If you’d just touched down from Mars, had no idea about Australian politics and tuned in to the ABC’s 7.30 Report last week to watch Leigh Sales interview Scott Morrison, you would have come away thinking this bloke was unbeatable, a PM par excellence. His achievements, his steely conviction utterly fake yet utterly impressive to those who didn’t know better. Michael West reports on a stacked election campaign.
Sales, a veteran ABC interviewer, did not lay a glove on the marketing maestro and the interview ended with Sales smiling, “Thank you Prime Minister”: the sort of sardonic smile which – in the land of Insiderville which is the Canberra Press Gallery, denotes a doff of the cap, an acknowledgement that yes, okay, you sure can spin the proverbial PM. “You’re good, a bit too good”.
There was also the obligatory whine that the PM should come on more often. But why would he when he has the cheesily fawning Paul Murray on Sky, or 2GB, or fan-man Chris Uhlmann on Nine as his go-to?
To get to the point, Labor may be streets ahead in the polls but Scott Morrison is now in his element. His government is a shambles but, with the three major media houses backing him, and the ABC and others truckling to their daily news agendas, Anthony Albanese will have to win this thing, not wait for Morrison to lose it.
The propagandists of News Corp will run hard for Morrison. Already, according to their questionable Newspoll, the gap has narrowed sharply. Sure, they want a contest, it sells their propaganda sheets, but given all the subsidies and favours which Rupert Murdoch, Nine Entertainment and Seven have wrung out of the Coalition they will be surely be barracking for the Coalition and bagging Labor till the cows come home.
Murdoch’s shrill choir
Their shrill choir leaders such as Peta Credlin have foreshadowed this campaign. It will be about character, not policy, said Credlin. That’s code for a dirty election. Labor has deliberately chosen this playing field too, and perhaps not unwisely, by embracing its “small target” strategy.
The LNP might be trying to paint Albanese as the “most left-wing leader in history” but in truth the politics of the major parties are not far apart. Morrison has frustrated the right by steering back to the centre. Albanese has backed their tax cuts for the rich and eschewed its formerly sensible reform agendas on the likes of franking credits and negative gearing.
Truth will be no impediment at all to the electioneering of this government, not that it ever has been. And the corporate media will fail, London to a brick, to hold them to account, preferring to frolic in the daily distractions of political theatre.
This bizarre and insulting claim that Morrison and Greg Hunt saved 40,000 lives during the pandemic is a case in point. In fact, their gross failure in aged care to deliver on promises of RAT tests, booster shots and a surge workforce in time actually cost lives. How did they concoct that 40,000, what methodology did they deploy to get to this ridiculous assertion?
These are not the kind of questions the mainstream media asks.
Scott Morrison is now in his element, campaign mode, spin mode, stunt mode, balderdash mode. He’s gone for maximum campaign length, selecting the last viable date for a poll, May 21, and subjecting us all to a nightmarish Trump-fest.
Calling this poll is no exact science. Colleague Mark Sawyer writes this morning that, if first impressions are anything to go by, “Scott Morrison is toast at Election ‘22″.
“As he made his pitch for re-election on May 21, Scott Morrison seemed to be going through the motions, like the lawyer who knows his client’s case is hopeless.”
Perhaps, but Morrison has the media behind him, a media which he snugly manipulates, a media which will focus on the daily antics, the one-upmanship, the game of politics, not the reality of the most corrupt government in Australia’s history. Not to mention the grand incompetence.
The campaign is a new game however. Yes, Labor has improved its form during the early rounds, the quarters, and the semis, but this is the final match. Anything can happen.
We are about to witness a deluge of pork barrelling, a Coalition deploying our money to buy votes in marginal seats like never before. Your money. Albanese is up against a political super-salesman with a national communications apparatus at his disposal, and a party that has won two out of three Federal elections since the first one in 1901.
We won’t be hearing too much analysis of the government’s myriad failures on climate action, aged care, disaster relief, foreign affairs, defence, women, wages, welfare, infrastructure, health, communications and the economy.
We will be told about accidental things for which Morrison and co are taking credit: income from rocketing commodity prices (iron ore, coal, wheat and gas), low unemployment (thanks to migration stopping during the pandemic), falling power prices (thanks to more renewable energy in the grid).
Their greatest achievements are things they don’t control. Things they do are a schemozzle.
Image had triumphed over substance at the last election in 2019, spin over common sense, fear over foresight. Although Anthony Albanese must surely be odds on to win after nine years of poor government by the Coalition, there is no reason to think a media-led “miracle” can’t happen again.
The policies of the two major parties are much closer this time, leaving Morrison with less evidential scope for scare-campaigning. Yet, truth is no impediment. They will just make stuff up, as they already have: Manchurian Candidate and so forth.
So it will be a nasty personal campaign, not one fought on policy. And not just from the politicians themselves but also from their little helpers such as Uhlmann at Nine who put it to Albanese across the national airwaves that the Labor leader was a “gutless fraud”.
Albo did not put it to Uhlmann that nobody in the Coalition had actually called him a gutless fraud, except perhaps the shrieking partisans at Murdoch’s Sky News. Where was the evidence to support this claim? They just made it up.
So it is that, until now, this was Morrison’s election to lose. But now, in the final set, it is Albanese’s to win, or lose. He can’t afford to just sit back and get trampled by lies and a jaundiced corporate media with their financial conflicts of interest. He has to win it, not wait for his adversaries to lose.
Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.