I think we all agree that Labor shot itself in the foot by using the media to broadcast their internal squabbles. Conceding that, far greater forces were at play.
The other seemingly obvious cause was Labor’s failure to get their message across. Their achievements in government were significant, their policies were vastly superior (in most cases), and their ministers, if not overly charismatic, were at least competent and knowledgeable in their portfolios.
We all watched with increasing concern as they allowed the Coalition, ably abetted by the Murdoch press, to dictate the message. Carbon pricing became a “lie” and a “toxic tax”. Rather than answering this campaign with the obvious advantages of carbon pricing in dealing with climate change, they went into defence mode and we now find the carbon tax being blamed for everything to do with the economy, investment, manufacturing, jobs and cost of living.
It doesn’t seem to matter that the economy has a AAA credit rating, that we have had record investment, and that the average household is $14 000 a year better off now than they were in 2007. It doesn’t seem to matter that, until very recently, the mainstream business community was behind carbon pricing. It doesn’t seem to matter what reasons businesses give for closing, we are told it’s the carbon tax. And even after the repeal of the carbon tax is underway, and we still see businesses closing, it’s still the fault of the carbon tax.
In an astonishing transformation, we saw Tony Abbott move from an attack dog to Prime Minister, from misogynist to Minister for Women, from telling Aborigines they should pick up rubbish to crowning himself Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
The Opposition had a strategy to keep the focus on the Government, to present a small target, to keep it simple and to exploit fear and populism. In other words, they controlled the message. They began the campaign with the infamous headless chook ad but when it was panned as childish and inappropriate they quickly morphed into the ‘adults’ carrying out a positive campaign warning us that Labor would get nasty. Actually, looking back, the ‘negative’ ads from Labor were quite prophetic.
So the Coalition won, promising us transparency and accountability – no surprises. They assumed they would be able to control the message in government as they had so successfully in opposition. Tony began by shutting the Indonesian press out of his first press conference on their soil. It did not go over well. His tough guy rhetoric for the domestic market has not been well received on the international stage.
His obsession with axing the tax might have done well for Tony here where he, along with people like Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones, have convinced many people that climate change is crap. In the rest of the world his actions are being condemned and his rhetoric is being drowned out by the latest IPCC report and the growing commitment of other world leaders to take action on climate change.
In a further attempt to control the message, all interviews with Ministers have to be approved by the Prime Minister’s Office 24 hours prior to the interview. Scott Morrison is perfecting hiding the boats and Joe Hockey won’t tell us why the debt ceiling needs to be increased. Julie Bishop refuses to disclose details about any of her meetings with foreign leaders and the briefings from departments to the incoming government will not be released.
Newly appointed head of NBNco, former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski, has certainly changed his message from 2003 when Telstra told the Senate Committee that the copper network was at “5 minutes to midnight” to now, when he told them it is “robust”. He has also been instructed not to talk to the media.
Experienced public servants have been sacked in their droves and an ‘Independent’ review panels have been set up to look at … well … just about everything. The trouble is that these review panels are composed of ex-Liberals and businessmen who have already expressed very strong views about what they are supposed to be reviewing, and as they have only been given a few months to prepare their advice, they will not be consulting with other concerned bodies. I would suggest these panels have been selected because they already know the message they are supposed to give.
We have BHP advising on climate change, the BCA which represents banks and mining companies doing the Commission of Audit, the former head of the Commonwealth Bank reviewing the finance sector, and one of the fiercest critics of Labor’s NBN, columnist for The Australian Henry Ergas, on the three man panel to do a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN.
And now we having Tony Abbott’s speeches being airbrushed from history – or is it is lies being airbrushed from history? – and his ‘excuse’ for the back flip on school funding highlights what could best be described as a classic case of ‘gaslighting’ (as pointed out by one of The AIMN’s readers):
“We are going to keep the promise that we actually made, not the promise that some people thought that we made, or the promise that some people might have liked us to make”.
From Wikipedia: “Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity”. With the amount of message control we are being fed that certainly appears to be a technique of the Abbott Government.
Eric Hoffer once said “Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves”. With the growing reach of the fifth estate, it is becoming harder to control the message and there is little excuse for self-deception. However, we should remember that:
“If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.”
We need to put message control into the control of the right people.
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