MUNGO MacCALLUM. The essence of marketing is constant repetition.

Apr 23, 2019

A short week of campaigning and an even shorter one to come – which is perhaps why the temperature has ramped up to almost febrile levels.  

There was a heap of colour and movement, lots of smoke and mirrors. But whether it actually achieved anything substantial is at best dubious.

There were the usual distractions – dual citizenships, damaging tweets from the past, gaffes and miss-steps, a dilemma over the kids stuck in Syria, craziness from the frotting wanker Advance Australia’s Captain GetUp, more embarrassment from George Christensen and the usual unhelpful intervention from Tony Abbott.

And bigger than all of them the disaster of Notre Dame, already the subject of demented conspiracy theories involving Islamic Jihadists. There were even a few hasty extra promises aimed at a public well and truly promised out – and there are four weeks to go. But mainly there was noise – if anyone could be bothered to listen.

The loudest, most belligerent, the most repetitive and of course the shoutiest was Scott Morrison, screaming liar about the policies of Bill Shorten – or rather his interpretation of them, which was not the same thing. Somewhat reluctantly Shorten responded, calling ScoMo a liar in return.

Either or both may be at least partly right, but the problem is that that the argument, to flatter the brawl, is going way over the heads of the hardworking taxpayers at whom it was aimed. The figures of the cost of the various agendas have now escalated from the hundreds of millions to hundreds of billions – fantasy numbers incomprehensible to normal workers.

And as a result, they have turned off; most don’t believe them, especially when they have been projected beyond two or more elections, but in any case they have been dismissed as simply noise – increasingly extravagant claims and counterclaims, assertions and contradictions, a blur of incomprehensible statistics, page after page of tables about who wins and who loses in one, five or ten years time, endless pots of gold at end of ephemeral rainbows.

This is not just ordinary noise – it is more properly white noise, a background buzz whose only purpose may be to induce sleep. And it is unlikely to let up, which in the end will not be good news for ScoMo’s marketing strategy.

However, he has no real choice — the economy is his only hope, the coalition’s chosen battleground, and if he cannot defeat Shorten in that field, he effectively has nothing left.

He has tried to broaden the attack, bellowing that everything depends on a strong economy – it is only through his diligence that Australia can provide schools, hospitals, roads, the environment – the whole shebang.

And in one sense that is true, but in the other – the perception that the economy is not being used to benefit the broad commonwealth, but is being subverted to give concessions, lurks, perks and rorts to favour the fat cats who fund Liberal Party coffers – is utterly counterproductive, and Shorten appears to be getting some traction for this heresy.

And Morrison can only try and shout him down, because the other big issues discerned by a war-weary electorate – climate change, obviously, but also health, education and welfare he is celebrating – are all largely under Labor’s control.

Normally the confusion and apathy would help Labor – as the front runner, Shorten can afford to allow ScoMo to rant away, to market his unheard nostrums into oblivion. But as mentioned, the economy is not only the coalition’s chosen turf – apart from the almost obsolete obsession with border security, it is the only area where the polls give them a clear advantage.

Voters appear to have stuck with the belief that the conservatives make superior money managers – not particularly good ones, but better than the Labor alternative. The coalition, trumpets Morrison, will always deliver lower taxes – except that it doesn’t.

The tax take in the last five years has been substantially higher than that of the Rudd-Gillard years. The coalition will reduce debt and deficit – except that national debt has doubled in the times of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison. The coalition will look after families – except that it has given us three years of wage stagnation and no clear idea of what to do about it.

The money manager argument does not bear serious scrutiny, and ScoMo can only be grateful that the punters are too exhausted to scrutinize it. So while Shorten will get away with fudging costs over his climate policies and closing the tax loopholes, Morrison will be able to dodge questions over spending cuts to pay for long term tax cuts and back loading to delay infrastructure.

Swings and roundabouts, the former being what Morrison needs and the latter what Shorten favoured at Luna Park on Saturday. But the difference is that while Shorten will still have other things to talk about. Morrison will not – it has to be the economy or nothing. Stay on the message, even if the punters have heard it, rejected it, and just wish it would go away.

The consensus – the irrefutable conviction, if you believe the Murdoch press – is that the week belonged to Morrison, if only be default: Shorten’s misunderstanding of a question about superannuation was seen as a serious blunder. But in spite f Morrison’s efforts to memorialise it, it unlikely to last past the long weekend, and nor will Morrison’s transitory win

And nothing else has really changed in a substance: there are still questions about dodgy transactions over water to be pursued and the odd intervention from Malcolm Turnbull, but no gotcha moments, no game changers.

This week we are told that Shorten will pursue the case for restoring penalty rates and Morrison will, as always, say no, it would wreck Australia’s strong but amazingly fragile economy. And he will keep saying it, shouting it, screaming it – the essence of marketing in constant repetition.

The only refuge will be to lock yourself in a soundproof, darkened room for a month, if you don’t want to end up in a padded cell.

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