JERRY ROBERTS.  What was the plan?

Aug 24, 2018

Peter Dutton was set up to lose the next election and to lose it badly. That would have left the Liberals in an even more chaotic mess than they are in today. To whom should they turn for salvation? Why, of course, to Captain Chaos himself – Tony Abbot. That was the plan.  

The Liberals could not have chosen a worse candidate than Peter Dutton. That was his attraction. He faces a serious question of eligibility and, even if he is eligible, he has a fight to hold his seat. On top of that there is the au pair story.

In his masterly counter-attack on Thursday Malcolm Turnbull summed up the situation perfectly. There is a move to push the Liberal Party further to the right. It is a well-known fact that right wing people have no brains. When the Liberals move to the right all Labor has to do is stay in the middle.

The Liberals made this mistake in 2014 when Tony Abbot and his dill of a Treasurer, Joe Hockey, brought down an austerity budget and gave Labor such a free ride that the Liberals had to bring back Malcolm Turnbull to save their skins.

In his superb summary of the situation on Thursday Malcolm Turnbull said the Dutton coup was organised by a small minority of the Liberal Party under the influence of people outside the Parliament.

There was an assumption that he was referring to media organisations and individuals associated with Sky Channel, in particular commentators such as Alan Jones, Peta Credlin and Andrew Bolt. These are not household names over here in the West and I have never seen their programmes but a local channel is about to start broadcasting this trio and I intend to watch them out of curiosity.

Turnbull in his impromptu press conference said this small group bullied the Parliamentary Liberals into today’s bizarre situation. We had just seen his view confirmed by the sad appearance of Mathias Cormann, Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifield in a lamentable performance they will regret for the rest of their lives.

In a timely coincidence Professor Bill Mitchell of Newcastle (Australia) on his Thursday Blog quoted research from two American political scientists about the tendency of politicians to think public opinion is more conservative that it actually is.

David Brookman and Christopher Skovron have published research in the American Political Science Review under the heading of “Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion among Political Elites.” In language more easily understood by Roger Scott and Michael McKinley, who have graced these pages in recent days, the American researchers investigate “the conservative asymmetry of elite polarisation.”

Biases in politicians’’ information environment common across politicians can lead politicians as a whole to systematically misperceive constituency opinion and, in turn, to contribute to systemic breakdowns in dyadic representation like asymmetric polarisation.

Bill Mitchell puts this political science speak into English:

It comes down to whoever gets in the ear of the politicians can have a major influence on the way they perceive what public opinion is. And because the in-crowd that do get audiences with the politicians – via networks, their advisors, etc – may not be fully representative of public opinion, it is easy for these politicians to form a biased view of what public opinion is.

As a result, they develop strategies and narratives with their advisors that they think are clever responses that will garner them political support but which, in reality, bear little resemblance to what the public perceive as being in their best interest.

Ever since Paul Keating and Bob Hawke introduced neoliberalism Australia has had two major political Parties with no major difference between them. In the language of pure logic that means one Party is superfluous.

But a major political Party with no opposition is a dangerous beast. Taken to an extreme, as we see with the Chinese Communist Party, it is an Orwellian nightmare.

In Australia the major Parties have devised a solution to this dilemma. They take turns to destroy themselves internally.

In 2010 the mining industry corrupted the ALP and the Party conducted an astonishing public display of disloyalty to Kevin Rudd that went on for years. Now it is the Liberals’ turn to display an equally amazing public disloyalty to Malcolm Turnbull just when he, Mathias Cormann and Scott Morrison had done the hard yards and evened the odds with Labor.

We are most likely to see a repeat of last year’s West Australian election where Labor romps to a massive win that it has done nothing to deserve.

Jerry Roberts is a former journalist and a member of the Australian Labor Party. 

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