Julia Gillard can defeat Tony Abbott in 2013. But how does she neutralize Rupert Murdoch?

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Saturday, 5 May 2012 09:10 by Ad astra
The ‘secret’ is out. We have known for ages that Rupert Murdoch has wanted PM Gillard out. Robert Manne wrote about Murdoch’s aspiration in The Monthly in Bad News: Robert Manne on Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping on the Nation and many, many in the Fifth Estate have testified to his intention to oust our PM and install Tony Abbott - after all it’s his turn! But last week Murdoch’s twitter finger got the better of him and he tweeted: @rupertmurdoch 
Dramatic, slimy events in Australian politics. Country desperately needs election to get fresh start. 
28 Apr 12. There’s no room for doubt now – Murdoch wants an election and expects that it will be the end of Julia Gillard and her Government.

While PM Gillard needs to defeat Tony Abbott and the Coalition at the next election, that is not her most forbidding task. Her most powerful enemy is Rupert Murdoch. It is he who must be countered for electoral success. Our PM has two virulent enemies, and an unequal battle with them.

For Murdoch to tweet this message so soon after his most recent appearance at the Levinson Inquiry where his influence over the political process and politicians in the UK was placed under the public microscope so forensically, and where he denied having such influence despite overwhelming evidence that this was so, is a sign of the man’s arrogance and self confidence.

He has been subtler in the past, but seems to see no need for subtlety now. When all but one of his 175 papers worldwide editorialized in favour of US involvement in the Iraq War, he claimed that he had not instructed them to do so, or even influenced them. But they all knew what Uncle Rupert thought and wanted, and followed sycophantically. Just as kids know what their parents think, so do Rupert’s children, and knowing on what side their bread is buttered, readily, even enthusiastically, comply.

At the Levenson Inquiry, Murdoch put the lie to his earlier contention that: ‘I don’t instruct my editors’ when he said: ‘If you want to know what I think, just read the editorials in my papers’. The counsel assisting the Levinson inquiry, Robert Jay QC, used a telling description of the relationship between Rupert Murdoch and those he wishes to influence, and in turn, who want to influence him. He described it as a 'pirouette', where each circles the other subtly indicating wants and desires, without a telling word being spoken to convey the message – the ‘pirouette’ was all that was necessary.

On the Australian scene though, Murdoch’s pirouette seems unnecessary. Everyone knows his power, his capacity to make and break political leaders. After his first personal meeting with Murdoch over lunch, Tony Abbott said: ‘I hope he liked me’. We understand why.

Murdoch’s tweet was no subtle pirouette – it was bare-knuckle advocacy, Abbott style.

Most recently, a majority of the UK parliamentary committee set up to investigate phone hacking by News Corporation described Rupert Murdoch as “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”. This ‘unfit’ person is the one who tweeted that Australia needs an election and a ‘fresh start’.

But let’s go back to ‘Julia Gillard can defeat Tony Abbott in 2013’. Attribute by attribute, Julia Gillard is superior. As two political leaders in a face-to-face contest without the pernicious influence of the mainstream media malevolently distorting the truth, without the influence of Murdoch’s outlets gunning incessantly for PM Gillard, how would they measure up?

Negotiating skills
The old adage, coined by Prussian politician Otto Von Bismark in 1867: ‘Politics is the art of the possible’, is as true now as it was then. Negotiating what is possible is therefore a crucial skill. Julia Gillard has this in spades; Tony Abbott does not.

From her days as a legal advocate, through her time in parliament in ministerial positions in industrial relations and education, to her period as Deputy Prime Minister and then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has exhibited outstanding negotiating skills. After seventeen long days following the 2010 election, she, and Tony Abbott negotiated with the Independents, seeking their support to form a minority government. The PM won hands down. Stories gradually emerged about Abbott’s approach – ‘I’ll do anything, offer anything to become PM’. As Tony Windsor reported, and repeated this week on Lateline, the only thing he said he wouldn’t offer was the nether part of his anatomy, and he’d even consider that. His desperation to do whatever it took to gain power was starkly exhibited when, sitting with his shoes parked on his coffee table, he offered Andrew Wilkie $1 billion to rebuild the Royal Hobart Hospital, an offer that Wilkie described as ‘almost reckless’, one he rejected as irresponsible, preferring instead Julia Gillard’s $100 million offer. Because Abbott failed to indicate from where the money would come, Wilkie moved toward Gillard on the grounds that Labor's proposal was "a much more ethical way to go than simply just grabbing $1bn for Tasmania". Despite the obvious appeal of a massive grant for his electorate, Abbott’s dubious ethics repulsed Wilkie.

Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott too gave PM Gillard high marks for her negotiating skills and Abbott very low marks. We know the outcome, so painstakingly spelt out on that fateful day in October 2010 when they held their press conference to announce their support for PM Gillard.

She also negotiated a compromise with the three big miners over the MRRT, which although some think is inadequate, is nevertheless now part of our laws.

And if anyone is entertaining the idea that Tony Abbott’s negotiating skills might be on the improve, just listen to his latest advice to Windsor and Oakeshott. He advised them “to wake up to themselves” and vote for a no-confidence motion in the Government; an admonition hardly likely to draw them to him.

Negotiating skills: Julia Gillard 9, Tony Abbott 0.

Policy creation
Even conceding that the party in Government is the one charged with the responsibility of formulating policy in order to pass legislation, the score of over three hundred pieces already passed is impressive. And many of those have been momentous. The much maligned carbon tax as a prelude to an ETS, the MRRT, the repeal of WorkChoices, the heath care and education reforms, changes to the private health insurance rebate, plain packaging of cigarettes, massive infrastructure projects, notably the largest ever, the NBN, and more recently the aged care reform package and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, are but some of the important measures that the Gillard Government has put in place. This is a vigorously legislating and courageous Government, which has achieved what it has against almost continual opposition and obstruction from the Opposition and its leader. Next week it will return the Budget to surplus after going into deficit to shield this nation from the ravages of the global financial crisis that devastated so many other developed nations.

What policy has Tony Abbott created? He excuses himself from announcing policies on the grounds that he will do so ‘in good time before the election’, which of course he insists should be held right away. What we have seen is an extravagant PPL scheme that favours the wealthy, a thought bubble about a nanny scheme for working mothers, an immigration policy that is simply a re-run of the Howard Government scheme, with the added hairy-chested effrontery towards Indonesia, Abbott style, which has already evoked anger in that nation. He has his expensive ‘Clayton’s’ Direct Action Plan to combat climate change that will pay the polluters to stop polluting and send the $1300 bill to householders. Economists won’t endorse it. Environmentalists doubt if it will work. Abbott also says he would set up a mechanism for monitoring government expenditure, which he insists he would prune radically; he would remove 12,000 public servants and abolish the climate change department as part of this pruning.

Is there anything else? Yes, he will piggy-back on the NDIS, for which he announced he is indeed ‘Dr Yes’.

His attempt to cost his shadow budget last year was beset with shonky figures and an $11 billion black hole; his efforts to find $70 billion of savings in his budget this year will be watched with great interest and suspicion.

Oh, I almost forgot, Abbott will repeal the carbon tax, the MRRT, stop the NBN, reverse the health insurance rebate, all if he can, and yet retain many of the goodies that flow from these Government policies, using his magic pudding approach.

If any Coalition supporters have read this far, please let me know if I’ve forgotten any innovative Abbott policies.

Policy creation: Julia Gillard 8, Tony Abbott 1.

Vision for the nation
Here the comparison is stark. While Julia Gillard has spelt out her vision for the nation repeatedly, one the tune deaf media cannot or will not hear, and has developed a policy agenda that embraces many far-reaching and courageous reforms that her Government is steadily having passed through the parliament, Tony Abbott has opposed most of them and has offered almost nothing.

Has anyone ever heard him make a comprehensive vision statement? If so, please post it in the comments.

Vision: Julia Gillard 8, Tony Abbott 2.

Understanding of global economics
Few words are needed here to describe the contrast. Julia Gillard was part of the team of four that fashioned the Government’s successful response to the GFC, and she is involved day after day with her economics team, Wayne Swan, Penny Wong, Bill Shorten and David Bradbury in attending to the nation’s economy, currently the envy of the world. Tony Abbott is bored with economics, should not be let anywhere near money according to Peter Costello, has made almost no statements on how Australia’s economy should be run, and what he has said has shown his ignorance. His team of Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann add very little.

Economics: Julia Gillard 8, Tony Abbott 1.

Communication skills
The media would give Tony Abbott high marks for ability to communicate with the public, and mark Julia Gillard down.

When virtually all communications are endlessly repeated slogans and virulent attacks on the PM and her Government, communication is straightforward and seemingly effective. But what about Abbott’s current affairs appearances? He rarely appears on programs that probe, preferring to interact with sycophantic shock jocks like Alan Jones. His only appearance on 7.30 this year was with the flaccid Chris Uhlmann in the chair, a prerecorded event that allowed editing of the bloopers. His press conferences are tightly controlled, and when the going gets tough, he walks away. He did it again this week when asked probing questions about Christopher Pyne’s prior contacts with James Ashby, Peter Slipper’s accuser.

Skill in communication is needed when complex matters need to be explained and when the questioning is tough and insistent. Tony Abbott avoids these situations; Julia Gillard encounters them almost every day and takes multiple questions.

The problem Julia Gillard has is that whatever she tries to communicate is masked or overshadowed by the media, misreported or not reported at all. Journalists mark her down for her voice, her delivery, her demeanour, and her content, which it claims does not cut through, but never accept any responsibility for this lack of ‘cut through’.

Springboard diving includes a weighting for difficulty. Tony Abbott usually launches into a ‘bomb’ that any kid can do; Julia Gillard faces a substantial degree of difficulty almost every time she launches. That ought to be acknowledged when rating their respective skills in communication.

Communication: The media would rate Julia Gillard as around 2, and Tony Abbott as 9. I would rate her as 7 and him at 5.

Fairness and egalitarianism
Julia Gillard’s mantra from day one has been one of equality of opportunity for a good education, a rewarding job, fairness in the workplace, and equal opportunities for the disabled. What has Tony Abbott offered? A Rolls Royce PPL and the possibility of a nanny scheme that would favour the wealthy, and, despite his colourful denials, a veiled threat to bring back some of the features of WorkChoices. Is there anything else he has offered in the name of fairness?

Fairness: Julia Gillard 10, Tony Abbott 1.

Behavior
Julia Gillard has exhibited dignity and restraint in her public appearances, even in the hurly-burly life of parliament. In stark contrast, Tony Abbott has exhibited snarling attack-dog behaviour ever since he became leader. Always demeaning PM Gillard herself, and virtually everything she says and does, he has spread such vitriol that deep-seated hatred of her has been generated in some of the electorate. He has appeared against a backdrop of placards displaying ‘Ditch the Witch’ and Bob Brown’s Bitch’. His venom seems to have no bounds; his charity is invisible. He is the most destructive politician in living memory. Should you have forgotten his malignant words or those of his colleagues, take a look at the video on Archies Archive on 2 May, The Right and Polite Discourse and the ‘list of ten insults and threats to our current Australian Prime Minister’.

Despite this verbal abuse, despite the media’s rudeness, despite much of the media insisting the electorate has stopped listening to her, she continues to exhibit equanimity, resilience, courage, strength, determination, and a sense of purpose. Few could have withstood these personal attacks as calmly as she has.

Abbott’s words have debased not only the PM and the Government and every action it takes, but the economy as well, the best in the developed world. He is a major contributor to the diminished confidence that the people and businessmen exhibit. We live in a wonderful country, the envy of the world, yet Abbott talks it down incessantly, frightens people with his talk of doom and gloom, scares voters with dire talk about the carbon tax and almost every other move the Government makes. As David Marr observed on last Sunday’s Insiders in the context of the poor popularity ratings of both leaders, “Abbott has managed to pull her down to him”. His incessant negative talk is dangerous and harmful to our nation.

Behaviour: Julia Gillard 7, Tony Abbott 0.

Let’s give them equal scores for intelligence, persistence, endeavour, and connection with the people. Julia Gillard does not rate well for trustworthiness in opinion polls, but neither does Tony Abbott.

So on a face-to-face contest with a neutral media free of unfair interference (what a bonus that would be), Julia Gillard would beat Tony Abbott hands down on vision, policy formulation, and negotiating policies through a parliament that has a minority government, thereby getting done an imposing set of reforms that will set this country up for the decades ahead. She would overwhelm him in the area of economics, fairness, and behaviour. It would be a ‘no contest’ event.

Tony Abbott is not a fit and proper person to be the leader of this nation. He lacks the necessary competencies, but more telling, since becoming leader his behaviour has been destructive in the extreme. He is incapable of building, incapable of leading this nation.

Yet we all know that the next election will be a mammoth contest, not because the skills of the leaders and their vision and their plans are well-matched, because they are not, but because the sinister spectre of Rupert Murdoch casts a dark shadow over the contest, so threatening, so menacing that unless it can be countered, victory will be impossible.

Every move that PM Gillard makes is blunted by the Murdoch media, aided and abetted by Fairfax and the ABC that now seems slavishly to follow the News Limited lead, echoing the headlines, often repeating the lines word by word. It seems that the majority of journalists, but thankfully not all, are captive to the Murdoch domination of news and current affairs, perhaps afraid that should they step out of line in this world of shrinking opportunities for political journalists, they find themselves on the outer.

Think how many announcements of splendid Government initiatives have been deliberately overshadowed by other events adverse to the Government. It is no accident that the Slipper affair entered the public arena just as Julia Gillard announced her important aged care reforms and the NDIS. As soon as she announces something that might bring credit to the Government, the media trumpets on its front pages a negative counter story. When did you see a positive Government story dominate the headlines of the Murdoch tabloids or its flagship, The Australian? Good news for the Government always gives way to bad news. Is it any wonder that Julia Gillard despairs that she will ever get fair and balanced coverage from the Murdoch press, or for that matter any other part of the media.

And when Coalition members and supporters step out of line with inflammatory comments, such as Graeme Morris’ ‘kick her to death’ remark, there is scarcely a murmur anywhere in the MSM. Christopher Pyne’s involvement in the ‘get-Slipper’ campaign is glossed over and quickly buried, even when more evidence of his complicity is uncovered.

The simple fact is that most, but providentially not all of the mainstream media, is engaged in a concerted and unremitting campaign to demean PM Gillard, to diminish her Government, to paint a dishonest picture of the state of our economy, to give scant credit to the Government for its achievements, to highlight perceived shortcomings, and to exaggerate so-called ‘scandals’. At the same time, it fails dismally to hold the alternative government to account for its lack of vision, policies and plans, its shonky economics, its incompetence and its appalling behavior. All the Coalition’s manifest deficiencies are glossed over, seldom challenged or simply not acknowledged. This is done via the well-tried editorial devices of burying the Government’s good news in the back pages or well down the news bulletin, overshadowing the good news with the bad, or simply not reporting it at all, and endlessly repeating the bad but not the good. Even the ABC exhibits this phenomenon, and in many of its interviews uses ‘wet-lettuce’ questioning of Coalition members, and acerbic, interrupting, harassing, rude questioning to intimidate and diminish Government interviewees.

How has this disgraceful and unfair state of affairs come about? In my view, the prime perpetrator of this malfeasance is Rupert Murdoch.

We have all known about the influence he exerts via his 70% ownership of metropolitan newspapers, and through his TV outlets here in Australia, and in recent months we have seen his pernicious influence on politics in the UK and the depths to which he will stoop for a salacious story. I expect we might see something similar in the US.

Rupert Murdoch has always sought to influence politics in every country where his vast empire has its tentacles. He has now stated overtly what we all knew, that he wants PM Gillard and her Government out and Tony Abbott and the Coalition in, and will use all his massive media power to achieve that end. He will not ease back, he will not take the pressure off, he will, through his media, one overseen by sycophantic hirelings, wage relentless war on our PM and her Government. It is to the mainstream media’s eternal shame that so many of the others have followed the Murdoch lead.

Julia Gillard would trounce Tony Abbott were the election to be based on competence, performance and behaviour, and an accurately informed electorate. But we know that the Murdoch factor will ensure that not only is the electorate not informed about the Government’s achievements and its plans, but that it will be deliberately misinformed through distortions, omissions, and at times downright lies.

Julia Gillard can defeat Tony Abbott, but can she counter the Murdoch menace? How possible is that? Can the Fifth Estate reduce the effect of the Murdoch hazard? How?

What do you think?