Politics Opinion

Murdoch takes aim at Independents

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An article in The Australian has lashed out at Independent MPs accusing them of conspiracy (Screenshots via The Australian / YouTube - edited)

Even by the degraded standards of the once-sensible The Australian newspaper, this seems loopy.

The 14 February headline strained to suggest some kind of nefarious secrecy:

‘Crossbench collusion revealed after email bungle.’

These emails, apparently, prove that:

‘The crossbench is operating on a united front by formulating strategy in joint meetings, co-ordinating campaigns on issues and discussing amendments to legislation.’

In the sights of Murdoch’s defenders of democracy are Independents such as Member for Fowler Dai Le and the very newsworthy Jacqui Lambie, whose Jacqui Lambie Network could, according to election analyst Adrian Beaumont, end up holding the balance of power in Tasmania.

Senator David Pocock is also on the naughty list. Pocock was elected as the A.C.T.’s first Independent Senator at the 2022 Federal Election and has been very visible ever since, with his ambition to ‘engage in a new kind of politics grounded in community, integrity and building a better future for us all’.

Pocock often mentions working with other Independents, and finding strength in collaboration and cooperation, which former SA Senator Rex Patrick said is what Parliament needs more of. Patrick was one of a chorus of voices mocking The Australian’s revelation that ‘MPs talk to each other’.

In a week when that newspaper weighed in on the doxing debate with a viciousness that used to be reserved for Murdoch’s more ambitiously nasty mastheads, this petty attack on crossbench politicians can certainly be mocked, as Crikey’s Charlie Lewis did. ‘This conspiracy is so cunning, it’s not even secret,’ Lewis wrote; his source an “insider”.

It does deserve mockery, but there’s method in the madness. The continuing interest in and success of Independents will no doubt see the resurrection of the misinformation attacks that grew in intensity in the leadup to the 2022 Federal Election.

As the polls started to look ominous, under-threat Coalition MPs borrowed the term “fake” to target Independents, particularly those whose campaigns were assisted with funding by Simon Holmes à Court’s Climate 200.

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who lost his seat to Kylea Tink, said at the time the so-called Teals were a political network, acting like a party more than they are prepared to admit:

“I think a lot of these Independents, to say that they're not acting in concert with others… all the evidence points to the contrary.”

That “evidence” Zimmerman alluded to was probably the very same colluding (talking) as has now been revealed by The Australian, which can create a conspiracy out of very little indeed.

It is possibly the grassroots rise of the Voices network — a loose, disparate, surprisingly hearty movement of community groups that proselytisers in Murdoch newspapers are getting toey about and are determined not to allow under their radar again.

ABC’s everywhere-man for political commentary, David Speers, said back before the 2022 Election that it took the Coalition by surprise when Cathy McGowan won Indi in 2013 and then went on to support a succession plan for Dr Helen Haines to continue in that seat.

Her success prompted political journalist Phil Coorey to note:

“She looks like your mum. You know, she’s sort of a harmless lady from the country, but she’s very formidable and not to be underestimated.”

If you’ve met McGowan, “like your mum... harmless lady from the country” is pretty funny as a descriptor.

The Voices movement can now be found in dozens of electorates, from Bradfield to Warringah (where there’s also a group called Keep Tony Out, formerly Vote Tony Out), from the Top End to Tasmania.  

Whether or not they find candidates remains to be seen. A recent report in The Guardian noted that a Climate 200 search for Teal candidates for the Queensland Election due at the end of the year hasn’t identified an Independent they can support. This doesn’t mean there won’t be Independent candidates, but it was Climate 200 funding that assisted 23 community candidates in 2022, seven of whom were successful.

The latest little hissy fit claiming “collusion” and “secrecy” by the increasingly popular cohort of Independents in both the Senate and the House of Representatives is pathetic in its inaccuracy.

But it’s like we’re hearing the stuttering start-up of a greasy lawn-mower engine that’s been in the shed for a bit, and now is wheeled out, oiled afresh and fired up for cutting down that unsightly new green growth.

"The crossbench is operating on a united front!" It’s a conspiracy!

Rosemary Sorensen was a newspaper books and arts journalist based in Melbourne, then Brisbane, before moving to regional Victoria where she founded Bendigo Writers Festival, which she directed for 13 years.

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