A Quadrant reader and working journalist of the old school subscribes to Labor’s newsletters, not out of sympathy but because he believes in gathering as many facts as possible. As he works for a left-leaning organisation, which a diplomatic concern for his job prospects precludes naming, he reports that none of his colleagues has shown the slightest interest in exploring an obvious and easily verified story: the galloping fakery which Rudd & Co. hope will see them ride to victory on September 7.
Faux citizens talking up bogus gripes about misrepresented Coalition policies are now featuring heavily in that campaign. That middle-aged mum you may have seen slicing oranges and wondering what Tony Abbott will slash and burn is a great example. No hard-pressed battler, she is a professional actor who has lived in France and is currently upgrading her inner city pad with, among other luxuries, a top-dollar, low-noise, stainless steel dishwasher. Whatever her real-life address, one gathers it is not on Struggle Street.
She is not the only cardboard character in Labor’s cast of spear-carriers. Take “Elisa”, for example, who figures in one of the email ads arriving daily in the modest journalist’s in-box.
I’ve got a favour to ask. Can you tell your family and friends that ‘Labor makes life better’? And when they ask you why, tell them my story.
Most of the kids I grew up with are either in jail or dead. It could have been me, if not for my mother.
I grew up in a very poor community in Brazil amongst various children and families who didn’t have jobs or lived in shantytowns. In that community, education was a luxury that most children would never receive.
Instead, all that awaited them was low-paying jobs or a world of crime. It’s a stark difference to life in Australia that demonstrates why a Labor government is so important.
Growing up, I was lucky. Thanks to my mother, I received an education that opened up a world of options for me and gave me a future here in Australia.
My mother gave me the privilege of choice. And that’s exactly what those kids in Brazil didn’t have: the choice to be better, the choice not to be marginalised, and the ability to recognise the difference.
Now, I’m sharing my story because I want you to understand just how life-changing Labor’s support for education can be.
In this election, I’m asking you to remind your friends, family and community that by supporting education for all children Labor really is making life better.
A New Australian determined to stop Abbott reducing her adopted country to land of fevalas and illiteracy. How inspiring!
Except, when you do some googling, it turns out that Elise – real name Elise Fernades – is no mere volunteer. She is a former CFMEU worker and chair of the Victorian Young Labor Industrial Relations and Trade Union Committee. Strictly speaking there is nothing inaccurate about her email screed – members of the Labor Party are fully entitled to share their reservations about the Coalition’s policies. But it would have been just a bit more honest had the email been upfront about Elise’s long-term and deep-rooted Labor connections. That her full background was not laid out fits with the ad-campaign strategy Labor has imported from the US, along with three members of the team that helped secure President Obama’s re-election.
As Quadrant contributor Steve Kates explained recently on 2GB (the interview can be heard here), the Obama strategy hinged on identifying demographic groups and sub-groups, targeting them and fostering a sense of shared and common purpose. When Rudd recently urged his party’s supporters to send $10 dollar donations he was reading straight from the Obama playbook. As one of Labor’s imported ballot-box Svengalis, Matthew McGregor, candidly explained, collecting small amounts of cash is nowhere near so important as building a databank of email addresses.
Obama won in part because he inspired followers to email and door-knock friends and neighbours, spreading the word in their own circles. Whether this approach can work in Australia, where compulsory voting obviates the need to get supporters to the polls, remains to be seen, but for want of any better hope that appears to be the avenue Labor is following. Again, hear Kates dissect the strategy.
You can see much the same approach on a local basis in David Bradbury’s seat of Lindsay, where what seems a random collection of local residents sing their embattled local member’s praises in the ad below. Do take note of the names.
Notice the second speaker, Linda Everingham, whose caption describes her only as a “local P&C representative”. Like Elise from Brazil, she is a bit more than that. A lifelong Labor supporter, she battled Workchoices in 2007, is a union organiser and has even been mooted for Labor pre-selection. Apart from appearing in Bradbury’s ad, she also serves as Australian Manufacturer Workers Union NSW branch officer.
How slack of Bradbury not to mention that one of his talking heads also happens to be an ardent Labor mate.
Then there is Ron Bastian, billed as a “local pensioner”, who elsewhere describes himself as “a freelance environmental lobbyist” — and a ferocious one if the local rag’s account of his lonely support for Wayne Swan and the Gillard carbon tax is any indication.
A couple of talking heads later and unsuccessful workers comp applicant Maria Matinac fills the screen. She is billed as a cake-shop proprietor, which she is. Unmentioned is the chair, preserved as a holy relic in her shop, in which a visiting Julia Gillard rested while touring Lindsay. For an average citizen, she would appear to be a keener-than-average Labor supporter.
Truth and accuracy never emerge from election campaigns entirely unbruised, but Labor’s eager willingness to omit telling details amounts to a statement that cannot be challenged: If your media strategy hangs on populating a Potemkin Village with ring-ins and undeclared partisans, you probably don’t have too many genuine supporters.
Except, of course, in news organisations where some interesting stories go entirely unexplored.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online