The Year of Living Incompetently: 2018 in review

2019 promises to be an exhilarating year in politics, with a federal election guaranteed before May 18, and an election in Australia’s largest state – New South Wales – on March 23. For political pundits and lovers of elections, it does not get any bigger than this, and we’ll be delivering the same political recipes throughout 2019 but, this time, with added spice.

Political events are not created from a vacuum and it was the string of events in 2018 that have left the Liberal–National Government in a position where it’s almost impossible for them to win the next election – likely to be held on March 2 or May 18 this year – and the NSW Government hanging at the edge of the precipice.

And what were the string of events throughout 2018 that created this calamity?…

It’s all about Barnaby…

Barnaby Joyce byelection 2017

The year started off with the reveal in the mainstream media of Barnaby Joyce’s sexual affairs and romps. It really was old news by the time the Daily Telegraph reported it – independent media was onto the matter six months beforehand, and we responded with ‘Barnaby Joyce and the failure of mainstream media’. We also queried the appalling double standards of the media and why men in politics can’t do the simple thing of zipping up their trousers and keeping them zipped up.





We followed the reporting on Joyce: the many samples of his corrupt behaviour as a politician, the so-called ‘bonk-ban’ introduced by then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and outlined his political obituary, a clearly-articulated article that analysed Joyce’s career and how he should be destined for the dustbin. But it was not to be, and Joyce remains in federal parliament and is likely to contest the next federal election.

The tax cuts nobody wants and the ABC shoots down its own messenger

The Liberal–National Government announced a $65 billion company tax cut as its signature policy agenda. Why none of Malcolm Turnbull’s advisors tapped him on the shoulder and suggested he might quietly take this one off the table was a mystery and a surprise, as the policy was political poison.

Was his Treasurer at the time, Scott Morrison, using the disaster of this tax policy as a secret stepping stone for his own ambitions to become Prime Minister later on in the year? Yes. In hindsight, it’s bleedingly obvious.

We outlined this policy as the company tax cut that nobody was asking for but Turnbull kept on with the search for his Holy Grail, only for the policy to be dumped and turning out to be political ersatz.

But this was only the warm-up act to Turnbull’s political ineptitude. We have long reported on the demise of the ABC as a veritable new source and its obvious favourable coverage of the affairs of the Liberal–National Party. This time around, it was amateur hour: the ABC published an article from its senior economics editor, Emma Alberici, but pulled the article after complaints from Turnbull and his Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield.

In response, we published ‘Dumbing down the ABC and the future of journalism’, outlining the ineptitude of ABC management and the actions of the two culprits that allowed this intervention to occur, ABC Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie, and Chairman of the ABC Board, Justin Milne.

The ABC News Division is a shadow of what it used to be – and seven months after this debacle, both Guthrie and Milne disappeared from the ABC, hopefully, never to return. The ABC is now a plaything of whichever government comes to power, but we expect that any incoming Labor government will clean out the ABC and install its own – something former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd neglected to do.

Kill Bill

Bill Shorten

One consistent feature of the mainstream media since 2013 has been its maniacal quest – and so far, unsuccessful – to remove the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, from his position. The campaign has been so consistent it even has a name – Kill Bill – and it has consisted of rumour, manufactured leadership ambitions of other Labor MPs, outright lies, and things you wouldn’t normally dream up in a month of Sundays.

It’s virtually a mirror of the media campaign against British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and every media player has participated so far: Channel 7, Channel 9, Channel 10, ABC, SBS, News Limited, Fairfax and The Guardian. We analysed this in ‘Kill Bill and the failure of a smear campaign’ and outlined why the Coalition needed to develop a new strategy against Shorten.

The ‘Kill Bill’ strategy reached fever pitch in June 2018, where every time the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure‘, Anthony Albanese, moved or breathed or lifted his left arm, the mainstream media frothed at the mouth and told us yet again that Shorten was finished. Except he wasn’t.

‘Kill Bill’ is a failed strategy and, as hard as the media tries, Bill Shorten is not going anywhere. He’s seen off Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and, in all likelihood, will see off Scott Morrison.

That will be three Prime Ministers, and perhaps it’s time for the mainstream media to start giving Bill Shorten the credit he deserves.

A super Saturday and the beginning of the end

In July, we confidently (and correctly) predicted the end of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, after the results of the ‘Super Saturday’ by-elections became clear.

All the pressure had been on Bill Shorten in the media, with comfortable assertions that his leadership was terminal and supposed by-elections losses in the seats of Braddon, Longman would confirm this. My favourite egg-on-face moment by a long shot is Laura Tingle’s ‘Voters just don’t like Bill’.

The only problem was the results didn’t follow the script dictated by the media. The Liberal–National Party primary vote in the seat of Longman plunged to 29 per cent, Turnbull’s campaigning skills were poor and now all the questions were being asked of the ability for the Prime Minister to win the next election. It’s an answer we’ll never know, as Turnbull was soon to be dumped by his Liberal Party colleagues.

Seven Days of Madness in Canberra

Bishop Morrison Dutton

It’s quite astonishing to think that so many Liberal–National MPs had a front-seat view of the Labor leadership debacles in 2010 and 2013 and witnessed the damage to Labor’s electoral chances for the foreseeable future, yet managed to repeat those actions themselves.

If the message isn’t clear enough, the electorate intensely dislikes leadership changes and will seek retribution at the ballot box. There were two challenges to Malcolm Turnbull within a few days in August – the second challenge finished him off – and we predict this result is likely to split the Liberal Party. We published an analysis of the leadership challenge and a special podcast episode to accompany the Seven Days of Madness in Canberra.

The most ridiculous part of the week was that three votes on the other side of the ledger would have resulted in Prime Minister Peter Dutton.

Prime Minister Dutton. That takes a while to get your head around.

The trouble for the Liberal Party doesn’t end

Kerryn Phelps

And so, the result of the dual leadership challenges to Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Who?

Yes, Scott Morrison, the one who used to be Treasurer. And for him to win the next election, he will have to make himself very well known to the public and try to unite a bitterly-divided Liberal Party, as well as gloss over a government with no propensity to adequately manage Australia since it was installed in September 2013.

Morrison entered Parliament under false pretences in 2007 and it’s a sad indictment of our political system that a character as poor as Scott Morrison can make it to the highest position in the land. He’s a confused mess of ideology, religion, politics, marketing and spin doctoring and we’ll be very surprised if he makes a victory speech from the Hotel Intercontinental at the next election.

In October, the Liberals lost their heartland blue-ribbon seat of Wentworth – which they’d never lost before – and plunged the government into a minority position in the House of Representatives. It was a good old-fashioned hiding: a 19 per cent swing against the Liberal Party, and this followed a massive 30 per cent swing against it in the NSW seat of Wagga Wagga.

A fitting finale

Our final podcast of the year outlined the shocking election loss for the Liberal Party in the Victoria election, where they lost even more heartland seats in an entirely ineffective campaign. The electorate rejected their race-baiting of African communities, terrorism, law and order, and gender issues, with the Liberal–National coalition only received a two-party preferred vote of 42.7 per cent, and now holding only 27 seats out of 88 seats in the Legislative Assembly.

The Victoria state election result, the Wentworth by-election, and the ‘Super Saturday’ contests are solid litmus tests for what the Liberal–National coalition can expect at the next federal election.

The 2018 political year saw a failure of the Liberal Party at a state and federal level and it’s currently a rag-tag collection of individual MPs more intent on pursuing pet ideological projects, rather than providing good governance.

Scott Morrison is obsessed with provided religious freedoms and protections no one has really asked for, and pushing aside the issues that are more concerning to the public – integrity in the political system and anti-corruption measures.

Every year is different in politics, but 2018 was an outlier. Sometimes, there are circuit breakers when a government is suffering badly – Christmas holidays, summertime, and a respite from the political news of the day. But it’s hard to see how anything is going to change for Morrison’s government.

Already, he has announced a policy that Australia Day ceremonies must be held on January 26, and a strict dress code which will exclude “board shorts and thongs”. You just know that when governments start meddling in these types of insignificant issues, it’s pretty much the beginning of the end.

The Liberal–National Government has the feel of a tired 15-year-old government. It’s bereft of ideas, bereft of leadership and replete with ill-discipline. Its MPs are considering their post-politics lives, and just biding their time until the inevitable election loss arrives.

It’s worse than the last few months of Keating’s Labor Government in late 1995 and early 1996, not as bad Howard’s end in 2007, but almost up there with the final year of the NSW Labor Government in 2010/11. The electorate knows when a government’s time is up and there’s a stench of corruption and incompetence about Morrison’s government.

It doesn’t come around very often but the stench has an unmistakable aroma.

The worst moments in politics

There are so many ‘worst moments’ to choose from – the entire year was a debacle – but there are two that stand out.

closing the gap turnbull

The ongoing neglect of Indigenous affairs is an all-too-regular feature, with the Closing The Gap report showing Australia is lagging in four of the seven key areas that need to be addressed. The Prime Minister’s response was lame, and he outlined how “data and material” must be provided to local decision-makers on the ground.

He then went on to reiterate his stance that the Uluru Statement from the Heart would create “a third chamber of parliament” and could never happen. Well, it will never happen without political leadership, and Turnbull was content to leave the gap as a gaping chasm.

The political assassination of Labor MP Emma Husar was certainly the most cowardly attack of 2018, where an inexperienced journalist from Buzzfeed decided to publish unsubstantiated explicit material about Husar.

It was a combination of appalling undermining by the NSW Labor Right, and a media outlet unclear about its responsibilities in media reporting, and the story rolled on for several weeks. It placed Husar in a position she could not defend and, as a consequence, she announced she would not contest the seat of Lindsay at the next federal election.

There is a preliminary hearing for defamation against Buzzfeed, and we think Husar has a very strong case. If successful, she’s likely to receive a hefty payout. And, hopefully, this will force the closure of Buzzfeed. It’s a junk online news outlet and shouldn’t have any further input into the Australian political landscape.

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Eddy Jokovich

Eddy Jokovich is a Sydney-based journalist and producer of many books, magazines and handbooks and has worked as a war correspondent, journalist, lecturer in media studies and production.