Labor election review: Facts, fallacies and the mainstream media

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Last Friday’s formal report into why Labor lost the May election falls well short of reflecting the real situation. Alan Austin suggests why.

HIGH MARKS for diligence and effort to the authors of the Labor Party’s 91-page review of the May 2019 Election. But is this what they really believe? Or is this to calm internal criticism, ease lingering grief and show the community they are listening?

The review analyses most public criticisms. Kudos for that. But it fails to grapple with arguably the principal reason for the unanticipated defeat. Perhaps they have another report under wraps which will shape future strategies.

The real threat to reformist parties

There is now abundant evidence that Australia’s dominant mainstream media organisation, News Corp Australia, routinely falsifies its “news”. Evidence of systematic distortions and fabrications comes from the Australian Press Council, academic studies, parliamentary inquiries, independent fact-checkers, former executives who have left in disgust and numerous court cases.

This is the principal lie which has thwarted the will of the people in the last four elections — that the Coalition manages the economy better than Labor.

Many falsehoods find their way into the other media and become accepted as true. Labor’s report does not acknowledge this overtly, but edges close at a few points:

  • ‘Finding 26: Queensland swung strongly against Labor while Victoria swung to Labor.’ [page 11]

Queensland has one capital city daily newspaper, owned by News Corp. Victoria has one owned by News Corp and another by Nine Entertainment.

  • ‘Finding 29: Economically insecure, low-income voters in outer-urban and regional Australia swung against Labor.’ [page 11]

These demographics tend to get most of their “news” from commercial TV and Murdoch tabloids rather than reliable sources.

  • ‘Recommendation 22: Labor must develop a comprehensive strategy for message defence and combating disinformation ...’ [page 16]

Yes, it must.

Centrality of the economy

Evidence is also compelling that management of the economy is the critical issue in determining federal election outcomes.

Roy Morgan has published

‘quantified thematic analysis of the verbatim responses of a nationally representative sample of 642 Australians’.

That means it asked 642 people a question and wrote down the answers.

The results were emphatic:

‘The economy and things economic [were] the biggest single theme to emerge. Economic Issues ... were mentioned by 38% of Australians as the most important problems facing Australia.’

In distant second place was climate change, at 8.1%, followed by the political system at 8%. All other issues, including the personalities of party leaders, were of very minor importance.

If this is so, then Labor’s highest priority must be to expose the abject failure of the Coalition to manage the economy successfully ever since 1971, when the moribund Government led by William McMahon took the economy into recession.

Every Coalition government since then has presided over a deteriorating economy, relative to the rest of the world. Every Labor government since Gough Whitlam’s has presided over an improving economy, relative to the rest of the world.

This is the principal lie which has thwarted the will of the people in the last four elections — that the Coalition manages the economy better than Labor. This is deeply ingrained in the Australian psyche and constantly reinforced by the Coalition and the mainstream media.

The report does acknowledge this in passing:

  • ‘In contrast, the Coalition had a simple positive message – a strong economy evidenced by a return to budget surplus; and a simple negative message – Labor’s economy-wrecking policies ...’ [page 43]

Opinion polling

The report’s references to opinion polls are naive almost beyond belief. It refers to Newspoll more than eight times, apparently accepting its reliability at face value:

  • ‘Why were the polls so wrong? All of the published polls persistently overstated support for Labor, in terms of both the primary vote and two-party preferred support.’ [page 17]

The polls weren’t just wrong. They were likely falsified. For years now, opinion polls have consistently shown the result most helpful in getting the Coalition re-elected.

In South Australia in March last year, opinion polls showed Labor ahead 51-49. The result was a solid Coalition victory.
In the July 2018 byelections, Newspoll had Labor at 51-49 in both Longman and Braddon. Labor won Longman 54.5 to 45.5, and Braddon 52.3 to 47.7.

In Victoria last November, polls showed Labor ahead 52-48. The result was a phenomenal landslide to Labor with 57.3% of the two-party preferred vote.

In New South Wales in March this year, polls showed Labor ahead 51-49. Another victory for the Coalition.

Before the May Federal Election, the opinion polls consistently showed Labor ahead 51-49. The Coalition won 51.5 to 48.5.
Clearly, it doesn't matter what voters tell the pollsters. The result published will always show what strategists want it to show. These days, that is Labor just ahead, 51-49, but the Coalition within reach.

Anyone who doubts that opinion polls are rigged should listen to Clive Palmer cheerfully admit that he paid pollsters for the results he wanted when he was Liberal Party director.

The leader

The report deals harshly with Bill Shorten, claiming:

  • ‘Finding 8: Bill Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to the election loss.’ [page 26]

Well, of course, it did. After six years of systematic misreporting by virtually all the mainstream media, that is inevitable. What the report fails to recognise is that this has happened to every Labor leader since Bob Hawke. It would have happened whoever was the leader in 2019. It will happen with Anthony Albanese as the next election looms.

In reality, few voters dwell on party leaders. They come and go. The last six prime ministerships have lasted an average of one year and 312 days. If electors voted for the leader, Paul Keating would not have won in 1993, John Howard would have failed in 1996 and Tony Abbott would never have become PM.

Glimmers of hope

The report suggests Labor just might focus more on its economic record in the future:

  • ‘Recommendation 3: Labor should position itself as a party of economic growth and reform, job creation and rising living standards, drawing upon and expanding on its past economic reforms.’ [page 14]

Yes, it absolutely should. But until the mendacity of the mainstream media is recognised and confronted, this will fail. And voters who genuinely want sound economic management will continue to be defrauded.

As argued elsewhere in a submission to this review, if just 5% of voters had realised they were being lied to and switched sides at the May Election, 15 additional seats would have changed from the Coalition to Labor/Greens (all other things being equal). If 9% of voters switched, 35 seats would have changed.

How good would that be, Australia?

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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