Politics Opinion

Frydenberg's debate performance reveals 'born to rule' mentality

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At the National Press Club on Tuesday, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg made the serious and unsettling claim that the Australian Labor Party "are trying to sneak into government"

This appears to imply that Frydenberg considers our electoral system vulnerable to manipulation and that any result favourable to Labor could be in some way framed as “sneaky”.

It is an alarming accusation for someone at the highest level of government to make about our electoral process and one that can only sow mistrust and uncertainty amongst voters. 

It is extraordinarily reckless for the Treasurer to imply that our electoral process can be compromised in this way. Frydenberg is admitting that he lacks faith in our system if he considers such manipulation a possibility.

We could be forgiven for understanding his comment as an attempt to undermine the process should the Coalition fail to win. 

The Treasurer did not elaborate on the mechanics of this “sneaky” victory or what allegedly fraudulent processes would be required to bring it about. Instead, he seeded the disturbing notion of an outcome that could be framed as suspicious or invalid.

Should Labor win the election it will be because Australian citizens voted them into government.

It will not be the result of “sneaky” activities by the ALP or Australian voters.  

The suggestion that it could be otherwise is disinformation and it is coming from the highest level of government.  

Though no doubt it was not Frydenberg’s intention, he succeeded in confirming the Liberal “born to rule” ideology, in the event you were uncertain. Any result that denies them that divine right must be “sneaky.” If they lose the election it will have been “sneakily” stolen from them.

This deranged thinking may sound familiar: it has echoes of protest by Donald Trump and his supporters following his defeat in the last U.S. Presidential Election. It is born of entitlement, privilege and megalomania, and the inability to accept rejection by the electorate.

It is entirely contemptuous of voters as well as the liberal democracy in which we operate. It is delusional. It is the anguished howl of mediocre men who believed themselves special, finally facing an uncertain future from which their privilege has failed to protect them.

Frydenberg, like his leader, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is prepared to destroy democracy in order to retain power and indeed, this has arguably been the Coalition project for the last nine years. 

In one sentence, Frydenberg has laid bare the dangerous inability of his Party to accept a verdict from Australian voters that may not favour the Coalition. The Liberals consider they are "democracy", that no one else has the right to govern, that an election loss is theft and that having multiple candidate choices undermines that democracy.

This absurd position contains within it its own negation and exemplifies a sense of entitlement that cannot entertain the notion of the common good and responsible governance but is instead focused entirely on retaining power and the personal benefits that brings.

Though at first blush it seems incredible that an Australian election win could be the subject of Trumpian claims that it was “stolen,” in April the Australian Electoral Commission expressed alarm at “dangerous” voter integrity misinformation being imported from the U.S., including baseless claims to do with fraud and altered ballots.

While the disinformation and misinformation spreaders were identified as being from minor parties, and many of their claims are frankly crazed, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) was sufficiently concerned to set up pages dedicated to correcting false or mistaken claims, known as the Disinformation Register

It is not clear whether claims such as that made by Frydenberg come under the AEC’s remit. Likewise, it is not clear if claims made by several Coalition politicians, as well as some media outlets, that voting for Independent candidates will undermine democracy and lead to chaos can be addressed.

On the face of it, the Treasurer’s claim of a “sneaky” Labor win, also postulated by Tim Wilson who is under considerable pressure in his seat of Goldstein from Independent Zoe Daniel, does imply that the legal act of voting as you choose is in some way likely to have been manipulated by the ALP in the event they win.

It also – and more seriously – implies that the system is vulnerable to such manipulation, thus damaging public trust in the central tenet of our democracy.

Whether or not these implications fit the AEC’s definition of disinformation remains to be seen.

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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