Americans aren’t the only ones with blinkers

Have a look at this link: it is a record of the number of reported gun incidents and deaths in the USA in the last 72 hours. When this article was being prepared there had been in excess of 200 incidents. Frankly it’s a little scary.

Many Australians are familiar with the work of the US Tea Party, a conservative group that claims to be a ‘grassroots’ organisation that demonstrates the values of the USA. In September 2013, The Political Sword had a quick look at the actions of the Tea Party that led to the shutdown of the US Government that year.

We have also commented on luminaries of the LNP right wing such as Cory Bernardi attending events in the US where the Tea Party is certainly represented — if not the organiser. Amongst the immutable demands of the various conservative American groups (including the Tea Party and most of the Republican Presidential hopefuls) is the need to protect ‘the 2nd amendment’. The 2nd amendment to the US Constitution reads: ‘A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ This link from Cornell University’s Law School discusses the history of the amendment and the current discussion around the relevance of the first clause of the amendment. Regardless, in general, conservative America will happily quote the second clause ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed’ but are less forthcoming on the first clause.

So conservative America, backed by self-interest groups and the National Rifle Association (as is their right) have promoted that everyone in the US has a right and obligation to carry a gun at all times. There are even claims that a number of the gun massacres the US is becoming ‘famous’ for, such as the massacre of Year 1 children and their teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, never happened, or the entire event was apparently a ‘set up’ by the US Federal Government to drive a gun control agenda. For those who need their memory refreshed, this Wikipedia entry will give you the relevant detail.

According to Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump, mental illness is the cause for shootings in the US — not guns. Another Republican Presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, blames the media, while parts of the media are blaming violent video games. The ‘logical’ answer according to some in the US is for everyone to have a gun. Interestingly when I went to the webpage for the previous link, I was offered a chance to win a NATO-style tactical rifle if I signed up for their newsletter!

In another demonstration of nature abhorring a vacuum, in 2012 a group called Occupy Democrats was set up. They claim to be a political organization and information website that provides a new counterbalance to the Republican Tea Party. Occupy Democrats seem to have a predilection for making up Facebook memes such as the one at the top of this article. On the face of it, they should have plenty of ammunition (sorry). In another Occupy Democrats Facebook post a clip from the US television series The West Wing has one of mythical President Jeb Bartlett’s aides arguing for gun control, the comments to the meme on the Facebook post are mind blowing. One response doesn’t dispute that over 30,000 residents of the US were killed by guns in the past year but justifies it by suggesting the 20,000 or so suicides attributed to guns shouldn’t count! Another response (obviously from an Australian) details that Australia has not had a mass killing (apparently the definition is more than 5 people killed in a single incident) since 1997 when PM Howard instituted a gun buyback after the Port Arthur tragedy (follow this link for details if necessary), as well as a history and geo-economics lesson on why Australians are actually just as free and are in a better position than the residents of the US — despite not being able to carry an AK47 in our Ford Falcon ute. The attempt at rebuttal by the Australian is met by statements that can best be summed up by ‘when the UN brings in the new world order, you’ll be sorry’.

Australians just don’t understand the fixation US residents have with guns. While there may have been a need for a ‘well-regulated militia’ to be formed in 1776, in 2016, not only does the US have a well-equipped army, it also has an air force, navy, National Guard and in all probability various levels of secret services to defend the nation from attack. Will Jim Bob in his Ford F150 — replete with gun rack out the back — be able to make any difference in an attack by internal or external forces? In all probability the answer is no — regardless of our mythical Jim Bob actually knowing how to use the weapon he carries around to protect his country (which is the legal justification for having a gun in the USA).

It seems the rest of the world knows that the US has a blind spot in regard to the logic behind gun ownership leading to gun violence. So they’re all crazy and Australians wouldn’t carry on like that — right? Wrong — as a nation we apparently don’t give a damn for our environment.

The scientists will tell you that climate change is real — despite vested interests (some of whom also contribute to the US “Tea Party”). Australia was one of the first nations in the world to legislate an effective mechanism for the reduction of carbon emissions. The LNP Coalition cherry-picked some aspects of the Carbon Pollution Reductions Scheme (CPRS) and named it ‘the Carbon Tax’. The predicted $100 roast and destruction of Whyalla never eventuated.

You might remember during 2015 it came to light that Volkswagen had programmed the computer in the engine of some VW and subsidiary branded vehicles to act differently if it detected that emissions testing was being undertaken. Following the usual ‘he said, she said’ brouhaha, VW admitted there was a problem and undertook to find a solution. The Australian ACCC released this update last October regarding its investigation of a breach of consumer law (the engine didn’t perform as well as advertised) leading to a maximum penalty of slightly over $1million, while in the US, the ‘fix’ first proposed by VW was rejected and is more complicated than the Australian/European solution due to stricter environment laws. VW is also potentially liable for fines totalling over $1billion in the US because the vehicles emitted too many chemicals. See the difference?

In August last year, ‘The Political Sword’ touched on renewable energy in a discussion on then PM Abbott’s inability to understand the larger debate on climate change. The article is here and while Abbott is no longer the prime minister, the delightfully named (in the George Orwell 1984 sense) Direct Action policy has not been changed. One of the effects of the lack of any action (let alone Direct Action) is a refusal by the federal government to subsidise the purchase of electric vehicles. In 2015, Australians purchased a record breaking 1,155,408 cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles. Of note, the sales of passenger cars fell by 3.0% and the sale of SUVs (loosely described as vehicles that look like 4-wheel drive wagons, even if they don’t have the 4-wheel drive capability) increased by 15.9% of the total. As a side note, sales of ‘prestige’ vehicles increased across the board by significant amounts — which says something about the general perceptions of the economy.

Back in the good ole USA, vehicle manufacturers have been required to ensure the fuel consumption of the entire fleet of vehicles they sell in a particular year meets a certain miles per gallon threshold. This has occurred since 1978. While the requirement admittedly came in to redress to an extent the oil supply shocks of the early and mid-1970s, there is a flow on effect here to emissions of carbon into the atmosphere. What the system means is, for example, that for every vehicle with a rated fuel consumption over the threshold that is sold, one with a similar value under the threshold must be sold, or a fine paid.

It is possible to purchase a fully electric vehicle or ‘plug in hybrid’ (a vehicle that relies primarily on electric traction/recharging but has a small petrol generator to resupply the battery on the go) in Australia, although with around 1,000 sold to members of the public in the past 5 years, it’s not surprising if you didn’t know they exist. In the United Kingdom, the total number of vehicles sold was around 2.6 million (around 150% more than Australia). The UK purchased over 10,000 electric or plug in hybrid vehicles in 2015. The big difference is the UK Government, as a pollution reduction/climate change mechanism, has a subsidy for the purchase and operation of electric vehicles.
Since the Plug-in Car Grant scheme was launched with its promise of up to £5,000 off the cost of electric vehicles, 47,690 eligible cars have been registered.

Conventional hybrids enjoyed a similar strong performance last year with annual demand for petrol hybrids growing 18 per cent to 40,707 registrations and demand for diesel hybrids climbing 36 per cent to over 3,800.

Overall, the market for alternative fuelled vehicles rose 40 per cent to 72,775 units, increasing the sector’s market share from 2.1 per cent in 2014 to 2.8 per cent last year.

In contrast, demand for diesel vehicles rose just three per cent, as the fall-out from the VW scandal no doubt contributed to the technology’s market share slipping to 48.5 per cent.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Motor vehicles registered in Australia travelled an average of 13,800 kilometres per vehicle in the 12 months ended 31 October 2014’. Oddly, the average distance travelled by Victorians (one of the smallest states geographically) was higher than the average for Queensland and Western Australia (both much larger geographically). The real point is that on average each car in Australia travels an average of 55km each of the 260 weekdays in a year.

Most if not all fully electric vehicles have a range exceeding the average distance driven by an Australian car each day: and driving electric vehicles around some of our larger cities would certainly improve the quality of the air that we breath. But seemingly we prefer to purchase faux 4-wheel drives, that usually are not the most efficient users of fuel or producers of minimal emissions from the exhaust pipe! We all like the feeling that we can jump in the car and, given enough time, drive from Melbourne to Cairns whenever we want. The reality is that it rarely happens. There is also a lack of infrastructure for the ‘refilling’ of electric vehicles as well as a significantly higher sunk cost in the purchase of the vehicle.

The Renault/Nissan alliance has reportedly sold 250,000 electric vehicles around the world and has a small number of electric delivery vans on trial with Australia Post. Interestingly the company claims that there are 4,000 similar vans in service with the French postal service which travel on average 70km per day — Australia Post primarily uses diesel powered vans.

Apart from recharging infrastructure and initial cost, the only other argument against electric vehicles is the ‘green quality’ of the power that is used to charge the batteries. This is rapidly changing. The number of solar installations on domestic premises in Western Australia is increasing at 20% per annum, causing a number of problems for the WA Government, and South Australia has generated its entire electrical requirements during daylight hours using renewable technologies on at least one occasion. Storage batteries to enable domestic premises to effectively ‘go off-grid’ have been available for a while. Tesla (of the electric car fame) is launching branded domestic battery units which further promote ‘off-grid’ power by storing the solar panel output during the day and releasing it literally when the sun isn’t shining. Other suppliers also have similar technology available.

As a final vehicle example, the Queensland Government has announced it will subsidise the installation of an electric vehicle recharging station — which they have decided to place in a suburb of Townsville. By contrast, the UK Government spent an additional £37 million across the country on recharging stations.

All of this is to be expected by a government that trashed one of the first emission trading schemes in the world. Various countries with various levels of ‘green credibility’ are successfully operating similar schemes as this Parliament of Australia report discusses. As the report is dated 2013, there are some additional schemes introduced since then such as China’s recent announcement. Others should question why an Australian prime minister can suggest that ‘coal is good for humanity’ and then when he is rolled by his own political colleagues, the policy is not immediately rescinded.

There is evidence that a considerable number of Australians haven’t ‘swallowed the Kool-aid’ dispensed by Abbott and co in relation to environmental protection — but what is being done to change personal consumption habits? While Australians probably have the right to question why those that live in the US seem to look the other way when their legislators allow the fatal shooting of 30,000 of their citizens per annum without attempting to ‘fix it’; surely other nations also have the right to ask why we as Australians seem to think it is acceptable to trash the environment, not only here but around the world. Why do we let our politicians get away with it?

What do you think?
Americans may have a problem with guns but 2353NM suggests Australians have a problem with the environment. Is he right? Which set of blinkers is the more dangerous? At least, the American gun problem is restricted to America but our approach to the environment may affect millions well beyond Australia.


A smile is not enough


[The Turnbull residence at Point Piper, Sydney]

After Turnbull toppled Abbott in September the polls turned in favour of the Coalition; Turnbull’s ‘satisfaction’ rating was high; and he had a commanding lead over Shorten as preferred prime minister. The big question for Turnbull, the Coalition, and indeed Labor, is whether he can maintain those poll numbers all the way to an election.

In my view there are already signs that suggest he will not. That may not yet be showing in polling but unless he acts to meet public expectations those polls will slowly drift away from him.

When Turnbull first won the post as prime minister, he could not stop smiling. In his victory speech, in early interviews and press conferences, he was ceaselessly smiling. Between christmas and new year, when he announced the demotions of Brough and Briggs, he was no longer smiling. Perhaps it was no smiling matter but it was a hint that the pressure of the job is starting to tell.

Turnbull has a reputation as a ‘small l’ liberal with his views on gay marriage and climate change. He does represent an electorate where such views go over well and, especially after Abbott, the wider electorate also saw such views as a hopeful sign for the future. So far, however, Turnbull has done nothing to action such views: he has accepted the position that the gay marriage issue will be put to a plebiscite and not just a parliamentary vote; and, although signing up to the Paris agreement on climate change action, he will stick with Abbott’s ‘Direct Action’ policy (which most experts suggest will fail to deliver). It appears this is a result of deals done with the Right of the Liberal party to secure the top job or, at the least, bowing to the reality of the number of far Right members in his party. It is, however, creating disillusionment in the electorate. As most people accept the reality of politics, he will be given time to make changes but he will not be given forever. While he may wish to make changes, he is hamstrung by the deals he did and the numbers in his party who do not support his more liberal views. Unfortunately, he may not have the power within the party to over-rule those deals until he wins an election (when he can then claim leadership in his own right) but ironically he may not win an election unless he makes those changes first — a classic Catch 22!

Turnbull arrived as a breath of fresh air, saying the right things, and appearing as a very different politician to Abbott. But the announcement about Brough and Briggs (and the abandonment of the Gonski funding model for education which was announced at about the same time) was made during a period, between christmas and new year, when the attention of most people was on issues other than politics. To the cynical amongst us, which now includes a majority of people when it comes to politicians, it gave the appearance of deliberately trying to ‘bury’ the news. (The news about Brough and Briggs was effective in burying the Gonski announcement.) For someone who first appeared as ‘different’ to Abbott, that is a fail. It tends to suggest that he is merely another politician, not better nor worse, but just as willing to play political games. That is not a view that fits with how he first attempted to portray himself and the electorate will add that to the list when adjudicating on his prime ministership. On its own it may not change the electorate’s view but it is another straw on the camel’s back.

The Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) was initiated by Abbott but its report was delivered to and released by Turnbull. He described it as a ‘watershed moment’ for the labour movement. Making so-called union corruption an election issue, which he also promised, is a double-edged sword. Union bashing (and by association Labor and Shorten bashing) goes over well with some but unions can be effective in fighting back as they proved with WorkChoices. Turnbull is trying to frame it (following Ad Astra’s explanation of ‘framing’) as in the interest of ordinary union members but much will depend on the frame the unions use in fighting back. The Guardian has already pointed to the number of powerful women in the union movement and suggested:
A rise in female leadership and the diversity of social backgrounds from which they come has delivered to the union movement a face that looks far more like Australia’s than the Coalition’s own cabinet.
The public are also aware that the ATO released information that almost 600 of Australia’s biggest companies paid no tax in 2013‒14. While there are many reasons for that, the bald facts suggest that companies can avoid tax with impunity which reflects poorly on the government. Senator Xenophon has raised questions about the company that bought the Dick Smith electronics chain and floated the business in December 2013 making a profit of $400 million only to see the company now in voluntary administration. Echoing the TURC terms of reference, Xenophon said: ‘There are some real questions to be asked here about our level of corporate governance …’ [emphasis added]

When all that is put together, I doubt that TURC will really have the impact that some in the Coalition believe. Many in the electorate will be asking questions about why the unions are being pursued but big business isn’t. It’s a fair question. Politicians lose their positions when caught out but just losing their position is apparently not enough for union leaders. A politician who rorts the benefits he or she is entitled to is allowed to pay the money back but a union leader faces fraud charges. Some in the electorate already recognise the inconsistency and see it continuing under Turnbull.

Turnbull also appears happy to reduce penalty rates but lower wages not only affect workers but mean lower tax revenue for government. Bosses have argued since time immemorial that lower wages allow them to employ more people but it has never happened: during the Great Depression the then Arbitration Commission reduced wages in Australia by 10% with businesses promising they would then be able to employ more people but unemployment continued to rise, from 20% to 30%. Turnbull, however, side-stepped the issue by saying it was a matter for the Fair Work Commission. That is not what people expect of their government: government representatives will most likely make representations to the Fair Work Commission when the case comes up and people expect to know whether the government will support or oppose a reduction in penalty rates. Simply pretending that it is nothing to do with him, is not what people expect of a prime minister.

When it comes to economic policy? — no change there. The Turnbull government is still attacking those lower on the pecking order and leaving business and the well-off alone to get on with the job of making money — sorry, according to Turnbull that should be getting on with creating jobs. Despite Turnbull telling us that his approach will be ‘fair’, he should be conscious of the reaction to the 2014 budget when it was commonly and widely believed that the burden of cuts fell disproportionately on the less well-off. If people perceive that is still happening, or happening again, Turnbull’s claims of fairness will be seen as meaningless and just political ‘clap trap’ — not good for a politician’s future as Abbott and Hockey discovered. Of course, the idea of an increase in the GST is still alive, although opposed by a majority of voters.

The lack of activity by the government is reflected in the real economy. In December construction activity declined and there was also a downturn in new orders going into 2016; and a business survey found companies had lower expectations for sales, profits and employment in 2016. Around 70% of voters consistently rate the economy as an important issue and these indicators do not bode well for the government in 2016.

The approach to TURC and economic policy suggest that Turnbull is, at heart, still a businessman and will support big business. He may have small ‘l’ liberal social views but displays neo-liberal economic views and that will become more apparent to the electorate as time passes, and will be exacerbated if he fails to implement some of his social views.

To date, Turnbull has made only one significant new policy announcement — the science and innovation policy. There are a lot of words about a ‘cultural’ shift but little on where the money comes from: it appears that some funding is still dependent on the Senate passing previous cuts proposed by Abbott and Hockey. There have been a series of lesser announcements by his ministers, some of which seem to have had little attention in the media, but which together add up to more cuts to health and welfare spending, such as changes to paid parental leave, to Medicare benefits and to the eligibility of former public servants (both state and federal) for a part-pension. While not all of these measures have attracted wide attention, the people affected are certainly well aware of them and as the number of these groups is added to, that is a growing number of voters who are becoming more disillusioned, more convinced that the Abbott approach is continuing.

The Turnbull government is still pursuing the Abbott government policy of a transfer of powers to the states. Morrison has floated the idea that the states should receive a guaranteed share of income tax. The underlying idea is that the states become solely responsible for schools and hospitals and the commonwealth covers Medicare, the PBS and universities. Given that education and health are issues which the electorate sees Labor as better able to manage, the cynic in me suggests that this is also a political strategy to take away one of Labor’s strengths at the federal level. I do not expect everyone to see this, but people will see the commonwealth withdrawing from hospital and school funding. For many years now, commonwealth financial support has been central to health and education and it will be difficult to change that public perception. That leaves some room for Labor to continue pursuing commonwealth involvement in health and education because, at least for now, that is what the electorate expects.

Decisiveness is lacking or, at least, there is no sign of it yet. It is all well and good to make promises about consultation and proper consideration of issues but people often expect their leaders to be decisive, even with less popular decisions. Four months into his prime ministership and Turnbull has not made any major decisions — he has simply continued the Abbott policies. People expected there would be changes in the policy approach but are not seeing that. Turnbull may have provided a fresh approach in his words and demeanour but not in policy and that will soon wear thin with the electorate.

Some of these issues suggest there may be a temptation to go to an early election before the gloss of the Turnbull leadership wears off and more expectations are left unmet. At an election, however, he would be required to put policies before the electorate and if they remain the Abbott policies, the electorate will not be well pleased. Also if he goes before he has even presented his first budget, it will suggest signs of panic. The budget is often seen as a key indicator of the direction of a prime ministership and to go to an election without presenting one is not a good look. Turnbull, however, is trying to frame an opportunity to go early by using the TURC recommendations and associated legislation as a potential trigger for a double dissolution. Most commentators doubt that a double dissolution will be called because of the likelihood that it would give rise to an increase in minor parties in the Senate (owing to the smaller quota required to win a seat). There may not be a double dissolution but Turnbull may still be tempted to go early — how early is the question, as that also depends on a number of legal requirements regarding the timing of House and Senate elections. Legally he could hold just a House election but it would be electorally unpopular to again separate House and Senate elections. So his options for an early election appear limited, giving the electorate more time to see his true colours.

On 29 January, however, he did indicate that an election would not be called until August, September or October, thus acknowledging the difficulties of going early, but only a few days later, on the first sitting day of parliament, he said a double dissolution was still a ‘live option’ — although that may have been intended to pressure current cross-bench senators to support his legislation rather than a genuine intention. The fact that he can express those contradictory positions within a few days does not present the image of a decisive prime minister.

Basically, Turnbull created a persona before he became prime minister that is not being matched by his actions as prime minister and the electorate will grow increasingly disillusioned with this. So I think there is reason for optimism that the Coalition can be defeated in the election this year. The big question is whether Labor will be able to take advantage of this — but I will save those speculations for another time.

What do you think?
Is Ken’s optimism justified? Will people see through Turnbull’s glossy veneer before the election or will awakening come too late? Can Labor be effective in highlighting Turnbull’s ineffectiveness?

We hope you noticed that this piece was posted on Sunday morning rather than our previous regular time of Sunday evening. This will become our new standard posting time (9.00am on a Sunday) allowing you time to catch up after breakfast or brunch (depending on your time of rising).

Next week, at 9.00am on Sunday, 2353NM discusses a link between guns and electric cars in ‘Americans aren’t the only ones with blinkers’.


Still more on framing the political debate - the key to winning



I began this short series on political framing with the image above, and illustrated the concept with some overseas examples. In the second part I used examples from the contemporary federal political scene, pointed out the dangers of accepting political opponents’ framing, and examined ways of countering that framing. In this final part, I will further illustrate framing with some very contemporary political framing.

I hope that these pieces will convince you of the continuing reality of framing in our political scene and the power of a strong and plausible frame in setting the political agenda. I hope too it will offer some hints to Labor leaders as they seek to counter and match the Coalition’s skill at framing.

Abbott was a master at framing. He’s gone now from the top job, or we hope he has, but his legacy persists.

Take the ‘Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption’. If the title had not included ‘and Corruption’, it might have been seen as a neutral body assigned the task of examining how unions are managed and governed. But Abbott was determined to frame the Commission’s task as a legal investigation into what he asserted was widespread union corruption. His framing prejudged the outcome. Now that the Commission’s findings are public, Abbott will not be disappointed.



He could have achieved his purpose had the Commission been simply into trade union governance; the terms of reference would have defined the scope of the inquiry. But typically Abbott has never been known for subtlety; bare knuckle street brawling is all he knows.

His naming of the Commission and his stated purpose for initiating it naturally evoked a negative response from Labor and the unions, who immediately and persistently framed it as ‘a political witch-hunt’ designed to ‘get’ Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten, the Labor Party, and by the way, the union movement too. Abbott has probably succeeded in several of his aims, but at the expense of the Commission being seen as biased from the outset, even more so after Commissioner Dyson Heydon was found to be a scheduled guest speaker at a Liberal Party fundraiser.

Here is a classic example of how divergent the framing of the one event can be. Voters are left to decide which framing they find most plausible: ‘shining a spotlight on union corruption’ or simply a ‘witch hunt’ designed specifically to discredit political enemies.

Let’s move beyond Abbott to examine if the propensity for framing has persisted after his ejection by his party. Yes it has. Here are some recent examples.

As mentioned in an earlier piece, newly elected Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quickly elected to distance himself from Abbott’s negative framing with “We cannot be defensive, we cannot future proof ourselves. We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it. There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian.” The people responded encouragingly to his positive and optimistic framing of Australia’s position in the world. His ratings soared.

In bringing down the MYEFO, Scott Morrison with his dalek Mathias Cormann in tow tried his hand at framing that controversial statement.



Even before it was announced, Morrison was framing the fiscal outlook with the words: “We do not have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.” Sensible economists threw up their hands in despair. They know full well that Australia has a revenue problem, and that it will persist until more revenue is raised. Of course spending can always be reduced, but not enough to close the existing gap between revenue and expenditure. It seemed curious that Morrison should persist with the same framing as the discredited Hockey, when he had an opportunity to break free from it.

To answer this conundrum, it is necessary to look beyond the surface of Morrison’s framing to a deep-seated Coalition frame, namely that it is intent on reducing taxes, certainly not increasing them. To Morrison, increasing revenue equated with increasing taxes, which is anathema to him. Presumably, reducing tax concessions for superannuants and those enjoying negative gearing or capital gains concessions, equates with increasing taxes in Morrison’s mind.

He too proved susceptible to the ubiquitous three-word slogan. Soon he was repeating his own: “Work, save, invest”. As with all such slogans, he was framing his own fiscal management style. I suppose it is a morphed version of Hockey’s “Have a go”

When MYEFO finally emerged and economists and journalists examined it, Morrison felt the need to create another frame, one that portrayed the government as knowing where it was going and how to get there, while at the same time warning that it would take time. In his MYEFO address, he announced that the government was ‘making progress’. He said that this year’s budget position will be better than last year and emphasised there is ‘no magic solution’ because the government will not ‘put the safety of the passengers [growth and jobs of Australians] at risk’. Morrison suggested there is no one ‘save’ or ‘tax’ that will solve higher debts and deficits and lower growth forecasts, and that Australians appreciate the government’s ‘patient approach’

Appearing on 7.30 to explain MYEFO, Leigh Sales challenged Morrison with: “Politics frames everything?”



He responded with: “Well, it may frame things for journalists. What it doesn't frame for me is how we go about setting the tasks of returning the budget to balance. And that's our job and that's what we're doing.”

She retorted: “I'm directly asking you about rhetoric and the framing that's changed over a short two-year period?”

He returned her serve: “Well, reality is reality, Leigh. And we're confronting reality and we're dealing with the reality of what's happening globally and what's happening domestically.

“And what is in this statement today is a very sober, very honest and very patient statement which says: we will return the budget to balance - not as an end in itself, by the way, but a means to an end: and the end is jobs and growth.

“And everything we're doing, whether it's in fiscal policy or innovation policy or infrastructure roll-outs: it's all about jobs and growth. And we are not going to put at risk our objectives on jobs and growth by pursuing policies that would be contrary to that objective.”


Being in the holiday season, Morrison thought he could finally fob Sales off with the homely analogy of taking the kids on a holiday: “It's like going off on that summer holiday: you get in the car; you know where you're going; you don't put the passengers at risk; you get to your destination safely. Of course there will be people chiming in from the back seat like my kids always do, saying, ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ Well, we are going to get there and we're going to get there with everybody onboard.”

No doubt he thought this was very clever framing at a time of year when most parents would identify with his analogy. Probably many voters did, but some journalists thought it was pretty pedestrian. It is yet another example of how politicians use framing to get their message across by using folksy metaphors.

Writing in The Guardian, Katherine Murphy was scathing about Morrison’s approach:

This budget update has the distinct sound of desperate chasing of rats and mice in the hope that the budget trend will look vaguely credible. Sorry, it still doesn’t look credible. Much more work to do.

“Not only substantial policy work, also framing work. The government is trying to move past the mess of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, who came into government with thunderous over statements about the perilous state of the books, while peddling the fantasy the budget could be fixed without pain. But if the reboot is just folksy analogies about back seat drivers getting angsty about budget strategy – that ain’t going to cut it. Australians comprehensively rejected the agenda laid out in the 2014 budget, and the vehemence of the rejection has forced the government to go back to first principles at a time when it needs to be making a case for re-election.

“So what’s the summary? The objective lesson of MYEFO is it’s about time the political conversation about fiscal sustainability and economic reform got serious, because we’ve about had it with the quick fixes and sugar hits and the nasty surprises that appear random because they are random.

“The objective lesson of MYEFO is the government – in budget terms and reform terms – has blown its first two years in government. Whether it blows a third remains to be seen.”


On another front, Julie Bishop tried her hand at framing. Confronted with questions about the Coalition’s unquestioning support of coal, she retorted defiantly: "Coal-fired power generation is here to stay. "Fossil fuels will remain critical to promoting prosperity, growing economies, and alleviating hunger for years to come."

Within a few days environment minister Greg Hunt took the framing further in the course of defending the Adani Carmichael coal mine, piously saying “…it would be an act of ‘neo-colonialism’ not to support the mine, because Australian coal would ‘bring people out of poverty’.

Note the humanitarian frame in which these two ministers wrapped coal mining in general and the Adani mine specifically. The lifting of people out of poverty and hunger always pulls on the heartstrings, irrespective of how harmful the method of lifting them.

Finally let’s look at the framing of climate change by Abbott’s former business advisory council chairman Maurice Newman: You can read the whole hair-raising frame here. Here are some excerpts to whet your appetite and raise your hackles:



First, Newman criticised Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama for prioritising ‘collectivist visions’ over ‘private choice’ in relation to climate change… He accused world leaders of acting ‘like ancient druids pleading with the gods for good seasons’ at the recent Paris climate talks, blasted the final Paris agreement, which aims to hold global temperatures to a maximum rise of 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, saying there was ‘no empirical scientific evidence’ to support the policy.

He lamented that “without a Tony Abbott in Canberra or a Stephen Harper in Ottawa, no world leader utters a peep in protest”.

He accused western capitalist societies of giving up on rational thinking: “They embrace junk­ science and junk economics and adopt wealth-destroying postmodern pseudo-economics, which teaches that taxpayer subsidies can produce desirable ‘economic transformation’ and faster growth. “Pigs may also fly” he retorted.

“Climate change has cowed once great powers into meekly surrendering sovereignty and independent thought to unelected bureaucrats in Geneva. From the White House to the Lodge, private choice now runs a distant second to collectivist visions. Greenpeace exposes sceptics hired to cast doubt on climate science.”

Newman repeated his previous assertion that the United Nations was more about Marxism than science. “But then climate change is not about credible scientific evidence,” he asserted. "It has its roots in Marxism, and ultimately the Green Fund is presided over by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, run by Costa Rican Marxist Christiana Figures...”

“…The media, in step with the Green­Machine, will bombard us with climate alarmism to the applause of the leader of the free world, Barack Obama, who says: ‘My mission is to make the world aware that climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism.’ ­ Really? That’s serious. Clearly authority, not common sense or science, now rules the world.”


And so on he goes. Newman is framing action on global warming as a monumental Marxist conspiracy: “World leaders were succumbing to “bogus science and catastrophism” and considering abandoning fossil fuels – ‘the world’s cheapest, most ­efficient and wealth-creating power source’ – in favour of ‘costly, inefficient renewable energy’.” He warned that the 1.5 C target would be ‘relentlessly pursued’ by the UN with the help of the media.

As is usual with such radical framing, facts don’t count. The Guardian article went on to point out that last month the US environmental think tank Oil Change International and Britain’s Overseas Development Institute found the amount spent by G20 governments on fossil fuel subsidies was more than three times the amount spent by the world on subsidies to the renewable energy industry.

Such framing is frightening, but it is embraced by groups such as the ultra-conservative US think tank, The Heartland Institute, which holds annual conferences for climate deniers. At the last one, Lord Monckton was the celebrity speaker.

That brings us to the end of this three part series on political framing.

I trust the series has explained the concept of framing, the power it has on political thinking, the benefits that accrue from convincing and appealing framing, the downside of inappropriate framing, the danger of adopting opponents’ framing, the importance of countering such framing, and ways of negating opponents’ framing.

Effective political framing is the key to success in politics. Ineffective framing leads to failure.

Conservatives the world over are adept at successful framing; progressives fall far behind. If Labor is to overcome the popularity of our new prime minister, it will have to match his framing, counter framing that is inconsistent with Labor values, and create some stylish and appealing framing for its own values, policies and plans that will win over the hearts and minds of the swinging voters. Is it up to this challenge?

As an interesting exercise, when politicians next offer their policies and advance their plans, try asking yourself: “How are they trying to dress up their proposals to make them sound attractive?’; ‘What framing are they using here?’; and ‘Is their framing reasonable, believable, and most of all moral?’. Expect to find yourself disappointed!


What do you think?
In this, the final piece on political framing, Ad astra used recent events to reinforce the concept and application of political framing, ending with a grotesque example in the climate change debate.

He anticipates you will now ask about politicians: What are they trying to say? What impressions are they trying to create? In what way do they seek to change our opinions? What framing devices are they using?

Are you ready to expose our politicians?

More on framing the political debate - the key to winning



In the first of this short series on framing: Framing the political debate – the key to winning, I described the concept of political framing as developed by cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakoff, which he described in his book The Political Mind. I illustrated it with examples drawn from the Iraq war and from our federal political scene. This piece draws on more recent examples of how framing has been used successfully, principally by the Coalition government. Conservatives have an aptitude in selecting frames for the policies and plans they wish to introduce. Often they are winners; occasionally though their frames turn out to be losers.

Leading up to the 2013 election Tony Abbott embraced three memorable slogans: He promised he would “Abolish the carbon tax’, ‘Stop the Boats’, and ‘Repay the Debt’. He embellished these with more negatives: ‘This toxic tax’, ‘The World’s Biggest Carbon Tax’, ‘Axe the Tax’, ‘Stop the waste’, and a positive: ‘Hope, Reward, Opportunity’. Someone must have persuaded him that three words slogans would stick in voters’ minds. And they did. All of these were frames. They framed Labor as a high taxing party, wasteful of taxpayers’ money, running up intolerable debt and huge budget deficits, and unable to protect our borders, all negatives. The Coalition framed itself as the party that would fix Labor’s mess, and it also offered hope, reward and opportunity, all positives. Very simple, yet successful!



When Joe Hockey entered the framing arena, he thought he was on a winner when he coined the slogan: “The age of entitlement is over”. He still boasts of the address he delivered in London on that theme. He framed those whom he deemed dependent on welfare entitlements as ‘leaners’, a pejorative tag that he used to contrast them with the ‘lifters’, the good guys who pulled their weight, and whose taxes supported the lazy leaners. This framing appealed particularly to conservatives, many of whom believe that those who earn a lot deserve it, and are entitled to keep it; those with little deserve to be poor. Hockey reinforced his framing by publicising how many dollars from their salaries various hardworking lifters contributed to supporting the leaners.



Although progressives disliked his framing, his supporters applauded. But when Hockey framed his 2014 budget along those lines he came unstuck. It penalized his designated ‘leaners’, those on the aged pension and on welfare, by extracting from them the savings he insisted he must make to balance the budget, while scarcely touching those on higher incomes. The electorate erupted with disgust. Voters, even Coalition supporters, saw the budget as grossly unfair, penalising as it did those least able to afford it.

Hockey’s framing, and we know it was Abbott’s too, backfired badly. Faulty framing is as damaging as excellent framing is beneficial. Soon Hockey, Abbott and Cormann were forced into retreat. So damaging was this framing that they reversed it in the 2015 budget.

Another striking example of implausible framing was the representation of Labor as incompetent money managers and profligate spenders, running up appalling debts that our grandchildren will still be repaying. So determined was Abbott to frame Labor as bungling spendthrifts, that he deliberately inflated the debt levels, painted a picture of never ceasing debt spiralling out of control, and budget deficits stretching out ‘as far as the eye can see’. He boasted that the adults in the Coalition would soon pay off the debt, and get the budget back to surplus. He framed the situation as being a ‘debt and deficit disaster’ and an ominous ‘budget emergency’. Initially, the electorate believed his inflated rhetoric until it became obvious, even to his supporters, that the debt and deficit was steadily worsening under his own government’s stewardship. By the 2015 budget, although the fiscal situation had deteriorated further, voters noticed that the ‘crisis’, the ‘disaster’ and the ‘emergency’ had magically disappeared.

Abbott’s stocks had been poor almost since his election, and continued to fall with the first leadership spill. It was then that he tried to reframe his government’s performance with his astonishing: “Good government starts today”! Even as his position continued to deteriorate until he was finally removed, he kept on with the fictitious framing of a government doing well and achieving a lot since being elected, despite his inability to get a raft of his crucial bills through the Senate. His framing was out of touch with the stark reality of a floundering, incompetent government that did not know where it was going. For framing to work it has at least to be vaguely consistent with the observable facts.

Abbott and Hockey, still smarting from the reaction of the electorate to the 2014 budget, thought they had better frame the 2015 budget differently. So they framed it as a ‘have a go’ budget: "So now is the time for all Australians to get out there and have a go." After castigating those on welfare in 2014, they were now jollying us all to ‘have a go’. The electorate could not fail to notice the complete turn around in rhetoric. How many realized that this about turn was simply a reframing? They dropped the pejorative ‘emergency’ frame and installed the benign ‘have a go’ frame. No doubt they hoped nobody would notice their back flip, but of course both the commentators and the voters did.

Once Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister we saw entirely new framing, although his policies look strikingly similar to Abbott’s. His framing was upbeat: ”There has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian…We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it. There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today …”

This optimistic framing appealed to the electorate after years of negative framing by Abbott, who was always telling us of the threats we faced, from terrorists, from asylum seekers, from budget crises, from the leaners who were draining the coffers dry. Turnbull’s ratings, and those of the Coalition, soared, so relieved was the electorate to see Abbott’s negative framing replaced by Turnbull’s positive, buoyant framing. Whether Turnbull can deliver remains to be seen, but what is obvious is that voters prefer upbeat rather than downbeat framing, and are prepared to give the optimist a go.

Let’s look now at how Labor responded to the Abbott/Hockey framing. Lakoff believes that progressives the world over are less skilful at framing appealing messages because of their parental upbringing, as detailed in Understanding the conservative mind. His concepts are summarised below.

Lakoff attributes progressives’ lack of skill in framing to their embrace of what he terms: ‘Old Enlightenment thinking’, which posits that the facts should speak for themselves and that they can win elections by citing facts and offering programs that serve voters’ interests. Progressives believe: ‘Give the voters the facts, explain what they mean with persuasive reasoning, propose policies that serve their interests, and all will be well. The people will understand once policies are explained to them.’

It is curious that progressives have been so slow to work out that this is not so. Facts and logic are insufficient. Emotional intelligence has to be integrated into the frame to convince the voter. Abbott appealed to the emotions with his use of negative words. They brought about the desired adverse emotional reaction. Words such as tax, debt, deficit, crisis, emergency, terrorism, and phrases such as being overrun with ‘invaders’, evoke fear reactions. Having created fear, Abbott promised to soothe those fears, protect the people and our borders, and fix the fiscal mess left by Labor.

In contrast, positive words: ‘exciting times’, ‘opportunity’, or even ‘have a go’, result in a positive emotional response from voters. Yet Labor was never able to come up with positive frames that negated Abbott’s negative ones. Since the debt and the deficit were hardly trivial, it proved impossible for Labor to pass them off as a temporary aberration that would correct itself in the fullness of time, although several sound economists were sanguine about the deficit and its eventual correction. Abbott framed debt and deficit as a disaster, and it stayed that way in voters’ minds.

Neither was Labor able to counter effectively Abbott’s rhetoric about asylum seekers and boat people. Any semblance of a more humane attitude was negated by: ‘Labor is soft on terror’. Note that ‘terror’ and ‘asylum seekers’ were conflated in this framing, although there is no credible evidence that boat people seeking asylum are, or would become terrorists. Moreover, Morrison accused Labor of virtually inviting people smugglers to bring more asylum seekers by ‘putting sugar on the table’. The Coalition’s framing always outmaneuvered Labor’s.

The best Labor was able to come up with were what some journalists mockingly tagged ‘Bill Shorten’s zingers’.

Lakoff writes extensively about ‘fear of framing’, which he defines as “…a fear of how the other side will frame your vote, and a fear of framing the truth on your own.” He went onto say:
Framing the truth so that it can be understood is not just central to honest, effective politics. It is central to every aspect of human life. It takes knowledge and honesty, skill and courage. It is part of being a full human being. It is not just the province of political leaders; it is the duty of a citizen.

Fear of framing is debilitating, not just to you, but to everyone who depends on you.
Labor ought to read what Lakoff says and lift its game.

He goes onto discuss the difficult process of what he describes as ‘getting unframed’. Here is a striking example of how Barack Obama unframed a question posed by TV journalist Wolf Spitzer in a Democratic presidential debate on CNN in 2007. Lakoff describes Spitzer’s behaviour in this debate as “…a wolf in sheep’s clothing – a conservative who poses as a neutral journalist. All through the debate he used conservatives frames. Some candidates managed to shift the frame to their ground, but all too often they tried to answer and were trapped in a conservative frame. This led up to one of the greatest political moments in recent political television”. The context included the contentious argument about what language US citizens should speak. Many immigrants do not speak English.



Spitzer: I want you to raise your hand if you believe English should be the official language of the United States.

Barack Obama refused to take it anymore. He got up, stepped forward, and said:

Obama: This is the kind of question that is designed precisely to divide us. You know, you’re right. Everybody is going to learn to speak English if they live in this country. The issue is not whether or not future generations of immigrants are going to learn English. The question is: how can we come up with both a legal and sensible immigration policy? And when we are distracted by these kinds of questions, I think we do a disservice to the American people.


Lakoff relates how he cheered Obama’s response. He goes onto say: “The first lesson about the use of framing in politics is not to accept the other side’s framing. One part of that is politely shifting the frame, as Obama did. “You know, you’re right…” But there are situations like presidential debates where the host should not be allowed to get away with conservative bias via framing. Obama did it just right, challenging the question itself. His response could be taken as a mantra: “This is the kind of question that is designed precisely to divide us.”

You will recall how Tony Abbott designed the frame ‘Team Australia’ for the same purpose: precisely to divide us.

Labor and its leaders need to become more proficient in the framing arena. They should not allow themselves to be trapped in their opponents’ frames. They must become more adept at challenging these frames, calling them out, as did Obama. They must become more creative and skilful in developing their own frames.

Unless they can unframe their opponents; unless they create powerful frames that represent their point of view, their values, their policies and their plans, they are destined to wallow in the wake of Coalition frames.

And they have to understand that facts and reason alone are insufficient. Unless the emotional content of their frames is designed to appeal to the voters, they will not succeed in attracting the swinging voters they need.


The last in this brief series on framing, which will be published in a couple of days, uses contemporary examples of how the government is framing its ideas, policies and plans. Some are, or will be effective; some will have limited appeal; some may end up on the scrap heap. Labor’s will need to counter them, match them, or surpass them. That’s quite a challenge.

What do you think?
Ad astra has used examples from our own political scene to illustrate further the concept of framing. You will have recognized many of them. He illustrated the danger of becoming trapped in an opponent’s framing, and how to disentangle from it.

In part 3, he will use very contemporary examples of framing which you will remember.