JOHN MENADUE. Conservatives like Malcolm Turnbull set the gold standard in scare campaigns.

After following politics and elections for over 60 years, it is quite extraordinary to see the Liberal Party still complaining about Labor’s  ‘Mediscare’ campaign. Malcolm Turnbull speaks in a continual and personally abusive  way about lies and liars. In this case it is the ‘well funded lie campaign on Medicare.’

The ALP is right on the threat to Medicare .The $12 b annual taxpayer subsidy to private health insurance is covertly eating away Medicare from within.   Warren Buffet in the US described PHI as the tape worm in the US health service. And so it is wih Medicare in Australia

Lacking much of a policy programme of their own, conservatives often have three political objectives. The first is to persuade us that selfishness is really a virtue. The second is to benefit their political cronies like in the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.  The third is to frighten us as much as possible so that we will always opt to stick with the status quo.

Promoting fear and scare campaigns has been the stock in trade of conservatives in Australia for decades. They have developed it as an art form. The most memorable scare campaign I can remember was in the late 1950s with conservatives promoting fear of China . Advertising drew pictures of large arrows depicting the downward thrust of Communism towards Australia. This  campaign depicted hundreds of Chinese rolling across Sydney Harbour Bridge in their rickshaws with guns and communist flags. In a repeat Malcolm Turnbull is now encouraging us again to fear China.

The fear of Communism was promoted for decades. The Labor party and the trade unions were the focus on this anti-communist scare campaign.

Conservatives now focus that external threat on refugees and Muslims. Scott Morrison encouraged the Parliamentary Liberal party to be more aggressive in promoting a scare campaign against Muslims.

He told us that boat people were another threat because they were bringing diseases to Australia. That fear of refugees and boat people was exploited first by John Howard and Philip Ruddock who told us that refugees were so inhuman and that they would even throw their children overboard.

The Howard government, along with the US and the UK, joined in the illegal invasion of Iraq which made us more vulnerable to domestic terrorism. As always, never admit the horrific consequences and responsibilities for the  Iraq invasion but seize on the terrorism consequences to run a new scare campaign about terrorists and of course Muslims.

John Howard and Tim Fisher together with leading mining executives warned us for years that Native Title  threatened  not only mining but even our back yards.

Today Malcolm Turnbull can’t restrain himself if there is a chance to frighten us about terrorists. And the media invariably oblige him.. Yet in the last decade in Australia only 3 people have been killed in terrorist attacks. But every year over 50 women are killed in domestic violence and 1000, mainly young people die from drug overdoses.  Malcolm Turnbull can’t see an opportunity to scare us in these fields so he remains largely mute about domestic violence and the scourge of drugs.. But he is into over drive at any mention of terrorists.

We recall the scare campaign conducted by Tony Abbott on the carbon tax, which would wreck the Australian economy. Whyalla was to be wiped off the map and a leg of lamb would cost $100.

The scare campaigns go on and on.

We had a scare campaign about budget deficits and government debt, but in government Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey forgot all about it.

Liberal backbenchers created a scare campaign about ‘safe schools’.

We were warned that Labor’s proposals on negative gearing would wreck the property market.

Recently Malcolm Turnbull  promoted fear of Africans by dog whistling about African gangs in Melbourne. At the same time his colleague Peter Dutton was reminding us about threats to white farmers in South Africa but with no mention of threats to black farmers in Uganda.

We should now get ready for the upcoming scare campaign on NEG. Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg will be trying to frighten us that a Labor government will result in higher electricity prices and blackouts across the country. We will see a repeat of the Whyalla story. It is all in the play book.

The Liberals have run one scare campaign after another, but now they are hoist with their own petard over Medicare.

It is quite delicious to see the Coalition complaining about a scare campaign. But it is not clear how effective it was in shifting votes at the last election. The opinion polls showed very little movement throughout the eight week campaign. The opinion polls also accurately reflected the final vote. It might be argued that Mediscare slowed a movement back to the government in the last couple of weeks, but the opinion polls don’t show it. The coalition’s problems were elsewhere-failed leadership and a vacuous ‘plan for jobs and growth’.

The Liberal party has been hostile to Medicare since its introduction by the Whitlam government in 1974. The Fraser government tried to cripple it. It was restored by the Hawke government. Since then, the Liberals have known there was popular support for Medicare but have done their best to undermine it from within. They are doing this with a $12 billion p.a. subsidy to private health insurance. Warren Buffet in the US called PHI the tape-worm in the US health system. The same is true in Australia with government supported subsidies to PHI. Tony Abbott told us repeatedly that PHI was in the Coalition’s DNA

The Medicare shell may remain but the Coalition is supporting the eating out from within. And that is what Malcolm Turnbull’s crony mates want.

Conservatives have set the pattern and gold standard in scare campaigns for decades.

These dishonest scare campaigns in Australia and elsewhere are tearing at our democratic fabric.




John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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4 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. Conservatives like Malcolm Turnbull set the gold standard in scare campaigns.

  1. Avatar Stephen Lusher says:

    Memo Peter Small:

    A political party is what most of its members/supporters are. Things change over time.

    Let’s re-run this story through Labor eyes. Is the Labor party of Shorten the same party that emerged from that shearer’s strike in the 1890’s?

    It’s called democracy.

  2. Avatar Niall McLaren says:

    A fourth key plank to the conservative platform: that inequality is, if not the divinely-appointed state of human affairs, than at least the natural state and we interfere with it at our peril.

  3. Avatar Peter Small says:

    An area for serous research by an academic, or the basis for a PHD thesis is how the Liberal Party created by Menzies changed from a liberal party to a Conservative Party. Prior to Federation, the Victoria of David Syme and Alfred Deakin was liberal and as Victoria was a manufacturing state, protectionist. NSW was always free trade and Conservative, and might I say corrupt.
    The Liberals of Victoria were forced to amalgamate with the NSW Conservatives because of the rise of the Labour party following the Shearer’s strike of the 1890,s and the onset of organised labour.
    Liberalism I think controlled the Liberals until the Prime ministership of Malcolm Fraser. But around 1990, things changed
    Andrew Robb became Federal Director of the Liberal Party and the takeover by socially conservative Catholics began, and perhaps more importantly key Victorian Liberals who had been custodians of Liberalism in the Victoria, realised protectionism was dead and joined the free traders. The combination of the two I believe allowed John Howard and others to take control and thus the change our Liberal Party into a right wing Conservative Party with socially conservative ideals. A complete antithesis of Menzies Liberal Party

    • What a fascinating hypothesis and deserving of a PhD in politics. Great suggestion Peter Small. Thank you.

      While I also enjoyed John Menadue’s essay, I am left with the impression that it is incomplete because it seems to focus, and deservedly so, on the scare campaign or third of the three political objectives introduced early in the work. three political objectives. Thank you anyway, Mr Menadue and I wished I’d found this site sooner.
      Best wishes.

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