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Tag Archives: Opposition

Message Control

Image courtesy of memecrunch.com

Image courtesy of memecrunch.com

“Who controls the message?” asks Kaye Lee. The answer can be summed up in a few words from her compelling article below: the Coalition, ably abetted by the Murdoch press.

Message control. A guest post by Kaye Lee.

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.”

Thomas Sowell.

We need to put message control into the control of the right people.

 

What do we do now?

tony

So it’s over; the Coalition has triumphed in the contest of ideas and will (eventually, one hopes) form a government.

Tony Abbott has been described as the most effective opposition leader in a generation. This may or may not be accurate, but it cannot be argued that he has achieved his goals with a combination of balls-to-the-wall confrontation and maintaining a small target on his weakest points. The question now becomes what kind of a Prime Minister he will make, and what his collection of Howard-era ministers will do now they’ve reached power in the 21st century.

The first thing we need to understand is that what the Coalition government will do, now it’s in power, is not what they said they would do while they were in opposition.

To some in the electorate, this may come as a surprise. They may actually think the Coalition fully intends to do the things they talked about during the campaign. But things promised during the campaign were not real; they were props, to support Tony Abbott’s approach to the job of opposition. They continued on from the years preceding the election, from the very moment of Abbott’s elevation to the position of Leader of the Opposition.

“The job of an opposition is to oppose”, and that’s what the Coalition did – regardless of whether they agreed with the policies on offer or not.

Prior to Tony Abbott, worthy policies had a chance of bipartisan support. Abbott himself in years gone by argued for the imposition of a carbon tax; Malcolm Turnbull was ready to sign on to support Labor’s policy in this area.

It was on this very matter that Abbott was able to replace Turnbull as the leader, and he never looked back. Even in those areas where there is “bipartisan support”, it is conditional; according to Tony Abbott, the Coalition wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t find aspects to criticise in even the best policy.

The Coalition’s stated intention since 2010 has been to oppose the government on any and all fronts. Opposing requires you to have an alternative solution to point to. It doesn’t have to be fully fleshed, or even achievable; nobody will look at it too closely whilst it’s just an alternative. But you can’t oppose a successful or important piece of policy or legislation without pointing people to an alternative; it shows that the thing you’re opposing is not inevitable.

So the Coalition threw its weight behind a bunch of pointless, useless or impractical ideas – not as real policies, but as props for its position of opposition. NBN-lite, Direct Action, the easy bits of Gonski; these helped it to point to Labor’s NBN, the carbon price, and the full package of Gonski and say “we don’t agree with these, and we don’t need them.” Despite the fact that experts universally panned the alternatives on offer, showed that they were impractical and expensive and simply couldn’t do what the Coalition was claiming, the opposition stuck to its guns knowing that the electorate didn’t care about details and didn’t care about feasibility. Pandering to a voter’s fears is eighty percent of the job, but the other twenty percent is to quiet that little part of their subconscious that says “what do we do instead”?

But now the time of opposition is over, and Tony Abbott and the Coalition have made a rod for their own back. They’ve sworn not to do deals. They’ve sworn to stick to their guns and get their promises delivered. They’ve sworn to be a no-nonsense government that says what it means and does what it says. And now it’s achieved government saying all of these impractical and counterproductive things that it is going to be required to do.

There are always get-out-of-jail clauses; every incoming Coalition government goes down the same path. The “budget position is so much worse than we knew that we can’t do the things we promised” route. Will the Australian people stand for it this time? For the first time, there was a PEFO, as thorough a retelling of the budget standing as possible, to ensure there are no surprises for an incoming government. Despite this, the amazing invisible Joe Hockey has been reported as saying that the Coalition would need an independent, external audit of the finances before they knew the true budget standing, so it seems obvious that they’re going to try this well-travelled road again.

And if the “not enough money” issue isn’t going to serve – for instance, in repealing taxes that you’ve sworn black and blue are losing money, or replacing a nation-building effort with something cheaper and nastier – then you can delay. Thus, the NBN will undergo “three separate reviews and a forensic audit” before the Coalition will even know what to do with it. Who wants to bet that these won’t take up most of the Coalition’s first term of government and be ready with propositions by the time the next election comes around? (Labor took a very similar approach to a series of policy areas in 2007, so it’s certainly not without precedent).

But eventually a government has to be judged on what it did, not what it said it would do. Sometimes, the promises that a government has made to get elected can come back to bite them. Thus Labor’s rounds of tax cuts, promised at the 2007 election in answer to the Coalition’s same promises, had to be delivered in subsequent years as the budget situation worsened and they became progressively more unaffordable. Those tax cuts may even have contributed to Labor’s more recent budget woes and its need to find new sources of revenue. Kevin Rudd, in those days, was desperate to keep all of his promises, just as Tony Abbott is now. Julia Gillard found out the hard way the results of being publically excoriated over reneging on a promise (even though Gillard’s was a matter of semantics rather than intent). So will Tony Abbott back off his promises on NBN, on direct action, on PPL, on returning to budget surplus?

Those with memories of past conservative governments fear what this one might do when the promising is over and the sharp teeth of conservative policy are revealed. In any number of areas, in the last days of the election campaign, Tony Abbott and his senior staff were careful to put caveats on their promises. Undertakings which had previously been unequivocal – promises in blood, you might say – became subject to conditions. If the Direct Action plan on climate change fails to reach agreed emissions targets, the Coalition will renege rather than spend more money. The boats will be turned around – presuming it is safe to do so, which it never will be. (And incidentally, we won’t hear about it one way or another, because boats arriving is a politically damaging sight.) The NBN will be killed, with the exception of contracts already signed, because you can’t break contracts.

The big test for the Coalition is still to come. Will it stick to its guns? Will it attempt to implement damaging and ineffective policies that it doesn’t believe in itself? Will it revert on policy to ideas that are more useful, that might actually work, at the expense of going back on their word? And if so, what tricks will they pull to prove that what they said before the election was not a lie, but simply a position that had to be changed as circumstances changed?

And will the Australian people remember how well that particular approach worked for Julia Gillard?

Tony Abbott in the Lodge: Never

David Marr’s quarterly essay “Political Animal” gives an engrossing, even gripping insight into the persona of the leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. I made many observations as I read it and I cannot of course comment on everything. I must say though (given Tony Abbot’s statement that he finds gays intimidating) that I was a little bemused at how Marr even got to interview him. They apparently spent some time together which must have been excruciatingly uncomfortable for the Opposition leader. And given that Mr Abbott only allowed him to use one quote I should think he probably wasted his time. Another thing that took my attention was the influence of Catholicism in his private and political decision making. He apparently finds it difficult to make decisions without referral to his faith.

What did catch my eye was this short paragraph: “Josh Gordon of the Sunday Age saw the parallels early. Like the Republicans in the US the Coalition’s new strategy appears to be to block, discredit, confuse, attack and hamper at every opportunity.” Do we see any similarities here? Well of course. On a daily basis the negativity of Abbott spreads like rust through the community. He seeks to confuse with the most outlandish statements. Hardly a day passes without referring to the Prime minister as a liar while at the same time telling the most outrageous ones himself. And with a straight face I might add. He seeks to hamper (as do the Republicans) all legislation with a pre-determined NO. Often without even reading it. Abbott has (as have Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan) taken lying and the frequency of it to a level in political discourse we have never experienced.

In the US the Republicans with all this propaganda have sought to create a fictional President who is the opposite to the one known outside the States. Twenty five per cent of the population still believe he is a Muslim and a large percentage still believe he was born outside the States even though the facts prove otherwise. Such is the power of the right-wing media (Fox News) and an accumulation of feral shock jocks. The GOP (the Republicans – the “Grand Old Party”) is even accused of deliberately not passing bills in order to make the economy worse.

In Australia, for two years the Prime Minister has been demonised by a right wing (Murdoch) news media pack intent on creating a false profile and bringing her down at the first opportunity. She has had thrown at her the most vile misogynist ravings un-befitting of the fourth estate but the tabloids and the shock jocks seem to thrive on it.

At this point (since we are talking in part about truth) let me say that I would describe myself as progressive social democrat. Centre-left on some issues and further left on others. I confess this so as not to be accused later of any preconceived bias. I am the originator of this quote “to be a true democrat one has to concede that your opponents have as much right to win as does your side”; I wrote that prior to the advent of this nefarious thing called neo conservatism or neo capitalism. I wrote it at a time when the political divide (despite the ideological differences) had some respect for the common good; when we in Australia admired America’s bi-partisan approach to its politics. The decline of bi-partisan politics and the rise of neo conservatism can be traced back to a third rate actor and a women with a bad hair-do. And in time respect for public office has gone out the window.

Regardless of what political persuasion you are I believe we like to see character in our leaders. Now how do we describe character. I came across this in the New York Times; it is a direct reference to Mitt Romney, however, it suffices as a general observation:

“Character is a combination of traits that etch the outlines of a life, governing moral choices and infusing personal and professional conduct. It’s an elusive thing, easily cloaked or submerged by the theatrics of a presidential campaign, but unexpected moments can sometimes reveal the fibers from which it is woven.”

When looked in isolation the lies and indiscretions of Tony Abbott, his problems with women and even his negativity could perhaps all be written off as just Tony being Tony. Or that’s just politics. However my focus here is on character and whether Mr Abbott has enough of it to be the leader of our nation. My contention is that because we are looking at a litany of instances of lying, deception and bad behaviour over a long period of time he simply doesn’t have the essence of character which is one of the main ingredients in the recipe of leadership.

The evidence for this assertion follows. None of these events are in chronological order. They are just as they come to mind and are listed randomly in order to build a character profile.

When the President of the US visited he broke long standing conventions by politicising his speech as Opposition leader.

He did the same when the Indonesian president visited.

He did the same when the Queen visited.

He would not allow pairs (another long standing convention) so that the Minister for the Arts could attend the funeral of painter Margaret Olley; an Australian icon. Malcolm Turnbull, a personnel friend was also prevented from attending. There have been other instances of not allowing pairs.

More recently he refused a pair whilst the Prime Minister was on bereavement leave following the death of her father.

At university he kicked in a glass panel door when defeated in an election.

Referred to a women Chairperson as “Chairthing”.

He was accused of assaulting a women at university and later acquitted. He was defended by a QC and the girl defended herself.

Another women accuses him of throwing punches at her. And hitting either side of a wall she was standing against. He says it never happened but others corroborated her story.

He threatens to punch the head in of Lindsay Foyle who disagreed with him on a women’s right to an abortion.

In 1978 a young teacher by the name of Peter Woof bought assault charges against Abbott. He punched him in the face. It never went anywhere. Abbott was represented by a legal team of six and the young man could not afford to defend himself.

And he did punch out Joe Hockey’s lights during a rugby match? Yes, he did.

He established a slush fund to bring down Pauline Hansen and then lied about its existence.

And let’s not forget the role he played also in the jailing of Pauline Hanson. After One Nation shocked the Coalition by winning 11 seats in Queensland in June 1998, Abbott was determined to dig up every piece of dirt he could on Hanson. In his own words, on her demise he boasts this was:

“All my doing, for better or for worse. It has got Tony Abbott’s fingerprints on it and no-one else’s.”

Yes, even after saying that, he still lies about its existence.

He was ejected from the House of Representatives once in obscure circumstances. Hansard is unclear why but it is alleged that he physically threatened Graham Edwards. Edwards lost both his legs in Vietnam.

In 2000 he was ejected from the House along with six others. Philip Coorey reports that he was headed toward the Labor back benches ready to thump a member who had heckled him.

Abused Nicola Roxon after he had turned up late for a debate.

Then there was the interview with Mark Riley where he had a brain fade that seemed like it would never end. I thought he was deciding between a right hook or a left cross. Something that I found mentally disturbing and worrying at the same time. After all this was the man who could be our next Prime Minister.

Together with Christopher Pyne seen running from the House of Representatives to avoid embarrassment at being outwitted.

Being the first Opposition leader to be ejected from the house in 26 years because he repeated an accusation of lying after withdrawing it.

The infamous “Sell my arse” statement verified by Tony Windsor. Will Windsor ever release the mobile phone transcript?

The interview with Kerry O’Brien where he admitted that unless it was in writing he didn’t always tell the truth.

And in another O’Brien interview he admitted lying about a meeting with the Catholic Archbishop George Pell.

During the Republic Referendum he told many outrageous untruths.

His famous “Climate change is crap” comment and later saying that he was speaking to an audience. This of course elicited the question: “Is that what you always do?”

His almost daily visits to businesses with messages of gloom and doom about the ‘carbon tax’ (a scare campaign best described as fraudulent). None of which have come to fruition. His blatant lying often repudiated by the management of the businesses. The most notable being the CEO of BHP and their decision not to proceed with the Olympic Dam mine. Whole towns being closed down. Industries being forced to sack thousands. The end of the coal industry etc.

And of course there is the now infamous Leigh Sales interview where beyond any doubt he lied three times and continued to do so in Parliament the next day.

Then there was his statement that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy near Old Parliament House be closed. To call his statement an error in judgement is too kind. It almost sounded like an incitement to riot.

He is quoted as saying in the Parliament that Prime Minister Gillard and Minister Albanese had targets on their heads. He later apologised.

And of course there is also the lie about asylum seekers being illegal.

Added to that is his statement that the PM refused to lay down and die.

And the deliberate lie he told to the Australian Minerals Council that the Chinese intended increasing their emissions by 500 per cent.

I think I have exhausted it all but I cannot be sure. Oh wait.

We should not leave out his insensitive comments about the attempted suicide of John Brogden. I used to think that John Howard was a mean-spirited, nasty piece of work, but in comparison to Tony Abbott he appears as kind, caring and compassionate as Mother Teresa. Tony Abbott is far, far more mean-spirited. He demonstrates this in the way he ignores human misery and the way he belittles those who are suffering from it. He is, in a nutshell, nasty to the core. Stories surface that he’s been inherently nasty for as long as people have known him, but it wasn’t until 2005 that I first took notice of his extreme level of nastiness and lack of compassion for human misery when it was hoisted onto the national stage. It came only hours after the NSW Leader of the Opposition, John Brogden, had attempted suicide. The Age reported at the time that:

The day after Mr Brogden was found unconscious in his electorate office with self-inflicted wounds, Mr Abbott publicly joked at two separate Liberal Party functions about the disgraced leader’s career-wrecking behaviour . . . Mr Abbott was asked at a fund-raising lunch about a particular health reform proposal and reportedly answered: “If we did that, we would be as dead as the former Liberal leader’s political prospects.”

Nasty. To the core. And to a mate.

He also claimed that Bernie Banton was a mate. Not that he acted like one.

When Abbott was the Minister for Health, the dying asbestos disease sufferer Bernie Banton obtained a petition containing 17,000 signatures of those who supported the listing of the mesothelioma drug Alimta on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This petition was to be presented in person to Tony Abbott. If it wasn’t disrespectful enough to snub the petition, then his verbal response certainly was.

Yesterday, Mr Abbott was quick to dismiss the petition.  “It was a stunt,” Mr Abbott said on the Nine Network.

“I know Bernie is very sick, but just because a person is sick doesn’t necessarily mean that he is pure of heart in all things.”

He loves making fun of dying people. Does he expect we’ll all laugh along with him?

He even has a go at deceased people. Margaret Whitlam wasn’t even in the grave before Tony Abbott used her death to score cheap political points.

The death of Margaret Whitlam caused such an outpouring of saddened fondness that comments by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, linking her passing with the sins of the Whitlam government appear to have struck an extremely wrong note.

He said she was a ”woman of style and substance” and ”a marvellous consort to a very significant Labor leader and an epochal Australian prime minister”.

”There was a lot wrong with the Whitlam Government but nevertheless, it was a very significant episode in our history and Margaret Whitlam was a very significant element in the political success of Gough Whitlam,” Mr Abbott said.

Nasty. To the core.

If politics is fundamentally about ideas it is also about leadership. In this piece I have deliberately steered clear of policy argument in order to concentrate on character. On three occasions I have invited people on Facebook to list five attributes of Tony Abbott that would warrant his election as Prime Minister of Australia. I have never received a reply. And when you look at the aforementioned list is it any wonder. He is simply bereft of any character at all. He has been described as the Mad Monk and many other things but essentially he is a repugnant gutter politician of the worst kind. In following the American Republican party’s example his shock and awe tactics associated with perpetual crisis has done nothing but degenerate the standard of Australian politics and the Parliament generally. In the public eye he is most effective in attack dog mode. However he is found wanting when he needs to defend himself and simply reverts to stuttering hesitation and lies. Or just walking out on press conferences when he stumbles over tough questions. This is particularly noticeable when he tries to explain the complexity of policy detail.

The future of this country is of vital importance. So much so that its leadership should never be entrusted to a politician of such little virtue and character. A man who has failed to articulate a narrative for Australia’s future other than a personal desire to occupy The Lodge. Given his performance of late he would do well to consider these words: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. It’s easy to understand what Abbott says because he only speaks in slogans. The difficulty is knowing what he means.

I have used this line in one of my short stories and it aptly sums up the character of Honourable Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition.

As he spoke, truth came from the beginning of a smile or was it just a sneer of deception.

Please note, this was written prior to the Prime Minister’s now famous ‘sexist speech’ and does not include these snippets of Tonyisms.

His dying of shame comment.

His “lack of experience in raising children” comment.

His “make an honest women of herself ” comment.

His “no doesn’t mean no” comment.

  1. “Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

  2. “These people aren’t so much seeking asylum, they’re seeking permanent residency. If they were happy with temporary protection visas, then they might be able to argue better that they were asylum seekers”.

On rights at work:

  1. “If we’re honest, most of us would accept that a bad boss is a little bit like a bad father or a bad husband . . . you find that he tends to do more good than harm. He might be a bad boss but at least he’s employing someone while he is in fact a boss”.

On women:

  1. “The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience”.

  2. “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons”.

  3. “I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak”.

  4. “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up, every year . . .”

On Julia Gillard:

  1. “Gillard won’t lie down and die”.

On climate change:

  1. “Climate change is absolute crap”.

  2. “If you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax”.

On homosexuality:

  1. “I’d probably . . . I feel a bit threatened”.

  2. “If you’d asked me for advice I would have said to have – adopt a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about all of these things . . . “

On Indigenous Australia:

  1. “Now, I know that there are some Aboriginal people who aren’t happy with Australia Day. For them it remains Invasion Day. I think a better view is the view of Noel Pearson, who has said that Aboriginal people have much to celebrate in this country’s British Heritage”.

  2. ‘”Western civilisation came to this country in 1788 and I’m proud of that . . .”

  3. “There may not be a great job for them but whatever there is, they just have to do it, and if it’s picking up rubbish around the community, it just has to be done”.

On Nicola Roxon:

16: “That’s bullshit. You’re being deliberately unpleasant. I suppose you can’t help yourself, can you?”

I could go on. History is filled with examples of how low this man is; of how nasty he is.

I fear that we may not yet have seen the full extent of his nastiness. We might have to wait – God forbid – for the day he ever becomes Prime Minister.

It’ll be nasty for all of us.

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