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September 28th 2012 print

James Allan

To lie, slander, or both?

A government cannot face the electorate on a platform of proven incompetence, so how does Julia Gillard propose to save her party's bacon? With a little help from the ABC, for starters


Surely it is now abundantly clear to everyone that this government cannot run on its record and that it will do everything it can to fight the next election by focussing elsewhere. Anywhere else.


Just run through that record in your mind. The carbon tax? It accomplishes nothing, zero, in terms of lowering the temperature anywhere. It is a giant money-churning operation that may even be so insanely perverse that it will lead to more carbon dioxide being emitted. It kills jobs. It discourages investment. And the government has been forced to throw money around with a reckless abandon to buy off its core vote, which would otherwise be slugged to achieve nothing.  Or at least nothing more than the sanctimonious self-regard of a few inner city chardonnay-sippers who think good intentions make for good policies.

If that is dumb, and it is, the government’s record on boat people and illegal immigration (I said that on purpose Press Council because it’s a true description, so go jump in the lake) is truly horrific. This Labor Government dismantled the most effective set of policies one could hope for. It then flirted with a bizarre naiveté that catered to the worst sort of Green Party idiocies which in turn led to hundreds of deaths, a flood of boat people and, eventually, to a half-hearted return to where they started. But only half-hearted.

It’s hard to think of how anyone could have done worse on this front, even had he been deliberately trying to screw things up.

Then there’s the money side of things. Who recalls Mr. Rudd saying back in 2007 that he was an economic conservative? Hmm. Not a single budget surplus from this government since it came to office.  And this during the best terms of trade Australia has ever known.

Economic conservatism should be made of sterner stuff. And no one outside the government’s ABC cheerleaders think there is any chance at all of Mr. Swan delivering a surplus before next year’s election. Even with every accounting trick known to man, it won’t happen.

Then, perhaps, amongst the various policy ruins to choose from, we could take the NBN. What a waste of money. You might just as well have rounded up all people who live 100 kilometres from big centres and given them ten thousand dollars each, no let’s make it twenty thousand, to spend on telecommunications or anything else they wanted. It would have been cheaper. And it would have been a better use of public money than this white elephant, whose product few now want to buy and that will be technologically outdated way, way before it comes close to paying back much of its costs.

That is the sort of idiocy that only a nauseatingly puffed up, self-satisfied person like Mr. Oakeshott could now try to defend with a straight face.

Oh, and then there is this government’s authoritarian flirting with speech-stifling new rules and regimes (think Finkelstein Report, think mooted Media Councils) that may be its biggest disgrace of all in a vibrant democracy such as Australia. On that basis alone it deserves to be flogged at the next election.

Of course, having said all that, this government has absolutely no intention of fighting the next election on its record. It knows as well as anyone that that way looms disaster. In fact I can’t think of a government anywhere I have ever lived (and that’s five jurisdictions), of any political stripe, with a worse record than this one.

So we will be treated to a two-pronged approach. The government will focus on the future and offer money galore (unfunded promises, if you know what I mean) to all people even remotely likely to be tempted by such largesse. If this should work the thinking is that they can deal with the fact Australia can’t afford to deliver on such promises later. That’s a better problem to have than losing the next election.

The second prong will be a brutal and highly personalised attack on Mr. Abbott. We know they can do this effectively because we’ve seen them do it to their former leader, Mr. Rudd.

Of course such a strategy would have little hope of success in an environment where, say, ABC journalists were remotely even-handed. But they’re not. They are much more interested in whether Mr. Abbott hit a locker in his teens, 35 years ago, than why Ms. Gillard opened a slush fund working as a lawyer in her 30s, and what it tells us that such lawyerly behaviour was seen as unacceptable by her law firm at the time. And recall how comparatively uninterested the ABC was in the then-sitting Prime Minister Rudd’s berating of an airhostess.

You get the ABC’s attitude to Mr. Abbott when you compare two Leigh Sales recent TV interviews. One was with a Muslim cleric whose website posts the most vile anti-Semitic and anti-Western diatribes imaginable. The other was with Mr. Abbott. In one Ms. Sales could barely contain her contempt; she interrupted; she oozed disdain. In the other she asked questions and then sat politely, almost respectfully, and allowed her interviewee to give a full answer.

There are absolutely no prizes for guessing which was which.

 Sure, it is a disgrace that our national broadcaster that takes taxes from all of us cannot point to a single right-of-centre host for any of its flagship programs going back eons, not one.  It just shovels out trite garbage about bias being in the eye of the beholder and that its journalists take impartiality seriously blah blah blah.

When they hire a few conservatives who tell the Greens and Labor that their concerns are misguided and that bias is in the eye of the beholder etc etc we’ll know there has been a modicum of movement in the ABC. Till then, Mr Scott just doesn’t seem to be doing his job, and I’d like my portion of the ABC’s tax take back please.

Meantime this government will take a punt on an Anna Bligh-style approach of massive character assassination. It didn’t work in Queensland, but it might work for Julia. Certainly she’s got nothing to lose. And anyway, is there really a difference for Julia’s own future, as opposed to Labor generally, if she loses big or loses small?

Will this two-pronged strategy work? Well, there is the big problem that cometh the next election campaign, cometh the videos of Julia promising there won’t be a carbon tax. Voters don’t like to be lied to, however much some have since been bought off. And once a liar always a liar. Right?

So that’s a problem. And many voters will see through the reckless spending promises. But there is the possibility that dissension will grow in Coalition ranks. And that would help the government for sure. And it’s not as though the Opposition is without a few of its own loose canons who put self above Party.

My wife and I lived in Hong Kong for four years. They had a saying there that was meant to be a dire sort of warning. It was, “We live in interesting times”. It applies to Australia right now.