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Trending Issues: Challenging Homogenised LNP Rhetoric

The Trending Issues Series continues in the shadow of this week’s Newspoll and the first Leaders’ Debate in a very presidential-style campaign.

The competing political forces within the federal LNP had hoped that the electorate will fall into line with the rhetorical appeal of a homogenized policy message that focused on a Strong Market Economy that could be protected Border Surveillance.

From the remote regions to the Capital City Beltways, resistance was developing to the old clichés. Almost symbolically, on the very day of the Leaders’ Debate, there was chaos at major airports when the IT systems for scanning passports crashed and concerns about inadequate sea wall protects surfaced in the Torres Strait.

From remote communities to the urban belt motorways of the large cities like Sydney, there is a new yearning for change which had not yet been translated into the latest Newspoll results.

This Trending Issues article moves from the dynamics of campaigning in the far-northern marginal electorate of Leichhardt in Queensland to the fundamental concerns of metropolitan voters about sustainable living standards in the federal LNP’s cherished market economy.

From the Marginal Seat of Leichhardt in Queensland

Can the national election template be applied in more remote electorates like parts of Leichhardt in North Queensland?

Leichhardt is a vast electorate extending for hundreds of kilometres from Cairns to the remote islands of the Torres Strait. In all localities, social media has a strong influence on the social fabric.

It is supported in remote communities across Cape York and the Torres Strait by public broadcasting networks including ABC and SBS news programmes, NITV Networks as well as indigenous radio stations like 4MW in the Torres Strait and BBM98.7 FM in Cairns.

Regional & Remote Newspapers publishes Cape News and Torres News which adds to the sense of connection across Australia’s far northern frontiers.

Leichhardt electorate is not really cut-off from the national political debate. Perhaps local activism is in the volatility of election results in local remote communities where swings of over 24 per cent were recorded after preferences two communities at the 2016 federal election.

Since 1975, voters in Leichhardt have generally anticipated every change of government. The 1.73 per cent swing to Labor after preferences in 2016 was not strong enough to unseat long-standing LNP federal member Warren Entsch. His personal support base was, of course, strongest in parts of Cairns as well as nearby towns and rural districts. However, Warren Entsch’s vote held up well in some indigenous communities with substantial swings to the federal LNP after preferences in diverse localities such as Lockhart River (+27.59 per cent), Bloomfield (+24.46 per cent) and Pompuraaw (+18.14 per cent).

The final count across Leichhardt in 2016 understates the complex patterns revealed in local voting.

The flow of preferences from the smaller right-wing parties built up Warren Entsch’s current buffer of 3.95 per cent after preferences in 2016.

A minor electoral redistribution with the loss of the Cairns suburb of Bentley Park has not really changed this buffer against Labor’s candidate, Elida Faith.

Local activism is important in consolidating Labor’s vote in both remote communities as well as some booths in Cairns which recorded swings to Labor in 2016.

It was the Hope Vale Community near Cooktown which recorded the best swing to Labor after preferences in 2016 (+15.74 per cent).

Preferences from the Greens candidate assisted in building up Labor’s vote in 2016. These gains were eroded by preferences flows to the federal LNP from some of the minor right-wing parties.

This challenge can be expected again on 18 May as the primary votes of Warren Entsch, Elida Faith and Gary Oliver (Greens) are challenged by four far-right candidates. Only Family First is missing from the local political brew this time in Leichhardt although its preference flows were quite even-handed in 2016 after achieving a primary vote of 2.54 per cent.

Significance of Community Activism

Community solidarity is important in maintaining Labor’s vote in remote communities where local activism, social media and public broadcasting deepen the understanding of local and national politics.

Thanks to reporting from Aaron Smith from NITV and Torres Strait News there is a new perspective on the situation on Saibai Island in the Torres Straits (20 April 2019):

A federal election promise of $5m for seawalls in the Torres Strait has snubbed the local Indigenous council, with the funding to be channelled into the contentious ‘work for the dole’ Community Development Program (CDP).

The funding announcement, made on April 18, has also been criticised as not adequate to address climate change in the region.

Outgoing Indigenous Affairs Minister, Senator Nigel Scullion, said the Torres Strait Island Regional Council’s (TSIRC) past record in building seawalls in the Torres Strait is why they won’t get the money.

“We are working in partnership with local traditional owners because the previous arrangements of sea wall construction in the Torres Strait didn’t deliver the results it should have and some islands were left out despite significant Commonwealth investment,” Mr Scullion said.

TSIRC Mayor, Fred Gela, said the previous funding of $26m was nearly all spent on building an extensive seawall on the island of Saibai completed in 2017.

But that figure was never going to be enough to address the needed climate change mitigation works in all of the six most at risk island communities in the Torres Strait, said Cr Gela.

“The figure of $26m has been continually quoted as the total rectification estimate for six of our communities. Not once have I made a statement in support of this figure,” he said.

“This amount is nowhere near enough for ample rectification works.”

Cr Gela said the outgoing Indigenous Affairs Minister had previously commissioned the Torres Strait Seawalls Evaluation Report, which supported TSIRC ’s capability to deliver seawall rectification works significantly under market value.

“How much money has been wasted on these reports just so the Minister and the Federal Member (Warren Entsch) can save face over their clear misinterpretation of infrastructure costs,” he said.

While there are no details of how and where the money will be spent, the $5m price tag has been criticised as being well below the $20m already committed by the Queensland Government.

Nikki Thorpe of NITV News also commented on suggestions from LNP Senator Ian Macdonald that Torres Strait Islanders and other Indigenous Australians could apply for off-shore medical referrals to Manus and Nauru to overcome healthcare shortages in their own communities (24 October 2018):

Queensland Liberal senator Ian Macdonald has suggested sending Torres Strait Islanders, and other Indigenous Australians, to Manus and Nauru to receive healthcare if there are medical shortages in their communities.

Senator Macdonald, whose electorate covers the Torres Strait Islands, made the suggestion during a Senate estimates hearing with the Human Rights Commission on Tuesday, asking president Rosalind Croucher whether the commission has been involved in Manus or Nauru.

“Have you been involved in Manus or Nauru?” Mr Macdonald asked.

“Not directly, chair,” Ms Croucher responded.

“I was going to say if there are medical shortages in the Torres Strait or other Indigenous communities perhaps they should go to Manus or Nauru where there is a ratio of one medical professional to every 10 people,” Senator Macdonald said.

Such outrageous statements must assist Labor’s prospects in the remote communities of Cape York and the Torres Strait.

Significance of the Commercial Media in Political Communication in the Cairns Region

Hundreds of kilometres down south of the Torres Strait in the Cairns Region, the national election template is kept in place by the presence of a commercial print and electronic media. Voting patterns are more predictable and less volatile than in remote communities.

Radio 4CA is part of the Grant Broadcasting Network with 56 stations in every state and territory across Australia with additional web design and marketing agencies (https://www.4ca.com.au/info/grant-broadcasters-network).

Commercial print media in Cairns is a strong voice for the federal LNP. The popular Cairns Post is part of the News Corp Network.

Reporting on the federal Budget in 4CA’s local news was covered with predictable enthusiasm on the station’s web site (2-3 April 2019) (https://www.4ca.com.au/headlines/90034-budget-back-in-black-and-australia-back-on-track-tax-cuts-confirmed and https://www.4ca.com.au/news/local-news/90042-federal-budget-what-it-means-for-fnq).

The Change factor is also limited by the editorial tone of 4CA.

With encouragement from 4CA host John Mackenzie, there was strong support from guest Phil Cassell of the Queensland Civil Construction Group for a power station in North Queensland to ease the burden of electricity bills on householders and industries, large and small. The guest nominated a site west of Cairns as the optimum location for a coal-fired plant using local coal seams or coal transported from the Bowen Basin at Collinsville.

Alan Jones hosts the popular midday Talkback programme. It encourages political conservatism favourable to the National Party and far-right parties which ultimately direct their preferences towards the election of the Morrison Government.

The Cairns-based commercial media is a vital link between the diversity of the Leichhardt electorate and the wider Federal LNP Communication efforts which had contained Labor’s early lead in over 50 Newspolls. Could the gap be closed again in 2019?

The Homogenized Federal LNP Campaign About the Strong Economy and Border Protection

This tilt to the right in the current phase of Australian presidential politics has tightened Labor’s lead in the latest Newspoll (The Australian 29 April 2019).

However, Labor strategists may have anticipated the result last week and moved their campaign out of a holiday recess with new specifics on the state of the national economy and new initiatives in child-care funding.

Bill Shorten’s pledge to the business sector was well-covered in the Australian Financial Review (26 April 2016):

Bill Shorten was quite proactive from Hobart in bringing the campaign back to those important issues of sustainable living standards with a well-costed list of Labor policies (The Guardian 27 April 2019):

Bill Shorten has criticised the Liberal party deal to exchange preferences with Clive Palmer’s United Australia party.

Speaking in Hobart on Saturday where he announced that a future Labor government would invest $120m into Tasmanian tourism projects, the opposition leader did not deny that Labor officials had held discussions with Palmer over the course of the campaign, but said they would not risk preference swaps with the potential kingmaker in Queensland.

“First of all, whether or not there were conversations, I would not sign off on any deal with Mr Palmer until he resolves the issues of the tens of millions of dollars he owes taxpayers and workers,” Shorten told reporters on the banks of the Derwent River.

“If there have been conversations to find out what Mr Palmer is up to, well, that is as it is. But no deals from Labor.

Mr Morrison has shown his hand – a vote for Scott Morrison is a vote for Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson,” Shorten said.

“There’s an old saying, and I think that Mr Morrison is going to learn the truth, if you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.”

Shorten also criticised the LNP’s preference deals with One Nation in Queensland, saying that a Morrison-Hanson-Palmer government would be “the most extreme right-wing government in Australia’s history”.

The potential ace in Bill Shorten’s hands is from the storm clouds which have gathered around the continued flow of private sector investment.

The trends are covered in the latest charts from the RBA which were released on 28 March 2019.

The next set of private sector investment data comes after the election date in late May from the ABS.

Write-offs for depreciation in machinery and equipment as well as the broad engineering sectors have indeed nurtured better than expected but unsustainable results from the latest December Quarter of 2018 which are captured in the RBA’s latest trend charts released on 28 March 2019:

In his final summation in the Leaders’ Debate from Perth, Bill Shorten gained traction from the 48 undecided voters who made up the studio audience with his critique of resistance to change from the federal LNP (The West Australian Online 29 April 2019):

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has won WA’s historic first election debate, according to the in-studio audience.

The debate, in which Shorten went head-to-head with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, took place in front of an audience of 48 undecided voters. After the debate, 25 emerged giving their vote to Bill Shorten, with 12 giving theirs to Scott Morrison. 11 of the audience members said they could not decide.

Scott Morrison, as he has throughout the campaign, began as the risk taker with a more aggressive style and a willingness to interrupt.

Ideological resistance to change is deeply entrenched into the federal LNP’s Strong Economy Rhetoric which was the cornerstone of John Howard’s rise to power a quarter of a century ago.

As the world economy has a more Asian focus today, the ideological blind-spot of the federal LNP is its failure to seize a higher profile for Australia in the Belt and Road Initiatives which should be transforming geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific Region (ABC News 29 April 2019):

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for more countries to join his sprawling infrastructure-building initiative as other leaders expressed support for a project Washington worries is increasing Beijing’s strategic influence.

Key points:

  • President Xi Jinping has pledged to open up his Belt and Road program to non-Chinese companies
  • He says $64 billion in new projects have been signed off at the forum
  • Concerns remain that the program is a “debt trap” for developing countries

Mr Xi spoke at a gathering of leaders to celebrate the multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, his signature foreign project. The upbeat tone of the two-day forum, at which Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders praised the initiative, is a setback for the Trump administration, which is trying to discourage other countries from participating.

Mr Xi promised on Friday to promote high financial, environmental and other standards in response to complaints about debt and other problems.

That has the potential to heighten tensions with Washington by making the initiative more attractive to additional participants.

As the comprehensive Report from KPMG Consultants to define our economic and investment ties with China shows, our economy cannot afford to discourage substantial investment from China which will go to other economies prepared to take advantage of Belt and Road Initiatives (RBI) Projects.

BRI Investment Projects are welcomed by countries as diverse as PNG, the Philippines, Italy, Spain and Portugal with strong security ties to the US Global Military Alliance.

It is unbelievable that our federal LNP leaders are captives of Trump era economic protectionism on security grounds which has more than halved the level of Chinese investment in Australia since 2008:

Legitimate concerns about security are always within the prerogative of the Australian Government to negotiate with Chinese firms, but replacements are needed in high technology investment in healthcare, mining, energy, infrastructure, agriculture and renewable energy to replace the old chestnut of commercial real estate.

Positive business and employment policies from Bill Shorten were a welcome initiative to take the electorate out of the negativity which has developed in the national election campaign during holiday breaks.

Now the federal LNP is taking Australia into unchartered territories with preference deals with far-right parties that must disturb even some of the commentators at 4CA and other stations across the regional networks that have an important bearing on election results in marginal seats.

Last week’s return to accountable economic policies for the delivery of Labor’s National Plan for a Sustainable Future by Bill Shorten provides a welcome break from the Stronger Economy rhetoric from the federal LNP which has bored the electorate during the holiday breaks.

This is a very decisive time in Election 2019. The issue of economic credibility is a vital challenge as the days tick by to 18 May 2019.

The federal LNP has made a foolish decision to throw in its lot with far-right parties who have empathy with the Trump Administration’s directives to support Advance America economic strategies for the Indo-Pacific Basin.

Back in Northern Australia and in the Leichhardt electorate in particular curtailed investment flows will have a devastating effect on community development and infrastructure programmes.

Leichhardt will be a seat to watch closely on election night as it’s voting patterns followed the national trends in anticipating a change of government in every post-war election with the exception of 2010 when Julie Gillard survived the national swing to negotiate a minority government with the support of three independent members.

Issues which provide oxygen for local activists from Cairns to Torres Strait like the state of sea walls on remote islands might assist in getting Bill Shorten over the line in the current presidential style of campaigning in Election 2019 as the commercial media in Cairns stokes up support for a coal-fired power station to the west of Cairns where no coal mining has been in play since the closure of the Mount Mulligan Mine in the 1950s.

The absence of a viable federal LNP Plan for a Sustainable Future puts real burdens on Australians from the northernmost Torres Strait Islands to the Metropolitan Beltways. The burdens are heaviest in disadvantaged postcodes in remote electorates across Northern Australia where far-right populism has become a home-spun distraction from political issues of real substance for the future.

It is logical for the more remote electorates across Northern Australia to follow their city cousins in voting for change this time but Back to the Future Strategies have a lingering appeal in some communities. Feedback from your local campaigning precincts will help to clarify social reality before 18 May. AIM Network thrives on such open discussion in contrast with the dogmatism in sections of the mainstream media.

At the first day of Early Voting in the Ryan electorate of Brisbane at Indooroopilly on 29 April 2019, representatives of the three front-runners were chatting merrily across the fictitious political divides. Perhaps this is a sign that change is in the air to be captured by the next round of opinion polls.

Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is committed to citizens’ journalism by promoting discussion of topical issues from a critical structuralist perspective. Readers are encouraged to continue the discussions in this current series of Trending Issues for Australians in this election year.

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13 comments

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  1. Chris

    Australians should be concerned about current investment trends and the polarisation of opinion against change strategies.

  2. Mia

    Great research Denis .
    An interesting change from the constant rhetoric about the strong economy and lower taxes.

  3. Leila

    Amazing article Denis, the policy in the detail
    We need a change of Government this election, namely a Labour victory
    Most of us have turned off to the Government & it is only the commentators who are sprooking to themselves
    I have waited since last August to cast my vote & did so at the first opportunity

  4. rubio@coast

    All sides of politics need to give closer attention to strategies which foster investment in both government and especially private sectors.

    Here in the Robertson Electorate north of Sydney there is a great shortage of public infrastructure and affordable housing.

    Great initiatives were taken in the past in sustainable public investment such as the four track rail connections on the electrified lines which were extended from Central to Newcastle under previous Labor Governments in NSW.

    To describe such initiatives and the connecting tramway to Newcastle CBD as wasteful government spending is sheer nonsense.

    On a surfing trip to So California, I noticed that the rail link between LA and San Diego as the major urban hubs in a very populated state are mainly single track. . The Trump Administration wants to cut back on new initiatives in public transports a cost saving so that more money can be dissipated in tax concessions to wealthy middle and upper income families to invest in their McMansions.

    Why are Australian leaders following this nonsense?

  5. Bill

    Where are the jobs for the future in conservative strategies based on longer working hours, lower real wages and affordable housing?

  6. Terence Mills

    Interesting to see that the One Nation candidate for Leichhardt is also having problems following his behaviour in a Thai strip-club and his disgusting comments about women.

    Pauline being picked on again ???? Or another example of the very poor procedures that One Nation has in vetting its candidates.

  7. Stella

    Denis, thanks for an interesting coverage of the Leichhardt electorate.

  8. Let's Make Leichhardt Inclusive Again

    Let’s hope that activism prevails in Leichhardt against the excesses of dubious far-right minor candidates who act as vacuum cleaners for the LNP in regional seats: Great comments Terence Mills

  9. Alcibiades

    It must be a very tight race indeed, Warren Entsch (Leichhardt(Margin 3.9%)) fully intended to retire, yet was convinced to contest one last time, on the basis the seat would be lost if his incumbent advantage (~1% 2PP) disappeared …

  10. Tessa_M

    Our electorate of Page needs a new range of investment priorities for Lismore and the smaller towns.

  11. James Robo

    Australia cannot afford to by-pass offers from Chinese investors who could help to diversify the economy away from the mining boom and the property market.

  12. Paul

    Getting the investment mix right is so important as the digital economy is wiping out many traditional jobs.

  13. Craig Bottomtop

    Great stuff Denis!

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