JERRY ROBERTS. West Australian white ants move into interesting territory.

Aug 18, 2018

Putting aside the anonymous gutlessness of the West Australian Parliamentary Liberals and the colossal arrogance of The West Australian Newspaper, the campaign against Opposition Leader Mike Nahan has raised a useful question. Which is more influential in election campaigning – conventional newspaper and television or the brave new world of Facebook and Twitter?

Mike upset the learned scribes of The West Australian when he discussed the reasons for his recent, famous victory in the Darling Range by-election where he and Premier Mark McGowan went head to head, leading their respective sides. Mike flogged Mark and the Liberals took the seat from Labor with a 9 per cent swing.

The newspaper’s editorial of 14 August quoted Mike playing down the influence of mainstream media. “In Darling Range, they weren’t listening to The West Australian – reading The West Australian – listening to the TV or indeed, listening to 6PR or 720,” said Mike. “They were online. That’s the story going forward. You have to campaign through social media and shoe leather.”

Since Mike was on the ground and wearing out shoe leather throughout the campaign and because he won so convincingly his views merit serious attention from students of politics.

Yet the same edition of The West Australian carried a front-page picture and story of Mike Nahan under the bold headline “Dead Man Walking.” Depending on your point of view, this was either a grotesquely obnoxious abuse of media power or what Sir Humphrey would call a courageous stand by a political leader against a pretentious newspaper.

The page one story put forward the name of David Honey as “a possible replacement” for Mike. Immediately after his election to the seat of Cottesloe, vacated by former Premier Colin Barnett, I predicted that David would take over the Liberal leadership within 18 months (Pearls and Irritations 22 March. I would be surprised if he is stabbing Mike in the back so soon.

As far as I can see, neither David nor any other Liberal member has complained on the record about Mike Nahan’s leadership. The criticism in the editorial relates to matters of style. Mike is described as a “quirky politician.”

I think that means he does not spin out the usual bull. For example, the continuing saga of a fancy footbridge across the Swan River to service the new football stadium is one of the more spectacular disasters of globalisation. When asked about this stuff-up, Mike said simply: “That was a mistake.”

If that is quirky I like quirky. The problem does not appear to be policy. I am not aware of policy arguments within the WA Opposition. State Government is not rocket science. The States are there to provide services from their budgets where the main items are health, education and police.

In its first year the WA Labor Government made every mistake in the book, not surprisingly, since a landslide victory lands a government with masses of new members who have no experience in parliament, let alone government. With so many opportunities to attack the government, it does not reflect well on honourable Liberal members that they are instead resorting to cannibalism.

Quite a while ago I noticed that young people and women don’t buy newspapers. That leaves old men and old men get older. I am the only bloke I know who does not use Facebook but I am a notorious Luddite with no hope of coming to terms with touch-screen car radios. It is no secret that newspapers are struggling to survive the loss of revenue and are casting off staff at a rate of knots. That may well be the cause of The West Australian’s criticism of Mike Nahan. He is right.

The main argument used to defend the relevance of Establishment newspapers like The West Australian and The Australian is that they set the daily menu followed by the talk and squawk programmes that run from breakfast to late night on radio and television, sometimes with angry shock jocks but increasingly with giggling panels of “celebrities.”

This is the background noise of the modern State. Does it have any influence on how people vote? I doubt it. Voting comes down to basic concerns of health care, employment and public safety. Governments in Western Australia serve four-year terms so the Liberals have plenty of time to get their house in order. I was one of many who assumed Mike Nahan was a night watchman because nobody else wanted his job. I don’t agree with his Think Tank view of the world but I find myself liking his style.

Jerry Roberts began his newspaper cadetship in the third-floor theatrette of Newspaper House at 125 St George’s Terrace, the home of West Australian Newspapers Ltd. Just the façade of the building remains. The Daily News for which he reported has gone with the wind but The West Australian survives, albeit as a shadow of its former self.

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