutton for uttering those disgraceful words, Bill Shorten among them. Yet Turnbull has only had a go at Shorten. No-one else. He’d try and turn a toothpick into a political weapon if he could.

  13. jimhaz

    @ Kerri

    [I think you are on the wrong website?]

    I’m a devil’s advocate to tame the over zealous views dominant here. I’m for the middle ground – though the current middle ground needs a shift to the left.

    I think Dutton is a mindless idiot. A non-thinking product of his past.

    Still, I found the massive overreaction to his words to be appalling.….and indeed very self-centred. The complaints from sold-souls like Stefanovic arose due to Dutton’s failure to limit his rubbish* excuse making to refugees. Most of those offended linked it to their own pasts WITHOUT a thought, or at best an afterthought, for the refugees.

    *rubbish due to the very limited numbers currently in detention, but I do not believe the departmental document that gives a thumbs up economically to refugees – if limited to middle eastern muslim refugees (whom most are in detention), rather than all refugees. Past refugees did not have such strong religious afflictions.

  14. jim

    The wars, the refugees, imo… greed, if the big corporations paid their fair share of tax why would most want to leave their own country in the first place if they had a transparent governments etc…? What if the US stopped spending billions on arms….?

  15. Miriam English

    jim, if a comment deserved an award for truth and world importance yours would be it. Bravo!

    If our damned governments would act like responsible adults instead of greedy, self-obsessed children then there would be no waves of refugees, no wars.

  16. mars08

    As I see it…. Dutton’s crapfest was probably pointless. The bogan, bigots, bullies and bedwetters decided long ago that they hated/ feared brown people. They were already in the Coalition camp. The “issue” of asylum seekers has already polarised the public… calling them bludgers isn’t going to increase the hatred. It will just validate that which already exists.

    I suggest Dutton’s comment was either an unscripted brain fart… or an intentional distraction from more important topics.

  17. Miriam English

    My bet is brain fart. Dutton’s just not that smart.
    How on Earth does one government collect together such a dearth of talent???
    Reminds me a bit of the USA’s Republicans. Such a hopeless, horrible bunch.

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