Election 2019: A clash of minds

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Bill Shorten played the role of the Devil in Pastor Morrison's sermon (Image edited by Dan Jensen)

Both party leaders held rallies in Melbourne on Sunday to kick off the last week of their election campaigns. In this commentary, media editor Lee Duffield says they are turning up the language and emotion but also making the choices look very clear.

THE LIBERALS' EVENT appropriately took place on a Sunday.

Many in the grey-suited throng for the first time in their lives had an experience like attending a full-on hoedown fundamentalist religious show. The model was akin to the kind of auditorium service conducted by entrepreneurial American evangelicals as seen on closed circuit television in certain church retirement homes. Big room, big audience, one lone avuncular preacher out there holding the floor.


The faithful in this case did not actually sway and groove with the spirit but together, with a little bewilderment, displayed an obvious gripping-onto-hope.

The “Pastor” was Scott Morrison giving off a “sermon” — an hour of it.

The “homily” was on the theme of if you have a go you get a go in Paradise — Paradise, which turned out to be a vision of Australia in 2019.


Everything is good in Australia, nothing to see here, prosperity coming along, simple remedies coming through for any problems.

There is no dysfunctional, divided government going on, nothing to worry about with climate change or the Barrier Reef, no wage blockage, no injustice — all under control. We are blessed and if not prepared to thank God, should at least be grateful to the Pastor.  


To the agnostic observer, watching to see if there was a message of “love thy neighbour”, the encouraging, patronising, eager grin signalled the terms for that — it is love for neighbours who will follow.

Candidates for becoming lovable neighbours especially are “hard-working Australians” with jobs (or preferably small businesses) and happy families, able to stretch to pay for private health insurance.

There’d be “no cuts in private health insurance”.

“I will not penalise Australians for taking responsibility for themselves and their families”, the Pastor said.

Also reassuring, they “won’t be told what car to drive” either.


There was utterly no love for thine enemy but.

The “Devil” was there in this “service” and his name was Bill Shorten.

In such an emotional, not to say highly sentimental kind of show, the agnostic observer was invited to study feelings — looking for a man behind the preacher with the microphone.

Here are some notes made on the performance:


If playing back the tape to monitor swift alternations of emotion, do you get this?

  • Love for followers: a loving stare, the head-dunking kindly gesture (conferring a blessing?), he’s about to cry over the beauty of it all.
  • Bad thought coming, about to belt into the Devil: sudden weird, exasperated giggle, so to say, “preposterous isn’t it, this demon Labor?”
  • Belting into the Devil: one-track mind, hardly-concealed teeth-grinding anger pushing to boundaries of restraint.

Note to Pastor: to be Mr Nice Guy 100%, cut back on the haranguing and anger — people tend to notice.


Speaking of devils, there was a somewhat demonic-looking bloke playing second row in the audience, Peter Dutton, to whom the Pastor was ready to risk throwing a bone.

On immigration, the “boats had been stopped”, for which:

“I give credit to Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton for doing an outstanding job.”

Even “Senator Lurch” of our time, Mathias Cormann, the budget cutter and cigar man of 2014, received a nod and a few words of praise.


This pastor-like, emotional politician, Scott Morrison, is not known for depth of thinking but some policy and ideology got into the discourse.

The business of governments getting in revenue and providing services should be limited, he said, so it does not become the Devil’s work of “high taxes on Australians and reckless spending”.

The Robert Menzies formula of the 1960s was invoked with a first home buyers’ scheme, (this time a financial guarantee calculated on the difference between 5% equity and 25% value of the property, for couples earning up to $200,000 p.a. if both employed).

Also following that long-ago Prime Minister, when under pressure electorally and so prepared to spend enough money to buy-off possible Liberal defectors, we had a recounting of recent increases in health and education — in-part answers to major projects announced by the Devil.


The said Devil, Bill Shorten, in the meantime was addressing a rally of his own somewhere else in Melbourne.

It is fair to bring up here a note made on one of his early performances as Labor leader and ask if it still resonates with the reader:

‘Slightly snide little numbers man who, holding the numbers, can at least insulate himself from getting rolled like Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull.’

Has Devil Shorten become bigger than that?

On Sunday, he was out to steal the Pastor’s thunder and showed a very similar unwillingness to love his enemy.

  • “Misfits, no-hopers, operators, acting as if government is their privilege”: read, members of the Federal Ministry.
  • “Too dodgy, incompetent, toxic to be let out”: read, Minister Dutton, ex-Prime Minister Abbott, the no-see Environment Minister somebody called Price and other Government figures not allowed to take part in the national election campaign.


He did identify a major point of difference — wages, where the Labor Opposition has proposed direct measures to increase incomes and the Liberal Government says these will depend on trickle-down from a “strong economy”. (It raises a question hardly asked and not answered on that point: what happens when the economy slows and is not “strong”?)

There was a plan for wages including the restoration of penalty rates for casual workers and wage subsidies for early childhood workers and an end to anti-union campaigns, he said.

“Otherwise there’s more Right-wing ideology in industrial relations, no penalty rates, taking us down the American road.


The long campaign, mission or crusade for the government of Australia has, in the end, succeeded in making the choices very clear — more clear than in many elections past.

The costings on the scale of billions of dollars would be lost on most where average full-time earnings are a bit over $85,000 p.a., but you can make out the outlines.

The Liberals want to reallocate wealth to the wealthy end through income tax cuts. Labor wants to reallocate wealth to the poorer end through services. Both would like support from the middle — which remains a large population fighting for space in the growing money inequality between the “top 1.5%” and the rest.

The proposition is that society will improve, respectively, because the enriched rich will invest and make the economy “strong”, or that many more people will get a break and become more resourceful.

Certain other large issues have been registering in voter polls:


Labor says tackle this strongly as a crisis, through several measures including some form of carbon trade. They say this will cost money but that has to be set against the “high cost of doing nothing”. Liberals have not been able to work up a policy on it in Government, especially due to being compromised by the coal industry lobby in their own ranks. They have proposed 1970s-style conservation projects and look for electoral support by telling the public not to worry too much about it — and claiming that Labor will ban utes. The party leader, Morrison, carried a lump of coal into Parliament as a prop to support the line of argument.


Labor will permit an increase in processed refugee numbers. It will retain the ban on arrivals by boat, but wants more humane treatment for the remaining people on Nauru and Manus Island and more prompt and efficient processing of claims, including a drive to find more “third country” placements beginning with New Zealand.

The Liberals in government, after capping immigration, insist on continuing the “hard line” — for instance, they opposed legislation by the Parliament to bring emergency medical cases to Australia. They are beholden to racist elements in their constituency and their electoral alliance with small parties on the extreme Right.

Certain jaded observers imagined they may have let a few boats through to stir up the issue during the election campaign, but very unlikely these days. Public opinion has shifted somewhat and the issue now contains risks for the conservatives as well as Labor, so it has not been getting much mention in 2019.

On balance: they have given it a good go, there is much information at any level, you have a good chance of sorting out the distortions and lies for yourself and it would be hard for voters to complain they don’t know what is going on when they go off to vote.

Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.

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