Yes hello long time blogger, first time in almost two years post. In late 2020 my life (and writing) became consumed by completing a doctorate, which was eventually conferred in September 2021. I even popped on a floppy hat in December last year.
On the same day as the graduation ceremony, Liberal Party leader and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet lifted indoor mask and check-in requirements. That disastrous decision was quickly reversed, but not before family holidays and celebrations all over the state were wrecked by rapidly spreading infections. There was also mass, unplanned, unco-ordinated, no-information closure of PCR clinics; and a shortage of homes testing kits. The Morrison government claimed to be leaving RAT orders to the market, and then placed orders so huge that suppliers immediately switched to Commonwealth procurement offers.
To any punter paying attention, this pattern would be very familiar. Throughout the Covid19 pandemic and climate-driven bushfires and floods over the last three years, we in NSW have been doubly cursed by Liberal Party leadership at both state and federal levels. Delays, poor judgement, corrupted decisions and actions, and reversal of bad and deeply ideological, religious, and partisan calls – at additional and unnecessary and eye-watering cost – are par for the political course.
Since Tony Abbott rode to power in 2013 on a wave of misogynist, xenophobic and anti-science slogans, more patient people than me have diligently charted their dismal record: the unlawfulness and corrupted spending; creation of mental health conditions and deaths; the trashing of the public sphere with impunity.
By Matt Davis at The Chaser, this is as good as any. Documenting political failures has fallen to comedians (and independent news sites, and voters with twitter accounts) for a reason. Day in day out, public health and climate mitigation failures are reliably sanitised and minimised, laundered and legitimised, by loyal and compliant press gallery journalists.
From my perspective, coverage of the 2022 federal election campaign is in exactly the same mould as mountains of craven contemptuous dross we have been served up by the press gallery for the whole nine Abbott Entsch Turnbull Joyce Morrison McCormack Joyce years. This ludicrous but accurate descriptor is never used by media and political operatives, unlike Rudd-Gillard-Rudd, which is common press gallery parlance.
Because the political class is deeply committed to false framing of Labor governments as anomalies (strong ground game, because uNiOnS, is the lazy go-to in this context) and Coalition rule as a natural state of affairs (which is ideological alignment with conservatism, founded in primogeniture: born to rule).
Lately, this narrative has become quite literal. While federal Coalition politicians are always pronounced to be the minister and the government, even during election campaigns (the naturalising part) quite a few of them were also having affairs while in cabinet. Coalition peccadillos have cost us millions of dollars, in staff turnover and leadership ballots and ministerial re-shuffles and confidential payouts and MPs sitting at home on full pay. In addition, there are multiple unresolved allegations against Coalition politicians of misogynist bullying, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and domestic abuse.
None of these things are free. The personal cost is incalculable, and the financial cost could and should be funding domestic violence and rape crisis programs instead. Unlike unemployed people, however, or interest rate movements – as set by the Reserve Bank of Australia and not by politicians – nobody aggregates these costs and then insists politicians memorise headline figures to be recited on journalistic demand like a trained circus act.
The May 2022 Campaign
Until the writs were issued last Sunday, Coalition politicians were the Morrison government. Still, every “convention” courtesy is extended. The member for Cook is constantly gifted the gravitas of high office. His campaign announcements are reported as prima facie government policy, despite the obvious fact that every Morrison campaign announcement is, like every Morrison government announcement before it, blatant electioneering.
What will it cost? is reserved for opposition policy. Meanwhile, whether in government or purportedly in caretaker mode, Morrison and his many ministers campaign with the very useful electoral tool of an apparently bottomless pot of public money. Millions announced here, there and everywhere, every day. Nobody asks where the savings will come from, because nobody cares. The only media agenda is to see Labor lose.
The Canberra press gallery is no more fit for purpose than Morrison is fit for public office.
All this goes to the excuses offered by journalists after footage emerged on social media of Morrison telling a punter he is hosting exclusive drinks for the media pack on day two of the 2022 campaign. Morrison is not drinking with them in his capacity as prime minister. Whatever purported titbits and insights are gleaned from boozing on with him, they are drinking with the leader of the Liberal Party, with citizen Morrison.
In contrast, his every mangled campaign message is reported, as fact, at the top of news bulletins: The Prime Minister Said. So why not report what Morrison says or does after hours, while they are on the grog? Does he cheat on his wife, like Alan Tudge? Sleaze around with staffers in bars and full view (to journalists), like Christian Porter? Yes? No? Maybe? Who decides which character indicators are revealed to the public? After all, it is the public who pay generous salaries to politicians and staffers and journalists at the public broadcaster. We pay for the offices and staffers and travel, for the space: the parliamentary gallery and bar and studios and ICT that enables all these well-remunerated careers.
We even donate our data to their partners in the polling business. Limited and unscientific voter responses are leveraged – by the media corporations that commission and pay for aggregated mirages – to promote cherry-picked headline figures and (relatively) cheap copy. This is the busines model: Liberal Party lies , carefully laundered through bought-and-paid-for mathiness, to legitimise anti-Labor coverage. Why just today, ABC Sydney radio gave a lengthy segment to Phil Coorey, whose employer resembles nothing so much as a fundraising and advertising arm of the Liberal Party. The story? Ten voters in focus groups from two cities had picked up and parrotted back the “devil you know” messaging that the media promoted all week, on behalf of Scott Morrison.
Four days into a federal election campaign and the charade is already this closed shop of corporate interests, masquerading as democracy.
The voter who dared enter rarified media pack drinks with Scott Morrison this week was ejected and detained and questioned by Australian Federal Police. His presence was labelled “Labor Party” disruption in corporate media news bulletins. This is a lie: the Opposition was not invited. Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition simply were not there. It was an unofficial drinking session with Liberal Party and corporate media operatives. No protocol or convention or bothsides reporting norms need be observed.
Two tropes I want to respond to before wrapping up: that politician-journo campaign drinks are tradition, therefore we should accept and get over it; and that voters can and should ignore media coverage and get across party platforms ourselves.
The first one is easy. There are many ugly destructive traditions established here since 1788. Tradition and “always” are semiotics for accepting the norms of imperial white patriarchy (Moreton Robinson 2015). Appeals to incumbent power are not only backed by conservative ideology, but also by violence (same thing, as Dickens moneylender Mr Smallweed might say).
Secondly, telling voters to do our own research is elitist and ableist. This pompous response – usually to complaints about press gallery capture – falsely assumes that all 16 million voters have equal access and resources when it comes to time, money, digital infrastructure and political literacy. We do not. It is not a defence of the press gallery, either. If all voters actually could take the time and had the resources to analyse each party policy platform, media coverage would be redundant. So what comes across as a patronising and unhelpful directive is also an argument in support of doing away with “the bus” altogether.
From where I sit, the Coalition parties should not be remotely competitive in the 2022 federal election. On any objective measure of policy and governance – as opposed to indulgent horserace journalism – these have been nine disastrous and destructive years. In addition to my twitter account, I have documented their cruelty, bigotry, and corruption over seven years, from political, economic, ethical, and legal perspectives, on this site. Frustration with blanket, and admiring, media coverage of the aggressive misogyny of Tony Abbott is why I initially set up this blog.