What does the Eden-Monaro result mean?

The Eden-Monaro by-election status quo ante result raises two questions: why isn’t the Prime Minister’s high approval rating translating into an improved rating for the government; and, why do the media keep up the same old tired approaches to covering political events?

The Morrison Government was very successful in initially framing the vote in terms of the 100 years since a government had won an opposition seat in a by-election. That set them up for another miracle claim if they won but also protected them against needing to explain away failure.

They were also helped by the robotic way the media framed the contest. It was as if a computer programmed to pass the Turing Test was spitting out randomly various platitudes which mimicked a conversation.

The words and phrases which followed included: the by-election was a test; failure would intensify Parliamentary Party unrest about Albanese; talking points suggested by staffers, Ministers or Shadow Ministers; plus, any other political commentary cliche you can think of which can be found on any screen or in any print outlet.

And by the Sunday morning talk shows the comments were suggesting that the pundits had never doubted it would happen and the result, despite what they had been saying 24 hours beforehand was irrelevant. Indeed, the ABC’s Jane Norman had it both ways by claiming it was a win for both Albanese AND Morrison.

Although The Sunday Telegraph front page had no doubts about what it all meant with a headline: Popular PM delivers Labor a brutal by-election lesson SCOMO’S SCORCHER

Annika Smethurst and Linda Silmalis added to the headline with the verdict: “Voters in the bellwether electorate of Eden-Monaro last night delivered a savage by-election swing against Labor, with some senior Coalition figures declaring a Liberal victory. The result is a powerful endorsement of the Government’s handling of COVID-19 with Scott Morrison’s personal popularity driving the swing”.

Perhaps the Murdochs ought to get a psychiatrist in to start treating some of their reporters for delusions or change the mixture in the office water dispensers before they start telling us how the Titanic missed the iceberg.

And perhaps the subs could give some thought to the fact that some of the Eden-Monaro voters who survived the bushfires might not be keenly looking forward to more Scomo scorching.

But the first puzzle – the inability of Morrison to transfer his high approval ratings to his Government – is not easy to solve.

It might be that the approval rating merely relates to his COVID-19 response and some relief from him not reprising his bushfires performance. That’s plausible and possible.

The party standing opinion polls might be wrong even though they are consistent with the last election outcome and the poll results since then. They are also within a 3.5% error margin so they could represent a landslide win or loss although the consistency makes that implausible.

Morrison’s approval ratings are also not that different from those of the State Premiers even if not as good as Tasmania’s Peter Gutwein nor that of Daniel Andrews despite all his recent Party and virus problems. Although you wouldn’t know that about Andrews from the recent hysterical Greg Sheridan spray, in which you could almost feel the spittle spring forth from the page, about the Premier’s failings.

More probably people are smart enough to make a distinction between competence in handling a virus emergency and other issues. After all the 51-49 split not only mirrors the last election result but also reflects that there are a lot of people out there who don’t trust the government to resolve long standard policy problems around the climate emergency, low productivity, stagnant wages and record debt levels (even before the COVID-19 stimulus).

In the latter case, however, it is a tribute to Liberal-National and Murdoch media propaganda that you would never know that in January 2020 (before the pandemic) the Institute of International Finance’s Global Debt Monitor said: “Government debt-to-GDP ratio hit an all-time high in Australia and the US.”

After seven years in office it takes astonishing cheek for a government to blame that on Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

What is overwhelmingly clear however is: Eden-Monaro probably has no significance other than that artificially imposed on it by the commentariat; the commentariat’s comments are largely useless; with so many clichés that wouldn’t pass the Turing test the political views of much of the Press Gallery opinions are either useless, banal, simplistic, repetitious or all of the above; and, none of us really know just why the disparity exists, whether it will continue or how significant it is.

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Noel Turnbull is a blogger who has had a 40-year-plus career in public relations, politics, journalism and academia.

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