Journalists awake! You know Tony Abbott is conning you

Do you sense that ‘The Great Awakening’ has begun? For countless months we have read innumerable stories of doom and gloom about Labor’s prospects, endless stories of threats to Julia Gillard’s leadership, a ‘Ruddstoration’ just around the corner, deadlines for the polls to improve or else, and a ‘when, not if’ prospect for a change of leadership. Projections of electoral wipeout based on current polls, with loss of most if not all seats in some States, have filled political columns. ‘The people have stopped listening’ the pundits have said, a supposition presumably based on poll results, as there hasn’t been a poll on ‘listening’. Every new poll, until the last Newspoll, has been tagged as yet another disaster for Labor, another nail in its coffin. Everything is gloom writ large.

But this last couple of weeks has been a little different. The doomster columnists seem to have ever so subtly changed their tune. It might of course be just our imagination, or the wishful thinking of Labor supporters, and it might be evanescent, but there is an unmistakable change.

Tim Dunlop set the scene in his piece If Tony Abbott didn't exist, the media would have to invent him on The Drum Opinion on 9 August. He began by exposing the lameness of Laurie Oakes who pronounced: "Abbott is doing what Opposition leaders almost always do...But he stands out because he is better at it than most." Full marks to Abbott for being an obstructionist, negative, inveterate liar, with no concern for the common good, Laurie.

Then Dunlop got stuck into Phil Coorey, where in his 30 July SMH piece PM fixes stalemate but funding battle will be Abbott's, Coorey makes this comment relating to the NDIS: “...Abbott is the odds-on favourite to win the next election and needs to give it more serious consideration. He has pledged full support for the NDIS and says he will adhere to the commission's plan. This means he will fund it from general revenue and does not rule out a tax increase or massive spending cuts to find the money. On Friday, when asked, he pointedly and wisely declined to address this specific question.”

Dunlop rightly castigates Coorey: “Mr Abbott is not being judged on his ability to run a government, but on his ability to manipulate the media coverage by refusing to address a central question about a major policy.”

Listen though to Phil Coorey talking in a video clip on an article by Michelle Grattan, and you will hear a much more sombre Coorey, acknowledging that maybe things are turning around for PM Gillard and her Government. He may be at the beginning of his Great Awakening.

Dunlop then tackles Lenore Taylor for her 3 August article in the SMH One fight the Coalition will shy away from, an article about Abbott’s response to the independent panel’s review of Fair Work Australia for “tacitly accepting Tony Abbott's attempt to sidestep the matter”. Taylor says: “…the Coalition does not want an election fight on industrial relations. It won't engage”, as if that were a reasonable response, not to be challenged, certainly not by her. Dunlop says: “How does this happen? Isn't the role of the media precisely to make the Opposition - the alternative government - "engage", not just wave them through unchallenged?”

Dunlop concludes: “Tony Abbott is playing the media for fools, dishing up the sort of content that he knows they find, in their weakened state, impossible to decline. By accepting it uncritically, they have created a positive feedback loop where he and the media now feed off each other.”

Hallelujah for a forthright journalist who is prepared not to pull any punches over his colleagues’ obsequiousness.

Dunlop’s message is clear: Abbott is playing the media for fools, and they are falling for it hook, line and sinker. I can’t believe that they are too stupid to see what Abbott is doing to them; the only other explanation is that they are complicit. Why? Instructions from above? Job insecurity? Or wanting to keep onside with the one they consider a certain winner in 2013?

There are still a few journalists that write their columns in accord with the actual facts, rather than the ‘facts’ they would prefer, most from Fairfax. Ross Gittins and Peter Martin keep us up with facts economic and base their opinions accordingly. Laura Tingle, from the same Fairfax stable is another. Does her article on 9 August: Abbott struggles to find form as the game shifts, herald a change of tone in political commentary?

She begins: “Over-investment in electricity infrastructure, and a failure in the regulation of power prices which was financing it, was a “fabrication”, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told us yesterday…Well Tony, on this occasion, you should probably believe the Prime Minister because she is saying the same thing as your own resources spokesman; because conservative state premiers have also been raising the problem; and because the problem is set out in great detail in the reports of energy regulators. But, more importantly, you should probably believe it because, like a range of other policy issues facing the present government, it is more than likely going to be your problem in about 10 months’ time, and it is time you started saying what you would do about it.” Tingle is saying it the way it is.

She goes on: “But like a couple of other outings in the past fortnight, the Opposition Leader has seemed at a loss about how to proceed when venturing into territory beyond the carbon tax”, and cites his Beijing address and his proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act to protect Andrew Bolt. She comments: “The clunky way Abbott has started to move into new policy areas as the carbon tax caravan has started to move on has surprised MPs on both sides of the political divide, who are used to the stunningly effective way he has pursued the government over the carbon tax. There has long been a fear in Coalition ranks that behind the ruthless effectiveness of the “stop the tax, stop the boats” Abbott attack, there may lurk a more chaotic machine in which the Coalition’s policy positions remain chaotic.”

And later: “The shakiness of Abbott’s performance in the past couple of weeks when he has had to deal with issues other than the carbon tax has been particularly notable in a week when the Prime Minister has returned from holidays on the front foot, dusting up the states over the surge in electricity prices over the past four or five years.”

But then Laura has always been reasonable and balanced. She knows that the would-be Prime Minister has been conning journalists all along, and that it’s time for an awakening.

Tim Colebatch, another balanced writer for Fairfax, in his 9 August piece in The Age Carbon tax in soft landing begins: “The federal opposition's scare campaign against the carbon tax has failed its first test. The Bureau of Statistics reports that seasonally adjusted employment rose by 14,000 in July - the month the tax took effect - while unemployment fell to 5.2 per cent. For the government, it was a double bonus after the TD Securities-Melbourne Institute monthly inflation gauge reported on Monday that inflation rose just 0.2 per cent in July, and was flat over the past three months. While this was only the first test of the carbon tax, if the duo of rising employment and low inflation continues, it could have huge political implications - undermining Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's repeated claim that the carbon tax would be ''like a wrecking ball through our economy''.”

Later he says: “With the election not due for another year or more, the real test of the tax's impact on jobs and inflation lies ahead. But if the economy thrives over the coming year despite the tax - as most forecasters expect - it could become the political ''game-changer'' Labor is hoping for, discrediting the Coalition and its leader.”

Colebatch senses the game is up for Abbott, and that conning the public with his pumped up rhetoric about an imagined carbon tax disaster is at an end. Journalists had better realize this too, or they will look as stupid as Abbott will.

A 9 August editorial in The Age Gillard at least deserves a tick for the economy begins: “What must a government, even one losing the battle for hearts and minds, do to scrape a pass mark for economic management? On any objective assessment, Australia's economy is a gold medal performer. Yet Opposition Leader Tony Abbott routinely condemns ''the worst government in Australia's history''. Coalition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey, faced with strong growth data, retorted: ''Imagine how well our country could do if we had a good government.''

The editorial concludes: “The Westpac-Melbourne Institute index of consumer confidence reveals a disconnect between such facts and public opinion. Labor voters score 124 and Coalition voters a gloomy 79. The disparity belies their access to the same economic facts. So vital is consumer confidence that all responsible political leaders must be wary of ''talking down'' the economy. Whatever the sins of Julia Gillard and her government, gross economic mismanagement is not one of them.”

Again, even the editorial acknowledges that what Abbott and Hockey are saying about the economy and the Gillard Government’s management of it, are blatant lies, that they are conning the public and the press.

Now turn to Lenore Taylor’s piece in the SMH: Coalition split over energy price rises. Although the headline suggests she is onto a real exposé, her article is just very ordinary, uncritical ‘he said, she said’ journalism with not one word of criticism of Abbott for his ‘fabrication’ pronouncement. It is only when the video is played that you hear her say that his position ‘is not really a credible proposition’. Why does she not write this and call Abbott’s words as bald-faced lies at variance even with his own front bench? Here again we have a senior journalist not willing to criticise in writing a possible future PM, although she concedes in the video that his position is not credible.

Writing on 9 August in the SMH on Abbott’s address to the IPA about free speech and press freedom, and Abbott’s promise to repeal section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, the one that tripped up Andrew Bolt, in his article Free speech debate is coloured by hypocrisy, Richard Ackland concludes: “Abbott's clunky speech did not finesse the boundaries. His attack on the government's deliberations on the convergence review and the Finkelstein proposals for a News Media Council to patrol journalistic standards shows that he is quite content with the idea that a self-regulated regime, with one company straddling like a colossus the print and pay TV business in this country, is a great way to protect free speech. But then, freedom of speech is a freedom to sprout spurious notions.”

Not much of a pat on the back for Abbott there.

What about Fairfax’s grande dame? Writing in The Age on 10 August in Gillard set to spring into action after a winter of discontent, Michelle Grattan begins: “Julia Gillard will go into next week's spring parliamentary session confident the worst of the carbon nightmare is behind her and that she can turn the debate towards Labor's positive agenda. With Newspoll showing the ALP's primary vote improving five points to 33 per cent and Kevin Rudd apparently well short of the numbers to replace her, the Prime Minister has declared that, against all odds, she can bounce back from the abysmal polls to win next year's election.”

Later she says: “She will use the initial parliamentary week to turn up the heat on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on issues ranging from boats to electricity prices.” And: “The carbon tax's first six weeks have encouraged her. There are already some early indications that people are starting to see through the incredible wild scare campaign that has been run about carbon pricing.” She concludes: “As always, in whatever adversity, Gillard is disciplined, never publicly showing a hint of weakness or self-doubt.”

Grattan’s article is based on an interview and is very much ‘she said, he said’, but at least she refrains from acerbic comment.

What does News Limited have to say? Let’s not assume that they are in for ‘The Great Awakening’. Peter van Onselen, so fond of pouring scorn in our PM, has a crack at commentary on 11 August in Gillard’s new shock tactics. Amidst dispensing his wisdom he takes a few sideswipes.

He begins: “For so long unable to wedge Abbott in a direct confrontation with the federal Opposition Leader, Gillard is now using the states as a proxy battleground to cause internal divisions within the Coalition. They are an easier target because they are less united than the federal opposition, which has remained remarkably disciplined in recent times. Each conservative state premier has his own agenda, as well as his own political circumstances to deal with.” So PvO gives her a small tick for smart strategy.

Later on, and unable to resist a backhander he says: “And is the public still listening to her anyway? As the clock ticks towards the next election, Gillard’s strategy is becoming more audacious. Attacking others for electricity price increases certainly fits that formula. It is a head-on response to Abbott’s claims that the carbon tax is responsible for cost of-living pressures associated with energy price rises across the board, and it is reminiscent of the approach Mark Textor used to advise John Howard to adopt when he was confronted with politically difficult issues.”

Later still: “Gillard supporters say the past few weeks are a perfect illustration of exactly what they said would happen once the carbon tax came into effect. The debate would move on, and the polls would improve. They have always said a full-term Gillard government would look far more effective than a mid-term minority parliament.”

So here we have a tiny concession from a News Limited journalist that our PM has, or might just be doing something smart.

We have to go to the 11 August edition of the Courier Mail for the most robust News Limited statement in It's game on for Gillard holding the deck, says Dennis Atkins He begins with: “At the end of the six-week winter break, the political positioning of the two main combatants has moved even if next year's election remains very much the Coalition's to lose.”

After almost dismissing the prospect of a Rudd return, Atkins goes on to discuss the issues, and has this to say: “Gillard returns to Parliament with two major political negatives, carbon and asylum seekers.

“On carbon, Gillard will face an unabashed continuation of Tony Abbott's relentless negative assault on the price impacts of the scheme, especially during its tax phase. Abbott proved in recent days he will not shy away from any untruth in his campaign to brand Gillard an untrustworthy liar. It is the most reckless and audacious politicking most observers including this one can remember.

“Whether Abbott makes a lie out of employment numbers by conflating June and July results or blames Gillard for an electricity pricing regime set up by the Howard Cabinet of which he was a member, the Liberal leader is taking the demeaning tactic of not caring what he says to new depths.”

Have you ever read a more damning comment about Abbott from a News Limited journalist? Will Atkins be the one to lead a rethink among his colleagues?

What about the ABC? Last week the acerbic Sabra Lane, who has made an art form of pouring acid over our PM, surprisingly poured some on Tony Abbott in an interview about electricity prices on AM on 9 August. You can hear it here.

The 12 August Insiders echoed the view that Julia Gillard was on the front foot about electricity prices, even although that entailed a risk. It was a balanced discussion; if you missed it, it is here. George Megalogenis offered the view that this was Tony Abbott’s second worst week, after the week where he did a ‘run rabbit run’ for the exit in parliament. He also confirmed his disdain for the widespread preoccupation with polls, and remains on a ‘poll strike’. He did point out though how quickly polls can change as they did in the Hewson-Keating contest when Kennett became premier in Victoria and the voters saw a Hewson-Kennett axis emerging, just as they now see an up-and-coming Abbott-Newman alignment.

Finally let’s see what Andrew Elder has to say in The Price of Power.

“Tony Abbott can't be Prime Minister because he hasn't made the case that he'd do that job better than Julia Gillard is doing it. In recent weeks we have seen Abbott flick the switch that should have displayed the power he has at his command - the power he would exercise on our behalf, if only we vote in the way that the empty refractions known as polls might indicate.” Later Elder labels Abbott: “…a Johnny one-note who can't change his mind and therefore can't change anyone's nor anything else either.”

He reminds us of Abbott’s mistake: “Talking up "the carbon tax" rebounded on him when the sky failed to fall on poor Whyalla and the debate shifted to other factors driving up electricity prices - other factors about which Abbott has nothing to say, nothing to contribute.”

Talking about the MSM, Elder says: “It was understandable that they should give him the benefit of the doubt but now the press gallery embarrass themselves when they simply take him at face value. I talk a lot about the politico-media complex but increasingly, if nobody listens to Abbott on the big issues at the crucial moments, eventually journalists have to stop taking him seriously.”

That is what this piece is about. Abbott has been conning journalists, and there is an urgent need for them to wake up, and stop taking him seriously.

Finally Elder says: “Abbott is committing the worst offence possible against the modern media - providing dull copy - without the gravitas and seriousness of considering the future of the nation and preparing for government.”

I trust that what has been presented in this piece has given credence to the view that at least some of the MSM are waking up to the fact that Abbott has been conning them all along, and that they have been sucked in. Some are beginning to realize that unless they begin to tell the public about Abbott’s deception, disingenuousness, and his lies, their credibility will suffer and eventually be destroyed, something they can hardly countenance professionally. They have to tell it the way it is.

Journalists have to accept that Abbott is no better than a Duracell Bunny, who is fitted each morning with new batteries, and who goes out thumping his tub, the same tub he always thumps. He has nothing else to thump about but the carbon tax, the minerals tax, the boats, the ‘worst government in history’, the awful PM, Ju-liar. They have been conned by him for years, listening uncritically to his tub-thumping, repeating his words without question, never challenging his thumping, believing that he is the chosen Bunny because the polls say so, diminishing their journalistic reputation with every sycophantic piece they write. Well folks, The Great Awakening is upon them.

Journalists who simply echo the tub thumping of the Bunny, the Bunny they have never challenged, the Bunny who has conned them all this time, will go down with him as his batteries corrode, splutter and go flat.

What do you think?