In recent times there has been a confluence of three interacting factors: the escalating influence of the media on political discourse, a plethora of opinion polls on politics, and more lately, diminution of the Labor ‘brand’. This piece attempts to dissect out these interactions.
Despite emphatic and indignant denials from News Limited executives and editors that they have no plan to drive PM Gillard and her Government from office through their stories, there seems no doubt in the minds of many in the media that this game plan does exist. Articles on the ABC
website, and in the Fairfax press and in Crikey
, insist that this is so, over and again. This push for ‘regime change’ is talked about at a governmental level and on dozens of blog sites in the Fifth Estate. The Herald Sun
banner headline last week: Tick, Tick, Tick,
could hardly be a clearer sign that this is News Limited’s intention. The thrust of this piece rests on the premise that this is the case. People who really believe that this is not the case will find nothing much to interest them here.
For years now News Limited media have published stories adverse to the Gillard Government. They defend their right to expose the true state of affairs in federal politics, which right of course they have. But that involves giving a true picture of all the relevant facts, set out fairly in a way that enables voters to examine and assess the facts for themselves. The media also has the right, and sometimes the responsibility in complex matters, to analyse and appraise the facts and draw conclusions, and at times it has the right to offer an opinion, so long as it is clear that it is only the journalist’s or the outlet’s opinion. Yet this is not what we see. New Limited tabloids, and even its much vaunted flagship, The Australian
, have consistently distorted the facts by using only those that suit its case through cherry picking, by deliberate omission, by misinformation and sometimes by telling downright lies. We saw the latter flagrantly on display in the Milne article last week, an article that not only contained proven lies, but sought to smear our PM with innuendo about her long past personal life and connect this in people’s minds with the contemporary saga of Craig Thomson. Anyone who is prepared to whitewash all this malfeasance should read no further.
I could fill several paragraphs with evidence to support my view of News Limited, but that would bore readers who have heard it all before. Suffice is it to point out the way in which the BER was berated systematically by The Australian
despite 97% satisfaction documented in the schools where improvements were installed; its consistent attacks on the NBN and personal attacks on Mike Quigley, CEO of NBN Co.; and its unremitting assault on putting a price on carbon, despite every reputable economist supporting the market based mechanism that will follow, and the lack of even one reputable economist who supports the alternative Direct Action Plan of the Opposition. Moreover, even when the Government achieves a legislative success, this is usually relegated to the back pages or the small columns of News Limited papers. The good news is blurred, diluted or buried while anything that can be turned into a bad news story takes precedence. Ugly, demeaning cartoons of the PM embellish these unpleasant stories.
Given that News Limited is hell-bent on discrediting the PM and the Gillard Government, how does that play into the opinion polls and the public’s view of Labor?
Clearly, such behaviour, together with Tony Abbott’s and the Coalition’s incessant damnation of everything the Government does or attempts, has led to a view among the public that the Government is incompetent and unworthy of support, evidenced week after week by its continued poor showing in the opinion polls. And these oft repeated polls feed into one another so that now the Labor ‘brand’ is damaged not just at a Federal level, but also in NSW, Queensland, WA and Tasmania and is now being damaged in Victoria, a strong Labor state, and SA.
Reflect on just last week – how many times did we hear Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Scott Morrison insist that the Government can’t get anything right, is incompetent, and according to Hockey simply doesn’t know how to govern. They incessantly paint a picture of Labor as bumbling, error-prone, inept and hopeless, in contrast to the Coalition, which does know how to govern and will always do it better than Labor.
Yet this flies in the face of the successful passage of 185 pieces of legislation with no failures in a ‘hung parliament’. It flies in the face of the progress the Government has made with crucial reforms on climate change, health, mental health and disability, education, IR, the NBN, amongst many, many others.
It also curiously flies in the face of opinions expressed in a poll carried out by Essential Research
among 1,043 respondents on 29 August. The table below is so germane to this piece that it is reproduced in full for your examination.
Those polled were asked: “Thinking about what the Labor Government has done over the last few years, do you approve or disapprove of the following Government actions?"
The scale is at the top, the sub-questions below, and the percentage responses below them. The first two figures are the most important: ‘Total approve’ and ‘Total disapprove’.
Total approve Total disapprove Strongly approve Approve Disapprove Strongly disapprove Don’t know
"Increased funding of health services
89% 5% 42% 47% 3% 2% 6%
Increasing the age pension
78% 14% 34% 44% 8% 6% 8%
Increasing superannuation to 12%
75% 13% 28% 47% 9% 4% 12%
Managing the economy to keep unemployment and interest rates low
70% 21% 21% 49% 12% 9% 10%
Spending on new school buildings
68% 24% 19% 49% 15% 9% 8%
Introducing a national disability insurance scheme
63% 13% 18% 45% 9% 4% 24%
Stimulus spending to tackle the GFC
61% 28% 21% 40% 15% 13% 11%
Paid parental leave
60% 30% 19% 41% 17% 13% 10%
Introducing a tax on large profits of mining companies
58% 29% 27% 31% 16% 13% 13%
Building the NBN (National Broadband Network)
54% 34% 19% 35% 17% 17% 12%
Stopping live cattle exports until welfare concerns were addressed
53% 34% 24% 29% 17% 17% 12%
51% 33% 23% 28% 21% 12% 16%
Sending asylum seekers to Malaysia
39% 45% 17% 22% 20% 25% 16%
Introducing a carbon tax to tackle climate change
33% 53% 15% 18% 14% 39% 14%"
The Report noted that: “Government decisions and policies with highest approval were increased funding of health services (89% approve), increasing the age pension (78%) and increasing superannuation to 12% (75%).
“Only two of the actions listed received less than majority approval – sending asylum seekers to Malaysia was 39% approve/45% disapprove and introducing a carbon tax to tackle climate change was 33% approve/53% disapprove.
“Labor voters showed majority approval of all decisions and policies, Greens voters showed majority approval for all except sending asylum seekers to Malaysia (21% approve/63% disapprove).
“Liberal/National voters approved of half the items listed – increased funding of health services (89% approve), increasing the age pension (79%), increasing superannuation to 12% (71%), managing the economy to keep unemployment and interest rates low (54%), spending on new school buildings (54%), introducing a national disability insurance scheme (60%) and paid parental leave (52%).”
These questions cover many of the important areas about which Government action has been taken. The responses point to enthusiastic approval by the majority of voters (over 70%) of the top four items, solid approval (60 - 69%) for the next four and majority approval (50 – 59%) for the next four. Only the last two of the fourteen items show an approval of less than 50%, and they relate to the Malaysian agreement (39% approval, 45% disapproval) and the carbon tax (33%, 53%).
Yet in the self same poll the Coalition was 12 points ahead of Labor in the Two Party Preferred voting intentions, 56/44.
How can this be so? Have the two negatives for the Government over the Malaysian agreement and the carbon tax so overwhelmed the twelve positives that those polled have weighed them up carefully and given the Government a heavy negative mark of 44 against the Coalition’s 56? This might be so, but it is implausible that those polled have gone through a logical process of weighing the twelve positives against the two negatives and ending with an overall bad negative voting intention mark. A more plausible explanation is that the voting intentions were canvassed first and the questions afterwards. Perhaps some might have wished to change their voting intention after answering the questions, mostly affirmatively, if they had had the chance.
But in my opinion the most plausible explanation is that there is a marked disconnect between their thoughtfully considered responses to the questions, which were mostly positive, even among Coalition voters, and their almost instinctive aversion to Labor, the Labor ‘brand’, which evoked a strong negative voting intention for that party.
While this Essential Report provides the best objective evidence to date of this disconnect, we see it in everyday political commentary by journalists. In recent days, to name but two, Barrie Cassidy and Malcolm Farr have on the one hand commented on how much the Government has done, while in the same breath have pointed to its unpopularity, its poor showing in the polls, and the impression in the community of an incompetent Government that can’t get anything right. They also comment that distracting issues, such as the Thomson affair, are ‘sucking oxygen’ from Labor’s efforts to ‘sell its message’, without for a second acknowledging that is the media’s preoccupation with these issue to the exclusion of the crucially important ones, that produces this outcome. How many Government-initiated press conferences on vital matters have been overwhelmed by questions on unrelated but titillating subjects that just happen to interest the media?
How has the impression of incompetence been generated? Some would say the Government itself generates this because it is incompetent. Yet the more thoughtful journalists, the respondents to the Essential poll, and Independents such as Tony Windsor, Robb Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie see the Government not only as competent but achieving, except in a few contentious areas.
My thesis is that the Coalition and its media fellow travelers have generated the image of incompetence and has fostered this repeatedly with almost every utterance.
Last Thursday 2GB’s Ray Hadley began his interview with Tony Abbott about the High Court ruling by asking: “Is there one thing they could possibly not stuff up”. Now we don’t expect anything else from Hadley or his shock jock mate Alan Jones who malevolently berates the Government and PM Gillard at every opportunity. But it does illustrate how easily this impression of incompetence can be promulgated. Of course Abbott quickly picked up on the incompetence theme, as did Joe Hockey on 774 ABC radio Melbourne the same day, something those two, with help from their Coalition mates, have done repeatedly, dating back to the early days of the Rudd Government.
Moreover, a level of hatred and loathing towards Julia Gillard and her Government, which has reached pathological levels, has been generated not just by Tony Abbott and his Coalition confreres, but also with unparalleled vehemence and vitriol by the shock jocks. Will we ever forget the dressing down Alan Jones gave our PM for being ten minutes late to his infamous show where he called her ‘Ju-liar’? Can we ever erase the sight of him, and of Tony Abbott, with Sophie Mirabella and Bronwyn Bishop, standing in front of the ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s bitch’ placards at the Canberra rallies? Reflect on the endless images of Jones berating the PM that we have seen repeated on Media Watch.
These venomous people, and lets add Ray Hadley and Chris Smith to the ugly list, are deliberately fostering a level of hatred, distrust and detestation directed at this nation’s PM, the like of which we have not seen in a long while. This is dangerous. It has led to talk of assassination among the extremists; even Jones on a public broadcast said Julia Gillard and Bob Brown should be put in a hessian bag and dropped out to sea. What sort of talk is this in a peace-loving society?
We have seen through the ages how anger, hatred and loathing can be whipped up against minorities, against religious and ethnic groups through the continual repetition of disparaging remarks and lies. Joseph Goebbels infamously said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” He went on to say: “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” Isn’t this just what we are seeing day after day: lie after lie, not maintained by ‘the State’ but directed at ‘the State’ by the Coalition, the shock jocks and a large chunk of the MSM? They are fomenting these ugly and dangerous emotions among our people, such that they gather at rallies, wave nasty placards and shout obscenities.
This piece argues that there is a disconnect between what the people think and believe when they take a calm and considered view of what the Government has done, is doing and plans to do, where they largely give it a tick, and what they feel when subjected to a torrent of hate and condemnation from the Coalition, the shock jocks, and a large sector of the MSM, that leads to: 'They are doing quite a good job when you think about it, but I hate Ju-liar and her incompetent bunch of ministers that can’t seem to get anything right, and so I’m not going to vote for Labor'.
Because of this disconnect, the Labor brand has been severely tarnished and seems unlikely to return to its shiny state unless polished over and again with multiple accomplishments, acknowledged honestly through the media. That is the task ahead, but unless the largely hostile MSM changes it direction and attitude, it may prove to be impossible in the remaining two years.
It’s curious and troubling that because of the unremitting negativity that has been directed at Labor for so long, emotion has over-ridden thought and factual evidence and reigns supreme when pollsters come around seeking voting intentions. The Labor brand lies so tarnished at present that fewer and fewer wish to embrace it. Can logic and truth overcome emotion and restore its lustre?
What do you think?