Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Can I just say this: reform is a tough business.
K Rudd 15 June 2010
In these difficult times, it must be at least some consolation to the government that the media is being so supportive. You can hardly pick up The Australian these days without it being chock full of helpful advice on how the government can turn its fortunes around. The Australian’s concern over the government’s fate certainly marks a sharp change in direction for a paper that until now had been giving the very strong impression that it wanted the government to go.
Never mind that such advice doesn’t seem to be much more than “Dump Rudd” or “Dump the tax”. Glenn Milne let out the electoral secret that the Liberal party must have hoped he wouldn’t, that if Labor replaced Rudd with Gillard, they would romp home. And dumping the tax is a no-brainer. On Insiders last week, Barrie Cassidy, along with much of the press, was incredulous that Rudd appeared wlling for the argy-bargy with the miners to go on for months let alone weeks. Albanese and Rudd yesterday were both essentially agreeing with the media that opposition to the tax was destroying the government’s polling but that this was the price of reform.
This is all wonderful nonsense. The government isn’t floundering in the polls because of its controversial reforms, it was floundering in the polls for the exact opposite reason, because it wasn’t appearing to stand for anything, especially after Copenhagen. It was the drift in the government, which lost the only agenda it had, that has made it seem out of control, including, to some degree, when it came to bringing in a tax on the mining industry. However, what has happened in the last week is that the government has turned this reality on its head and now we have Rudd the battler prepared to make the tough decisions and fight the tough fights even if it loses him votes. How the government was able to do this was helped by a media agenda that struggled with what the polls have been starting to tell them in recent weeks.
It has been delicious watching the media interpret polls that would have led them to two highly unpalatable possible conclusions. The least unpalatable was that it showed the rise of the Greens as a new force in Australian politics. This was the one reached by Glenn Milne in a piece last week when he talked about how Bob Brown was leading the Greens to have a similar effect on the Australian political scene that Nick Clegg did in the UK. What, taking his party’s vote nowhere and actually losing seats at the election?
Certainly Gerard Henderson, never knowingly passing up a chance to burst delusions of left-wing commentators like, er, Milne, was ready to put him straight. According to Henderson, the Greens represent no more than the “affluent inner-city professional class” (he says it likes it’s a bad thing!) that will never be anything than a minority concern. But in pooh-poohing the rise of the Greens, Henderson can’t bring himself to draw out the only other conclusion from recent polls; that they are less about the Greens breaking through than, as we see already in all the states, the major parties breaking down.
The media are uncomfortable with the vacuum at the centre of Australian politics. It is why when faced with it, they prefer to either ignore it, or else to make up a ‘challenge’ that will apparently resolve and fill in the vacuum no matter how fanciful it may seem. So as we watched the hole open up in the centre of the Howard government in its final months, we had the Costello ‘challenge’ that had no basis in reality in the Liberal party room, largely because it had no basis in the electorate either.
Yet the Costello challenge seems positively tangible compared to the political fantasy of the Gillard ‘challenge’ in recent weeks. Even Shanahan, after yet another comatose Labor caucus, finally had to concede that there was “no leadership challenge under way, in any form”. So what on earth has everyone, including Shanahan, been going on about? What we are left with now apparently is, according to Shanahan, no challenge but still a “leadership under threat”, whatever that means.
Just as we have fantasy challenges at the top to fill in a vacuum, so we have also had fantasy grassroots challenges such as that around the mining tax. The media might like endlessly repeating clips from the same over-choreographed demo in Perth last week, but other than the small portion of the working population directly working in the mining industry, it is hard to see on what basis anyone, other than some annoyed billionaires, would have much of an opinion one way or the other on this issue. Even those in the industry might struggle to work out how shareholders having to pay more tax would necessarily affect them. Nor will the supposed beneficiaries of the tax be too excited either, given that we are talking about all of 3% extra in super that won’t come in full until almost half the working population have already retired.
What we have had in reality is a media campaign between the mine owners and the government that has only been turned into a titanic battle because the government’s lack of social base makes it isolated and appear vulnerable. It was nicely summed up in the non-event of the community cabinet in Perth last week and (the classic sign these days of the insecurity of the political class) the excessive security that surrounded it. The Liberals had been helping this image of a groundswell of opposition by the usual tactic when trying to take up a position that isn’t especially supported or opposed in the electorate at large, try to make it tangible by focussing on certain seats where it may be having an effect, swiftly followed by a host of dodgy small sample polls from the said electorates.
However, in the last week we have started to see Rudd and the government look to turn this media perception to its advantage. It began with Rudd’s interview in The Australian and followed up by a bravura performance from Albanese on Lateline last night when he pretended that all the government’s bad polling started when the mining tax was proposed. Rudd the flip-flopper has been turned into Rudd the battler, fighting the elites and the special interests and so becoming an eerily familiar rendition of that conviction politician from those phoney battles of the past. All we need now is the chin jutting out, that whiney persecuted voice, and morning jogs in the green and gold.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 16 June 2010.Filed under Media analysis, Tactics