STEPHANIE DOWRICK. Selling a PM – or just trashing the alternative

May 9, 2019

With only days to go, it’s clear the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is running his campaign not just as a Lone Ranger but as a Marketing Man. Despite his striking lack of past success (“Where the bloody hell are you?”) and the core fallacy that we are yet “Back in the Black” (slogan and image lifted in its entirety from John Key’s election push in New Zealand), this is a race for a Coalition re-election based almost entirely on claims and slogans that bear no close examination and are virtually unprecedented in their mind-numbing banality. So how should we respond? Or act? The choices will be ours.

In a well-educated, progressive country, this kind of electioneering should be regarded as an insult to our collective intelligence. Yet it has traction, not least because it’s so vigorously supported by widespread sections of the media willing to shore up their own ideological or commercial interests by swallowing whole whatever Morrison or his media team is telling them.

And what is the Morrison marketing message? The litany is ugly. Trash the Opposition. Trash Bill Shorten in particular. Insist (repeatedly) that “no one likes/trusts” Shorten despite almost six years of stable ALP leadership, a genuinely impressive leadership team, and policies that significantly benefit the many rather than the few. Trash – repeatedly – any serious analysis of economic equity as a goal or value. Trash any questioning of excessive privileges for the rich. Trash climate science, again, again, again. Trash discussion of the gulfs in life expectancy between rich and poor, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Trash and de-legitimise the Uluru Statement from the Heart (which the ALP is committed to support). Trash the causes of stagnant wages, of growing homelessness, widespread casualization of work and not just job but food and housing insecurity that’s affecting a million or more Australian children. Oh, and trash those who could bring serious analysis or even workable solutions to these challenges by dismissing them as “elites”. (Much like climate science denier Tony Abbott who just a week ago said, “We sub-contract too much out to experts already…”.)

The history of trashing refugees to bolster claims of security must also be part of this story. That’s served Coalition governments well from John Howard’s “children overboard” fables in 2001 onwards. The Marketing Man knows that “Stopping the boats” plays less effectively post-Christchurch. And when a weary population now knows that it’s tens of thousands of visa overstayers arriving by plane that might concern them, rather than the tragic reality of refugees still abandoned after six years of despair off-shore. Despite spending $185 million opening and closing the Christmas Island centre when that did seem a vote-winner, and despite Government claims about hordes waiting to leapfrog their way into Australia via the Medevac Bill provisions, that particular version of trashing has quietened. However, in the familiar mumblings of race politics, and LNP preferencing support of racist political parties (calling them “less dangerous” than the ALP or the Greens), it surely isn’t absent.

As citizens, not just “voters”, what should we make of this? And particularly, how should we respond when so much of the media supports a push for power based on flagrantly ignoring or twisting evidence – while bullying or silencing any who hold a differing or better-informed view? I believe our first call is to refuse that silencing. And resist that bullying. When propaganda or deliberate misinformation passes as “reporting”, this undermines the core social values of honesty, transparency and accountability on which democracy depends. Yet Morrison himself consistently attacks or avoids those who want thoughtful answers to thoughtful questions. Or he talks over them, deafening them with his ceaseless self-aggrandising and lack of accountability on any issue. This is a man who seriously wants us to accept that Australia really is a country where those “who have a go get a go”. And that someone capable of speaking in such destitute banalities has some right to continuing leadership of this country.

The social environment of this country is at risk. So is the land on which we all depend. Morrison – supported by his media chorus –  wishes to persuade us that the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison governments knew what they were doing in crucial water, land and ocean management as this continent has baked, flooded, burned, and not just fish but crops, native species and entire rivers have died. According to the PM, Coalition governments over the last six years have been managing climate change “at a canter”. This despite irrefutable scientific evidence to the contrary, ruthless climate science silencing, and profound ideological splits within the Liberal Party that saw Morrison’s immediate predecessor shafted by his climate change-denying colleagues.

A shred of conscience from the man who believes he alone can “manage the economy” (if not the doubled national debt) would see a detailed investigation into the now-multiple deals where vast sums have moved from the public purse (our taxes) into private hands. And would show why, to a man, those “hands” have been Liberal or National Party donors or associates (Helloworld, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Paladin, Watergate, to name just a few). That so many moderates within the Government have jumped ship tells us all we need to know about Morrison’s inability to keep his “broad church” together. And why he is fronting this campaign alone. Striking numbers of remaining colleagues are clearly election poison. This is in marked contrast to the ALP leadership, where “team” actually has some meaning and so do gender, culture and race diversity. A mere remnant of accountability would demand of a more scrupulous leader that he owns the stark inadequacy of female and “not white” representation across the Coalition – and the pathetic inability of those in power to address this, or indeed the bullying and aggression within and beyond their own political parties.

Vitally, accountability would demand asking what kind of nation our children and grandchildren will inherit. Whatever their race, gender or social class. Theirs is the future. Education at every level. Health equity. Fair wages. Access to housing. Retraining and adequate investment in jobs of the future, not the past. Agricultural research for a warming world. Race justice – and innovative, hope-restoring climate change protections. Investment in what builds communities: in the arts, community activities of every kind, adult education; particular care for the very young and very vulnerable. Indigenous health, treaty, justice – for the sake of all Australians. This is the 21st-century! Slogans, cheap shots, ceaseless attacking of Bill Shorten and of policies with a proven social and environmental benefit is media fodder unworthy of what we face. We can question it. We can demand far better. The choices will be ours.

Rev Dr Stephanie Dowrick can be found on Twitter and her public Facebook page. Her books include Seeking the Sacred: Transforming Our View of Ourselves and One Another (Allen & Unwin).

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