Day 19: Malcolm not so sexy anymore
The election campaign has now moved to overdrive, even though there are still another five weeks to go. Following my last posting, I was ridiculed for comparing politics and the election campaign with the game of chess, so I’ll now make a more suitable comparision with the video game, Call Of Duty: Ghosts, where sniper rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers are released, aliens and the Kraken appear alongside acid-flinging scorpions, shark attacks, and then the mutually assured destruction is achieved in the Extinction mode. That’s probably a better indication of how the next five weeks will proceed.
The fun and games in real life commenced towards the end of last week, when the Australian Federal Policy decided that an election campaign is the best time to raid the offices of the Labor Party and their staffers in Melbourne, in the search for leaks coming from NBN Co., the government-owned company responsible for rolling out the Coalition’s much derided multi-technology-mix broadband internet. It might have been better for the AFP to actually investigate the source of leaks – NBN Co. – but that’s not going to produce the type of damaging headlines to prop up the Liberal–National Party, so best to raid the offices of your political opponents and… surprise! …take photographs of Labor’s communications policies, and distribute that to your work colleagues.
The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, denied too much for my liking. He over-egged his case that the AFP is an independent organisation with its own free will, and claimed ‘it is entirely fanciful’ that he or his government would direct the AFP to raid the offices of his opponents (well, that’s what Richard Nixon once claimed in the Watergate scandal too). Of course, raiding your opponents offices to besmirch their reputations are tactics straight out of the US Republican dirt handbook (incidentally, where their campaign strategist, Mark Textor, learned all the skills of the dark political arts).
Andrew Colvin, the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, also came in to lend a hand, saying that the AFP is ‘totally independent of the government’, and the Prime Minister and Government knew nothing about the raids (a claim that was subsequently refuted by Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield). Conveniently, Turnbull then conflated national security issues with an allegation that Labor had “stolen documents” (how would he know they were “stolen” if, as he claimed, he didn’t know anything about the raids?). I recall that former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was bedding at the headquarters of the AFP in Canberra for almost two years – I don’t think it was just for pyjama parties and gingerbread suppers, so any idea that the AFP wouldn’t do whatever they can to support their side of politics is not credible.
The AFP raids followed the dog-whistling from Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, on Sky News, where he said refugees are illiterate and innumerate and have this magical skill of simultaneously being unemployed, and taking the jobs that would normally be fulfilled by Australians (which, to my knowledge, are the jobs that many Australians aren’t keen to take up – unskilled, manual, shopping trolley collection, cleaning, caring of the aged).
But, of course, the purpose of this behaviour from a minister is not to be coherent, but to pander to the cliches about refugees and asylum seekers – and applying three-fold messaging to swinging votes: refugees are a drain on the public purse, they’re stealing Australian jobs, and they’re idle people that are happy to loaf about on unemployment benefits. Will this tactic work? We’ll look at this later on.
The trifecta of political nonsense was completed when Treasurer, Scott Morrison, and Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, teamed up to provide a bizarre vaudeville of folksy foolishness, mistruths and meaningless graphs on sandwich boards, claiming that Labor’s election figures have a ‘$67 billion black hole’. The purpose of this, again, is not logic (admitted by Morrison when said his strategy was about ‘flushing Labor out) or gain the approval of any sensible economist, but to get the headline figure in the media – even if Morrison and Cormann were made to look foolish, and taken to task by at least some in the mainstream media, albeit like being hit with a wet piece of lettuce.
I thought that might be enough for one week, but then Barnaby Joyce decided to make the link between Labor’s decision to suspend live export trade to Indonesia in 2011 and the immediate increase in asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat, suggesting that Indonesia deliberately forced refugees across the seas to Australia. It’s an inflamatory remark – it’s the type of loose remark that commences wars – but Turnbull shrugged it off, saying “there is no link between the Indonesian government and people smuggling”. And that was the end of that.
Racism, sloganeering, mistruths, bigotry, all coming from the mouths of his ministers – so much for Malcolm Turnbull’s rhetoric about “treating the electorate with the respect they deserve” and the electorate’s intelligence. If what the LNP has dished up over the three weeks is an indication, then it’s very obvious Turnbull (and the newly-minted ‘Turnbull Coalition Team’) has a very low opinion of the electorate’s intelligence, and have no intention of offering any respect.
And what does the electorate think of this so far? It’s Day 19 of the election campaign, but this would be Day 1 in a usual 35-day campaign, so it difficult to know how engaged the electorate is. What has happened so far has mainly been shadow boxing, and claim and counter-claim from all sides of politics, trying to win the daily tactics and negate an opponent’s messaging. However, the issue that frequently arises in many conversations in Malcolm Turnbull himself.
Manning the phones and speaking with voters at our local candidate’s office, every conversation focused around the ‘disappointment’ that many felt about Malcolm Turnbull since he become Prime Minister – it’s not anger, but the disappointment is obvious. ‘He’s not what he said he would be’ says one Liberal voter – even though Turnbull never specifically said what ‘he would be’ on the day he became Prime Minister – but I guess this is based on the perception of Turnbull’s history: his support for progressive issues, such as the Republic, an advocate for climate change policy, same-sex marriage. But he definitely did state that he would respect the intelligence of the electorate, and we’re still waiting for this to happen.
And the more Turnbull gets into the muck and the dirt (the AFP raids, condoning an openly racist Immigration Minister, proclaiming that he is an “outstanding minister”, when he is obviously not; supporting a clearly incompetent Deputy Prime Minister; the empty rhetoric and florid statements; slogans – “billion dollar Bill” – maniacal and hysterical attacks on everything Labor), the more he disappoints.
Another voter on the phone, this one a swinging voter: ‘I thought that he would be different, but he’s just like all the others’. Turnbull’s personal approval ratings have nose-dived, and his net approval rating is exactly the same as Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten: minus 12.
Of the past 23 published opinion polls, the Liberal–National Party has been ahead in only two: the Labor Party has been ahead in 11 polls, and the other 10 have been even at 50:50. The current ReachTEL poll has the nation-wide two-party preferred vote sitting at 52% for Labor, and 48% for the LNP. Although the Liberal–National Party is still in the box seat (incumbency, continuous favourable coverage in all mainstream media, especially from the ABC, and a margin of 21 seats, are difficult obstacles for an Opposition to overcome), these are not great numbers.
Of course, being this far out from the election day on 2 July, there are so many factors that will come into play. And, my insider information (OK, I’m not that type of insider, but a bit of an outsider–insider) shows that polling for key marginal seats is not that good for the ALP, and not so great for Tony Windsor, running against Barnaby Joyce in the seat of New England – leading me to think that there will be major seat gains for the Labor Party, but not from the expected locations.
There have also been recent comparisons put out by the Liberals about the 2015 UK Election, where Labour’s Ed Milliband was favoured in the polls to win the election but, instead, the electorate swung strongly behind the Conservatives on election day, and re-elected David Cameron. However, there are no comparisons between the performance of the UK Conservatives, and the Liberal–National Party, with the LNP riven by internal divisions, the removal of the incumbent Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and, general, a government of incompetence.
The performance of the LNP since their election in September 2013 has generally been one of ideological navel gazing and incompetence, firstly under Tony Abbott, and a high dose of nothingness under Malcolm Turnbull since September 2015. Nothing has been achieved, and there is no platform for re-election.
The ‘vibe’ has changed for the LNP: their body language and hysterical over-egging of outrageous political statements suggests their internal polling is on the verge of some kind of disaster. No doubt, there will be other political tricks to play with – Mark Textor is prepared to go to the deep dark recesses of the human psyche to gain political advantage, so who knows where this will end up.
However, the Crosby–Textor text book doesn’t always work; proof can be found in the recent London mayoral election, where they used Islamophobia to discredit Labour’s candidate, Sadiq Khan, and created spurious links with terrorism. After this attack, Khan’s personal support improved, and he won the final vote by 57–43%. The London electorate saw through this tactics, but will the Australian electorate do the same?
There are signs that they can. When Barnaby Joyce made his ill-informed comments linking live export trade with asylum seeker boats, there was a collection groan in the live television audience, the type of groan that asks: We’ve seen these tricks before and they are so 2001! Show us something new!
But the best moment of the campaign so far comes from the south-coast NSW town of Eden, where Indigenous elder, Pastor Ossie Cruse, performed the gum leaf serenade to Malcolm Turnbull and his entourage.
The caption from the news.com.au site is: ‘Malcolm Turnbull enjoys gum leaf serenade’, but the pained expression on his face suggests everything aside from enjoyment. And it’s this moment that epitomises the campaign difficulties that Turnbull is experiencing: meeting the hoi polloi seems to be endured under sufferance, like the Tudor regal that is advised by his courtiers to meet with his subjects, to show the human side of themselves. But, there’s no enjoyment, it’s more like a ‘WTF’ moment.
In the YouTube clip below, also appearing is the sitting member of Eden–Monaro, Peter Hendy, an apparatchik of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, previously Chief of Staff to former Howard Government Minister, Peter Reith. He’s a policy wonk, and is totally unsuited to be being a member of parliament – he’s invisible to the local community, and looks like someone that would prefer to be bunkered up in his campaign office, rather than be out on the streets talking to people. It’s these types of sitting MPs that are lead in the bag for Turnbull’s campaign, and will continue to cause him grief over the next month.
|Date||Firm||Primary vote||TPP vote|
|26 May 2016||ReachTEL||37.6%||36.5%||9.6%||12.8%||48%||52%|
|19–22 May 2016||Essential||41%||37%||9%||13%||49%||51%|
|19–22 May 2016||Newspoll||41%||36%||11%||12%||49%||51%|
|19 May 2016||ReachTEL||42.6%||36.6%||9.9%||10.9%||50%||50%|
|17–19 May 2016||Ipsos||43%||34%||14%||9%||51%||49%|
|14–15 May 2016||Morgan||36.5%||33%||15.5%||15%||47.5%||52.5%|
|12–15 May 2016||Essential||42%||38%||9%||11%||49%||51%|
|6–8 May 2016||Lonergan||42%||35%||12%||10%||50%||50%|
Labor Party to claim a two-seat victory.