Where To From Here?

There was a surreal touch to watching Rupert on the same night as the results came through for Australia’s 2013 federal election.  http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/2013-mainstage/rupert/ .   On the one hand there was a frustration at not watching the minute by minute unfolding of events, but on the other a relief over the very same thing. That was added to by the brilliance and timeliness of the David Williamson/Melbourne Theatre Company play replete with normal Williamson one liners: at one point, Murdoch recalls a major American retailer suggesting that New York Post readers were his chain’s shoplifters!

The play, in a marvellously inventive production, recounts Rupert Murdoch’s rise, tribulations and family challenges, and concludes with his announcement that, despite the Levenson inquiry, he is still here to fight the corner for the free market. It recalls the rise of the Aussie tabloid approach that morphs into the Sun’s page three topless shots in the UK, the epic BSkyB story, and the USA foray that leads to Fox News. The Williamson depiction is shrewd and clever, largely unflattering and thought provoking. Rupert himself is played wonderfully in “young” and “old” versions by Guy Edmonds and Sean O’Shea, while Marg Downey is sensational, especially as Maggie Thatcher.

Given that Melbourne’s Age newspaper was, that morning, the only one across the country to urge its readers to vote for Kevin Rudd, there were inevitable side quips in the performance about Age readers being uncomfortable about the play’s content, but that content did connect strongly to the election, especially in two respects: the on-going diversion raised by Rudd about what he considered media bias, and the broader question about the role of the media. http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-age-editorial/labors-policies-best-reflect-our-values-20130905-2t828.html

In the first of those, Rudderless Rudd was back, and in what telecasting I did see, it was surprising to see people like John Faulkner profess to have not seen the “old” Kevin, even though a front page Australian story that morning recounted chapter and verse on Rudd’s chaotic formulation and announcement of a special Northern Australia tax scheme that was scarcely discussed with let alone approved by campaign HQ in Melbourne. There was the Kevin Everywhere that, rightly or wrongly, moved the ALP to oust him back in 2010. Yet publicly, people like Faulkner were still suggesting his 2013 campaign was impeccable. The Australian story revealed several things, among them that Rudd’s political advisor, the venerable Bruce Hawker was, in fact, employed directly by Rudd himself and not the campaign. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/election-2013/horror-at-hq-as-old-kevin-rudd-ran-amok/story-fn9qr68y-1226713839263 . That in itself led to a communications complication inside the campaign.

Essentially, that disconnect explains why the ALP campaign was so all over the place, literally, and so ineffective. In turn, that was why the Rudd approach was so negative, and so focused on the idea that he was getting a bad press from Rupert’s lot, forgetting conveniently that the same lot had backed him in for the 2007 election. It was also why demonising Tony Abbot seemed the only other strategy left, aided and abetted by simplistic Greens apparatchiks like Adam Bandt who got back in the seat of Melbourne. He, for example, suggested in a post-election interview that the Coalition’s proposal to slow the pace of foreign aid increases meant taking the food out of the mouths of the world’s poor.

Having been in parliament for a term Bandt had to know that the Coalition has been concerned not so much about the size of Australia’s aid component as about its effectiveness, its impact, especially in places like Papua New Guinea. While 0.5% of gross National Income going to aid is a worthy goal, it is really the effectiveness of how that money is applied that is important – that is why the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have massive anti-corruption programs. It was that concern for impact and efficiency that led to AusAID having to review some of its practices. Unwittingly, Bob Carr referenced some of the dimensions of this during an interview he gave while in St Petersburg for the G20 meeting. Having aired his views on Syria, he then lit into the Coalition foreign aid proposal, revealing that he had discussed the matter with Tim Costello who, it appeared, was there as well in the capacity of representing some NGOs.

Now that was interesting. As World Vision CEO, Costello has a declared salary of $255,000 (about half that of the Prime Minister’s currently), and donates his speaking fees (up to a total of $150,000) back to the organisation. http://www.worldvision.com.au/aboutus/FAQsAboutWorldVisionAustralia.aspx . His extensive travel, such as to St Petersburg, is unlikely to be part of that salary, and the overall “look” is not appreciated by a range of commentators. http://www.quadrant.org.au/magazine/issue/2009/5/giving-it-away .

All of this, of course, is highly complex and Costello has a range of defenders, as do the activities of the myriad of international aid NGOs, but the point illustrates the sheer inadequacy of the Adam Bandt and the Greens approach that starts from the premise that Abbot is terrible, and works backwards from there.

If “the media”, then, is guilty of anything, it is probably more for its fixation on the personalities of politics rather than the complexities of the background context. Foreign affairs and international relations provide the classic case, because that whole area has been ignored entirely throughout the campaign when, if Australia is to create a “new” economy and approach it must do so through the prism of an international outlook that is far in advance of the one followed for a very long time. The much vaunted “Asian Century”, for example, was ditched by the ALP during the campaign, probably because it was part of the Gillard regime that Rudd did not appreciate, and the cost of that would surely run to several millions of dollars.

There is another domestic slant to this to, and that concerns the Senate. Clive Palmer’s representatives are a result simply of a truckload of money being thrown at the campaign. The return of Family First and, more exotically, the likely arrival of the Motoring Enthusiasts senator results directly from the weird and bizarre allocation of preferences in the calculation of the “quotas” by which Senate places are allocated. It has to be said that the Coalition did itself no great favours, either. In Victoria, for example, sitting Senator Helen Kroger was dumped from Number Two to Number Three on the Senate ticket in a bitter factional slug fight. http://www.vexnews.com/2012/04/saving-ryans-privates-scott-ryan-steals-safe-senate-spot-from-helen-kroger-in-tight-contest/ . There were ninety seven Senate candidates in Victoria, making that part of the election even more bewildering than ever. At this stage, it looks like Ms Kroger will not return to the Senate where new Prime Minister Abbot will have to wrangle his legislation past perhaps one of the most complicated Senate assemblies ever.

This was a bitter election and somewhat ill-tempered on both sides towards the end as the pressure grew. That was not all down to Rupert and his ilk, either. Chris Bowen, Rudd’s Treasurer, faced a tough fight in his seat of McMahon against a former senior police officer, Ray King. In the lead-up to polling day, a smear campaign was conducted against King in which his performance in the police force was questioned. While there is no suggestion Bowen knew about this, it illustrated the desperation which marked the last few days. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/election-2013/labor-alleges-facts-about-liberal-candidate-for-mcmahon-ray-king/story-fn9qr68y-1226713449025 .

The change of Government will not automatically change Australia’s fortunes, because the political system now is cast in such a way as to make change difficult. One major criticism of the Liberals surrounds their choice of candidates in seats that might and probably should have been won, especially in Western Sydney. The economy will not automatically become “better”, and smart policies based on sound future investment rather than pork barrelling in marginal electorates are still a long way off.

In the play, Rupert tries to say that his editors are free to do what they want but with the implication that they are not. If that is so, then the “new media” has an even greater role to play in future elections because it is from there that the real unlayering of local stoushes and issues will come. Twitter and Facebook and blogs have been more prominent than ever in this 2013 campaign, but it is likely their role will become even more significant as the “old” media struggles to deal with the increased complexities of the Australian political process.  


2 Responses to “Where To From Here?”
  1. Shayne Quick says:

    If this was an example of the type of information that Australian voters were provided with prior to an election, we would be in a much better position to make informed decisions about our future.

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