Determined to see progress in Australian politics, The New Liberals have been hindered by ignorance from the mainstream media, writes Victor Kline.
MEMBERS OF THE Canberra Press Gallery have been quietly told by the Prime Minister's Office that if they give The New Liberals (TNL) any air, they can expect to receive no cooperation from ministers or their staff and may even find themselves barred from Cabinet room briefings. This is what I was told by an inside informant just a few days ago.
I have little doubt it is true and in all honesty, the leak didn’t come as a surprise to me. Over 12 months ago, on two separate occasions, guests on Peta Credlin’s program, when starting to talk about us, were abruptly halted by her with the words: “Stop! Don’t give them any air.”
And ever since then, no matter what we do, despite significant interest from independent media, social media and podcasters, the mainstream media remain by and large silent.
For example, we announced back in June that we would be working towards launching a private criminal prosecution against the former Attorney General Christian Porter for alleged rape. We have a solicitor, one of Australia’s leading QCs and two former Sex Squad detectives working on the case.
This announcement caused enormous excitement in the alternative media, all of whom reported it. We even had the legal press reporting it in the USA. I was asked on to several high-profile podcasts to talk about it. And social media went insane. On my own Twitter account, I had a large number of views of the tweets relating to it in just a few days. But apart from a small mention at the end of a Guardian article on something else, silence from the press gallery.
More recently, I announced that the traction for TNL had become so great that I was moving from running for the Senate and would take a tilt at the lower house seat of North Sydney. The old Liberals, by a series of challenges to our very existence, through litigation which they lost and then the introduction of legislation to try to get us deregistered – which failed – had caused an enormous furore on social media and in the alternative press.
It had caused such a wildfire of word-of-mouth that I thought there was a real chance we could do in 18 months what it took the Greens 25 years to do — winning a lower house seat straight off the bat. This, of course, would be a game-changer for Australian politics.
This announcement put the old Liberals in a bit of a spot. A seat which they would normally have spent next to nothing on, because it was a “safe” seat, was no longer safe. So now they would have to decide whether to put money into North Sydney to save the incumbent MP Trent Zimmerman and take money away from one or more of the marginal seats they hoped to take off Labor.
Or they could let Trent go and set a horrifying precedent for their future. They were – and are – in a Sophie’s Choice situation. Now, one would have thought that was a story worth reporting. But from the Press Gallery, there was silence.
However, shortly after the announcement that I was going to run for North Sydney, an independent also announced her candidature. She was supported by a local group much like the “Voices For” movements. I knew that the old Liberals would not be worried about her. They understand that for an independent to get up, the electorate needs to detest their local member, as they did with Sophie Mirabella in Indi and Tony Abbott in Warringah. Or they need to otherwise be angry as Wentworth was when Malcolm Turnbull was dumped.
But Zimmerman is a “nice guy” and will be under no threat from independents. The only threat to him will be from a real liberal Party like ours, which offers the electorate the Party they feel has been stolen from them by the old Liberals converting themselves into arch-conservatives.
Nonetheless, both The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald reported the independent’s challenge. In The Age, the journalist did not mention TNL at all, making it sound like the only challenge to Zimmerman was from the independent.
In the SMH, the journalist said words to the effect that “the LNP will be under threat in North Sydney from an independent and from small ‘l’ liberal parties,” which was quite amusing because not only wouldn’t she use our name, but she referred to small ‘l’ liberal parties in the plural, as though somehow that would be protective of any suggestion she might be referring to us.
I tweeted what I was told about the Press Gallery by my informant and the tweet received over 3,000 views. Many tagged their favourite journalists, asking them to confirm that they would treat TNL like any other party, that there was no truth to the idea that they were freezing us out. But they received not one response from anyone in the mainstream media, not even from the ABC.
Of course, this is frustrating for us and makes our job harder, but I don’t think it is merely self-serving to suggest that a muted media is also a very real danger to our democracy. We entered this race because we were determined to do something about all the other threats to our democracy: the lack of control on donations to parties from corporations who then dictate policy to the governments they have bought; the newspaper concentration into the hands of largely one foreign owner; the coalescence of the two major parties into a duopoly (that is being called alternative authoritarianism); and corruption within government which is the worst this country has seen since the Rum Rebellion.
Help from a courageous and robust press corps (even just from those not controlled by Murdoch) that reported on us – good or bad, without fear or favour – would have been a great help in our struggle. But we started as a grassroots Party, depending on the spread of our message from friend to friend and from neighbour to neighbour, and it seems that is how we will have to do it all the way to the ballot box.
Victor Kline is the leader of The New Liberals, a writer and a barrister, whose practice focuses on pro bono work for refugees and asylum seekers.
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