Politics Analysis

Let Scotty shout through a debate on a fairer playing field

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The debate on Channel Nine included advertising leaning heavily in the Liberal Party's favour (Screenshot via YouTube)

With the country talking about the shambles of a so-called “Great Debate” on Nine on Sunday night, Dr Lee Duffield raises the case for getting a serious debate on the ABC.

WITH POLLS looking bad for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, just a fortnight until the Election, he must do something and analysts, to be fair, should check whatever might contradict the idea that he’s gone.

Any more miracles?

An indicator of the Prime Minister’s durability, apart from his “miracle” win against the polls in 2019, is the stubbornness of his support base. Despite the bad gaffes, bad acting, lies and colossal failures to actually govern; despite the Government trailing in two-party preferred polling for months, or years on end; it has rarely dipped to worse than the low 40s — never a wipeout.

In the election campaigning, where the main chance for parties is to shore up their habitual supporters, the Liberal Party campaign has stayed close to the playbook. They’re telling these supporters, people who have not budged, who don’t like Labor to begin with, that Labor can’t run the economy.

It is a message for “haves” with a “stake in the country”, prone to dislike unions, prone to think employees should take what they are given and not fond of a working-class party. After long years of cheap credit, there are plenty considering themselves holders of this “stake in the country”.

Morrison is a champion of the economic appeal to this constituency as he appears to really believe it. He has revived the simplistic “neoliberal” line from the 1970s, that the “Government has taken your money and will give it back to you as a tax cut”; correspondingly wants cash-strapped “small government”, hence no capacity or will to handle a crisis like the bushfires or the floods; puts business first, as when pressing for an early opening during the pandemic. 

What kind of a chance for this PM?

So it gives him a chance, although maybe only the same chance as the late Liberal Prime Minister, William McMahon, facing defeat by Gough Whitlam in 1972. He warned the wavering faithful about trusting in the unknown and saved some furniture, Whitlam winning a majority of just seven seats.

It blunted the expected great victory, leaving the new government not much to fall back on when a world recession shortly arrived. Morrison this week is using the word, talking about the “unknown”. Still, all of that is sand-bagging — he is only two seats away from defeat so must “do something”.

Apart from beginning a war (too late for that) the Government can treat the public to a blast of attack messages as never before seen. Its media colleagues – the News Corp press, the 2GB radio network and Sky News – might also help with a desperate makeover, too late for full rehabilitation, of the shouty man with the slippery tongue and, some say, truly obnoxious grin.

Some lines being repeated by the faithful this week: Scott’s had a hard time; he did well considering what went on; he’s a bit of a devil; he talks too much but we kind of like him; he’s a real stayer — never gives up!  

Inept “Great Debate”

Some of the said attack ads intruded into the already inept Channel Nine “Great Debate” on Sunday night, 8 May. There was a moderator, Sarah Abo, who had no answer to the party leaders, Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison, shouting at each other.

Morrison did most, being in the habit of shouting down, as in parliament. Especially when assisted by one or other of the show’s three interrupter-panellists — Albanese copping it at times from both them and Morrison at once. Shades of the 2020 Trump debates where the rattled defender could not be shut up.

An attempted straw poll of some 50,000 viewers, a great technical stuff-up, took time to give the debate to Morrison, but then on late counting said Albanese won it 51-49 before it was suddenly declared a “dead heat”. The poll also said Albanese would be a “better Prime Minister”, 49-45. Somebody might tell Sarah Abo of the TV show 60 Minutes, sorry, but maybe she’d do better back on confrontations with cheating motor mechanics.

As for the Liberal attack ads, in the middle of the “Great Debate”, of such momentous importance, so it was said, they had an ad break with a Liberal advertisement accompanying the Oreo cookies and delivery service jingles. Later, a run of ads between the end of the debate and a review by the panel included three more for the Liberals. Does loading the ads and selling a political audience to a party in that way look bent?

How about a debate on “our” ABC?

For whatever reason, Morrison has refused to be in a debate on the ABC. Speculation has resulted that he is thinking of the 2018 policy decision of the National Council of the Liberal Party to sell the ABC, a move he might justify if still in office, as forced by the current deficit.

For now, Opposition Leader Albanese has agreed to a debate. The ABC is, after all, the national broadcaster, with a respectable track record in current affairs broadcasting and a rule book that requires fair handling. There would be no party-political ads interrupting this serious if stimulating program — no distraction from ads at all.

They have the vehicles and personnel ready to do it well; they can be counted on not to muck it up on the scale seen on Sunday night.

For another angle on the election prospects, the Monday Newspoll has again told much the same story as it has for most of the government’s term of office.

The journalist William Bowe, in the Poll Bludger, provided this update:

The Australian reports the weekly campaign Newspoll has Labor’s two-party lead increasing from 53-47 to 54-46, their primary vote up a point to 39% with the Coalition down one to 35% and the three minor parties steady, the Greens at 11%, One Nation at 5% and the United Australia Party at 4%.

 

Scott Morrison’s personal ratings are deteriorated, his approval down three to 41% and disapproval up four to 55%, while Anthony Albanese is up a point to 41% and down two to 47%. Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister has narrowed from 45-39 to 44-42.

Independents?

Much free media attention is being given to the current wave of well-funded Independent candidates, mostly women in blue-ribbon Liberal seats in the capital cities. This may be because of, or may have caused, reports that some have started getting strong figures in private polling — and might win.

In the short term, the Independents winning would almost guarantee the failure of the Coalition Government to get enough seats to stay on. In the longer term, it might generate a showdown in the Liberal Party between the “neoliberal” shock troops of its ascendant right-wing and so-called moderates who, like the Independents, would want more action on climate change and corrupt practices in government.

Labor might worry about one aspect of the Independent movement: Liberal voters turned off by Scott Morrison and his regime, but still hesitant to vote for the ALP, will be provided with somewhere to go.

A full version of this article is available on subtropic.com.au.

Amongst his vast journalistic experience, Dr Lee Duffield has served as the ABC's European correspondent. He is also an esteemed academic.

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