Politics Analysis

Labor plays into Dutton's hands by ridiculing Coalition nuclear policy

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Labor's creation of memes and frequent use of jokes to critique Peter Dutton's nuclear energy plan makes light of what should be a deeply concerning policy, Dr Michael Galvin writes.

THE DUST IS now settling since Peter Dutton announced one of the craziest bravest policies ever put forward by a serious politician.

And what has been a major talking point for the Coalition since then? Conservative politicians are skewering Labor politicians for deploying The Simpsons-styled memes to ridicule Dutton’s nuclear fantasy as Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek put it.

Albanese’s initial response was of a similar ilk to his Caucus colleagues, likening “Peter Dutton and the Seven Nukes” to something that only belongs in fairy tales. His predecessor, Bill Shorten, opted for a more modern but similarly dismissive turn of phrase, La La Land, to describe the policy.

Some Labor MPs even had the temerity to play around with the nuclear safety card. Last time I looked, I thought Labor was fully committed to a nuclear defence industry, in the form of nuclear submarines, built right here in the northern suburbs of Adelaide.

No matter how important the safety issues surrounding nuclear are, the fact that Labor has already committed to nuclear submarines means that this particular argument against Dutton’s nuclear plans – while valid – is not going to carry much weight with middle-of-the-road voters.

We do not have to go back very far to find an analogous situation in American politics. Remember 2016? Hillary Clinton was running against a light-weight television celebrity called Donald Trump.

All the pundits assumed that Trump was a joke and the election was a foregone conclusion. Clinton herself on numerous occasions showed that she found it difficult to take Trump, or his supporters, seriously.

Fast forward eight years and there is a reasonable chance that Trump will return to the White House for a second term as President, after a disastrous and chaotic four years as President already under his belt.

Surely the lesson is obvious? Expecting ridicule to win your case is more often than not a fool’s errand. It stiffens the scepticism of those in the middle of the debate, it hardens the grievances of those being ridiculed and it creates a false sense of comfort for the people doing the ridiculing.

Not just comfort, but a self-reinforcing sense of superiority, making it more difficult for them to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

Being patronising or condescending towards other people is probably one of the best ways not to win friends and influence others. Or to get their vote.

Occasionally, a politician comes along, like Paul Keating, with the killer instinct to make ridicule work for him.

But Albanese is no Keating. He lacks the killer touch, he lacks the lethal turn of phrase and he likes being in his comfort zone — which responds well to Simpsons meme-type humour at Dutton’s expense.

Meanwhile, Dutton is the perverse beneficiary of this focus on ridicule. For him, the more pictures of two-headed cows and three-headed Blinky Bills, the better.

Why? Because it means Labor is not taking him seriously. And that means Labor is not taking seriously what he thinks is top of mind for most voters — the crisis that is the cost of living, housing and general insecurity complex.

Millions of Australians are now mulling some version of the “desperate times require desperate measures” scenario.

Why? Because they are desperate. Dutton knows this and will use this against the Government as a way of pursuing his preposterous, dystopian vision of Australia.

Dutton is betting on Australians being more like Americans than we care to admit. And I agree with him on this point. We are more like Americans than we care to admit.

So, enough of these juvenile jokes about Peter Dutton cross-dressing as Snow White. They are a waste of precious time and energy. Let the cartoonists and the satirists ridicule Dutton’s policy, but such ridicule is a highly problematic substitute for a substantive policy rebuttal.

Far better to focus on Peter Dutton as a serious contender for the Prime Ministership and his nuclear policy as a serious attempt to achieve what he wants — which is a combination of climate denialism and protection of coal and gas interests.

To achieve these goals, of course, he is happy to use a cost of living crisis as the pretext for dramatic action.

Labor needs to start debating nuclear on its merits – or lack thereof – not fooling around with silly jokes. It’s time to talk about the equivalent of the $100 lamb roast and the survival of numerous Pacific Islands.

Dutton wants us to pay the highest possible price for energy while destroying the planet through delayed action on climate change — surely Albanese and his ministers should be up to the task of prosecuting both issues effectively?

Albanese has been mightily blinded by reality once already this term — the ill-fated Voice Referendum. Let us hope it does not happen on a similar scale again.

Meanwhile, it is worth noting what this reporter calls the “three amigos” – Senators Antic, Rennick and Roberts – have been up to in recent days.

Apart from being paid-up members in Tony Abbott’s “climate change is absolute crap” club, they are also among the most prominent COVID-19 conspiracy theorists in the Parliament.

Prominent in their positions both on climate change and COVID-19 are both their distrust of experts and scientists and distrust of government.

Yet here they all are, 100 per cent committed to Dutton’s nuclear plans — and the coal industry, of course.

Dutton’s nuclear vision involves Soviet-style control of the operation and a multitude of experts. The hypocrisy and contradictions spouted by the "three amigos" are breathtaking.

Perhaps it might also show that there is much in common between climate denialism and COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

Is there a perverse feedback loop going on? Climate denialists segue into Coronavirus conspiracy theorists and then back from COVID-19 into an even stronger climate denialism?

It would seem to be so.

And is another reason why Albanese does not have a moment to waste on silly memes from himself or his colleagues.

Dr Michael Galvin is an adjunct fellow at Victoria University and a former media and communications academic at the University of South Australia.

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