Bill Shorten abused an Asian shopkeeper unable to satisfy his yearning for a pie. Today he’s Mr Caring-Sensitive and that incident has gone down the memory hole, just as Turnbull’s backers forgot his abysmal record as a leader and vote-winner
A certain level of forgetfulness may be helpful. It could even be, if you subscribe to the theory that a woman would never have more than one baby if she recalled in detail the agony of childbirth, a biological necessity.
Likewise, though far lower on the pain scale, no person with complete powers of recall would ever play another game of cricket after that first fast ball to the head. Or drink again following the first serious hangover. Or ask someone out after that first rejection. Memories seem designed to fade, which for those of us in the cricketing/drinking/dating cohort is obviously a fine arrangement.
But there is a downside to our memory lapses. Politicians are hugely reliant on them.
Paul Keating in 1993 won an unwinnable election by demonising Liberal leader John Hewson’s GST, a version of which Keating had previously proposed himself. Few remembered. Bill Shorten remains a secure Labor leader and the likely next prime minister despite his 2012 abuse of a female Asian store owner who wasn’t able to supply him with a hot meat pie. That incident could have ended his career. And Liberal members of parliament voted in 2015 to install Malcolm Turnbull over elected PM Tony Abbott, despite Turnbull’s abysmal record as opposition leader and Labor’s post-Gillard election fate in 2013.
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They evidently forgot. Well, not all of them. As one senior Liberal said to me a month or so after the Turnbull coup: “You watch. Malcolm will f*** this up.” And, as we’ve since seen, he has. Repeatedly. In almost every way possible.
That accurate prediction followed a period of soaring Turnbull polls. Leftists were especially ecstatic. “After a few weeks, the country feels different,” the Sydney Morning Herald’s Elizabeth Farrelly wrote. “The air has a new edge. And that edge has a name. Intelligence.” Farrelly offered her own forecast: Turnbull would become “the longest-serving prime minister since Menzies. Possibly ever.”
I bet Elizabeth can’t wait for the memory loss to kick in regarding that particular column. Meanwhile, any number of political obsessives on social media have already erased the period of Turnbull’s briefly stratospheric popularity. On the occasion in early April of Turnbull’s thirtieth consecutive Newspoll defeat, matching the mark he’d set for Abbott, Twitter lit up with claims that this amounted to the sixtieth straight Newspoll loss for the Coalition.
It didn’t work that way. Abbott lost thirty, then—as Tasmanian poll watcher Kevin Bonham pointed out—Turnbull won nine, tied seven and lost four before commencing his Abbott-equalling negative run. Turnbull’s initial polling success was big news at the time, but many people have clearly forgotten it ever happened.
So much for social media types, then, who while consumed by politics plainly pay little attention to huge slabs of it. At least we can expect better from professionals, like the ABC’s Virginia Trioli. Or maybe not. Hosting the first Q&A after Turnbull’s thirtieth loss, Trioli at one point declared: “Sixty Newspolls on the trot!”
Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I need to go shopping. I wish I could remember why.