As public confidence in politicians hits all-time lows, YouTube and social media campaigns are holding power to account where the mainstream media is failing, writes Tarric Brooker.
ONCE UPON A TIME in Australian politics, minor misdeeds and understandable errors brought about the resignation of government ministers. In 1984, Hawke Labor Government Minister Mick Young was forced to step down from the Cabinet as a result of forgetting to declare a stuffed Paddington Bear toy at customs after a trip overseas.
Fast forward to 2020 and the idea of a Federal MP resigning from Cabinet over anything less than a disastrous and protracted scandal seems far-fetched at best. A litany of recent scandals from "Watergate" involving Energy Minister Angus Taylor to "Sports Rorts" involving Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie, has illustrated just how much-perceived wrongdoing is required before a ministerial resignation may actually occur.
Despite the mainstream media continuing to apply pressure on the Morrison Government over the "Sports Rorts" scandal, it took quite some time before Bridget McKenzie was forced to resign from Cabinet.
With trust in government at record lows according to an Australian National University survey that has been running for over 50 years, public pressure resulting from mainstream coverage of political scandals isn’t what it used to be.
But in recent months, we’ve seen that through leveraging the power of social media and YouTube, public pressure can force at least some level of change in policy by governments.
Since the summer’s devastating bushfires, political commentator, comedian and YouTuber Jordan Shanks, better known as friendlyjordies, has been leading a campaign against the NSW State Coalition Government and in favour of protecting the State’s wildlife.
As part of the campaign Shanks told his followers to get #KoalaKiller trending on social media, a description he popularised to describe NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. As a result, the hashtag trended frequently on Twitter and Shanks' viewers began using it in comments on social media posts by the NSW Liberal Party and Premier Berejiklian.
In a video entitled ‘I Broke the Government’ released on his YouTube channel last Tuesday, Shanks credited his fans with forcing the Berejiklian Government to introduce the controversial Koala Habitat Protection (SEPP) legislation.
As a result of the legislation, the NSW Nationals led by John Barilaro threatened that the Nationals would sit on the crossbench and effectively "blow up" the Berejiklian Government unless it abandoned the Bill. In the standoff that followed, Barilaro and the Nationals were ultimately forced into a humiliating backdown and a restoration of the status quo.
Premier Berejiklian hasn’t been Shanks’ only target. Deputy Premier Barilaro has also found himself in Shanks' crosshairs for both a social media campaign and an investigation into alleged acts of corruption.
By using a combination of humour, investigative journalism and relevant clips from the Simpsons, Shanks has managed to do something that has proven challenging for the mainstream media in recent years: getting politically disinterested people to engage with a political issue.
Just months ago, Barilaro was considered a potential future contender for National Party Federal leadership, before his candidacy for the seat of Eden-Monaro was ended after a battle with fellow NSW Coalition MP Andrew Constance.
Now, amidst the fallout of Barilaro’s failed attempt to strong-arm Premier Berejiklian and the ongoing public relations nightmare created by Shanks' social media #Bruz campaign, ramming home all the various corruption allegations against him, Barilaro’s fortunes have changed dramatically.
To what degree Shanks' campaign played a role in Barilaro’s fall from grace will no doubt be a matter of contention for quite some time. But it has illustrated how social media and solid background research can be leveraged to exert a great deal of political pressure on governments.
The current state of Australian politics could scarcely be further away from the days when forgetting to declare a teddy bear could bring about a ministerial resignation. But with more young Australians driven to engage politically by social media and figures like Jordan Shanks, perhaps a greater level of accountability can be achieved in time.
Ultimately if a hashtag, a nickname like "Bruz" and solid investigative journalism can contribute significantly to putting enormous amounts of pressure on a state government, perhaps this is a sign of things to come.
After all, 75 per cent of Australians already generally believe politicians look after themselves, just imagine if they knew about all the questionable things state and federal MPs are doing in the public’s name, with our money.
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