The media’s coverage of the burning refugee boat has been absolutely irresponsible. Its hyping and sensationalising of the incident has provoked irrational fears and behaviour among the most emotional and vulnerable section of Australian society – our political class.

Especially, it would seem, the most confused members of it, the federal coalition. Did Malcolm Turnbull really mean to end up saying that Rudd’s calling of the coming recession was a ‘distraction’? This may not seem too much of a mistake now, but as time goes on, and this tragic event pales into insignificance against the wider concerns of the economic crisis, it will be seen (and possibly used by Labor) as the tactically stupid move it was.

It has been fascinating to watch the coalition go through its motions over the last week as it was worked on by the media. First we had Turnbull reining in the dogs and the coalition immigration spokesperson back-tracking within hours of trying to make a link between the burning boat and government policy. Turnbull was virtually indistinguishable from Rudd attacking people smugglers, only trying to outdo the PM in the moral condemnation of their evilness (a futile task). This back-tracking was largely ignored by the media and those of the left who were hoping for a re-run of the Howard Years.

Then Turnbull appeared to creep inch by inch to some sort harder position by talking about TPVs. He may have needed to respond to the media frenzy but also the ‘personal’ opinion of Kevin Andrews who, being responsible for the greatest national security/immigration stuff up since Egon Kisch, the coalition has sensibly decided to put in charge of re-drafting its immigration policy.

However, even Turnbull’s fudge, where he was calling for the government to consider the re-introduction of TPVs, while refusing to say whether they should, was not enough to prevent another performance from the Liberals Who Care Theatre Workshop.

From the government’s side, Rudd was, as usual, internationalising it, claiming that “the reality is we are facing huge additional numbers across the archipelago, coming off global factors.” Good, that will calm things down.

Meanwhile back in reality, Newspoll says that 36% think tighter laws will make a difference, over half think there’s no point. Not exactly the “savage” thinking that David Marr on Insiders thought was out there (where does he hang out?). It wasn’t enough on which to differentiate between the Labor and the Coalition (27%/26%) on the issue, with a third uncommitted between the two. It was certainly not enough to change a vote which remained fixed on 58/42 (you know which way). The Newspoll CEO thought the general indifference was because “the issue has yet to fully play out”. What, we have not heard enough about this already?

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 21 April 2009.

Filed under Tactics

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11 responses to “Blowing up in his face – another update”

  1. James on 21st April 2009 11:28 am

    It seems that some political journalists are struggling as much as the Coalition to find relevance.

  2. Alan on 21st April 2009 11:46 am

    The problem is on a scale of one to 10 about a 0.1 in terms of importance. A recession a global economic crisis (which will see more people on the move, ditto climate change) all are first rank issues.
    There is no threat to us. We would be a pretty piss weak country if a few asylum seekers was going to bring us down.
    We look like bloody nongs.
    Malcolm Turnbull and Sharman Stone are just dancing on dead people with their faux concern for the refugees’ welfare. They can’t cut through on anything else so they are now playing the lowest card in the pack.
    The numbers arriving ae minuscule and it’s time we grew up as a country and accepted that this is a world-wide problem and we will deal with it in an orderly manner without the xenophobic hysteria being pumped up by the Libs.
    As has been pointed out elsewhere, the number of over stayers who arrive on tourist visas, study visas etc, the number of young girls trafficked into this country to work in brothels dwarfs the poor buggers on leaky boats.

  3. The Piping Shrike on 21st April 2009 5:10 pm

    Hi Alan, I would say this is being more pumped up by the media than the Liberals, I’m not sure Turnbull is welcoming this, it gets the right going and pushes the party the opposite way he wants to go.

    I do think James, there is a sense the media miss the Howard Years, and all its bogus narratives, dreadfully.

  4. Ad astra on 21st April 2009 8:41 pm

    Nice piece Piping Shrike.

    Martin O’Shannessy, CEO of Newspoll, is inclined to give comfort to the Coalition with his words, even when the figures don’t. So it’s difficult to know whether his view that “the issue has yet to fully play out” is a soundly reasoned belief, or simply wishful thinking. On past form, I’d back the latter. How much more is there to play out?

    Already the media has gone onto other matters. Only some unexpected event would resurrect the asylum issue now no matter how hard the Coalition tries to squeeze out another opportunistic drop or two, and as the Government seems determined not to speculate until it has the facts, nothing much will be ‘played out’ until then, except of course regular medical bulletins on the injured, the movements of the others, and maybe occasional heart-rending personal stories.

    The media might wish us to believe it is still stir-crazy for information, but I doubt if that extends to the public, which has likely already lost interest.

  5. Alan on 22nd April 2009 10:01 am

    Perhaps combination of media and the Libs. Don’t forget the performance of Dr Stone last week. She was out of the blocks pretty fast.Some sections of the media can’t get enough of it as it has all the things that stir up their constituency but I think Turnbull ran with it as a way of shoring uop his leadership only to find people in his arty are willing to go public and attack him on it. Yet another example of how little power he has in that party. The tough on asylum seeker members are the ones who keep him there but he doesn’t have the authority to over ride them nor admonish the softer Libs. And how can he lead when he has to see stories about Swinging Dicks!!! in the party.
    But on asylum seekers as Mumble says the power of incumbency is never to be underestimated.

  6. The Piping Shrike on 22nd April 2009 4:27 pm

    I agree Stone was out of the blocks pretty fast – but I also think she backed down pretty fast. I think what happened next was what happens when the media works on a weak political class.

    I tend to see the incumbency issue the other way round from Mumble. Rudd is ‘incumbent’ because the political environment, on issues like asylum seekers, has changed.

    Ad Astra, on O’Shannessy’s take on his own numbers, I think he is as disbelieving as the media on how little this issue is playing in the electorate. Sometimes its hard to stick a razor blade between the polling organisations and the media who pay them.

  7. James on 23rd April 2009 5:16 pm

    Polling is corrupted if the business interests of the media organisations who commission the polling are advanced by a government’s response to the polling after negative media.

  8. Ricc on 24th April 2009 11:55 pm

    Piping Shrike, do you recall a post from long ago about Stephen Conroy, where Rudd at the swearing in didn’t even read his name out, and claimed that the notes on Conroy were stuck to the ones in front?

    This Fairfax link claims that Harcher has evidence that Rudd was forced to appoint 2 right faction people at the expense of 2 left faction.

    Is it possible that Conroy was one of those who Rudd was forced to appoint? It fits. It is said Rudd hates Conroy. I even wonder if the whole web filtering thing is Rudd giving Conroy the rope to hang himself with.

    The Harcher thing, I don’t read Rudd as particularly wanting the Left -only he was trying to make the point that by overrepresenting the Left, he was ignoring the previous power brokers. But according to the article, he didn’t quite get away with it.

  9. The Piping Shrike on 25th April 2009 8:12 am

    I can’t recall the post, but crappy excuses does sound Rudd-esque (he is hopeless at lying). I do think the media miss the critical role the Left play in this government and why they have such influence.

    I look forward to Hartcher’s book, I think he is the best journo going at the moment.

  10. Ricc on 28th April 2009 8:39 pm

    Thanks Piping Shrike

    I notice you tend to use a cui bono (who benefits) approach to what is said in the media.

    Costello has been running, through Harcher the line that a) Rudd was going to benefit from the Scores story b) Howard perceived this and wanted the story stopped and c) that Howard was into middle class welfare

    b) and c) look unrelated at first glance but looking more closely you can see Costello painting Howard as purely machiavellian and populist, and b) sounds like a play to the right-wingers, your God John Howard was as reprehensibly immoral about Scores as Rudd was, who actually went there, because Howard identified it as just another political point rather than a solid moral issue.

    Costello is using Harcher to chip away at the Howard statue.

    It is interesting too that in the Howard Years doco, Costello said that their were too many Young Turks on the back bench who worshipped Howard and hadn’t been around when last in opposition and were therefore a barrier to a Costello leadership bid; yet Costello is now playing to the Young Turks (and plausibly many of them are the same YTs as in the last term of Howard).

    Shows that it is all just politics though – votes in the party room rather than ideology or principle. Apologies for going off topic from the refugee thing although on topic for the howard legacy issue.

  11. The Piping Shrike on 1st May 2009 8:23 am

    I think there is something that. I thought Abbott’s distancing from Howard’s cash splash a few weeks ago significant as well. There seems some moves in the right to start trashing some of the Howard legacy as a block to reasserting ‘core’ values (something I expected to happen much quicker than it did). Along with this is the rehabilitating of other bits of it like over the asylum seekers, so in relation to that I don’t think the Howard legacy is off topic at all.

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