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Friday, November 7, 2014

‘ Ditch toxic Tony!’ — and other headlines you’ll never read –

‘ Ditch toxic Tony!’ — and other headlines you’ll never read –

‘Ditch toxic Tony!’ — and other headlines you’ll never read

If a Labor government had performed as poorly as this one, the media coverage would be very different.

Let’s try a thought experiment: imagine the Rudd government
had, within a few short months of being elected, fallen significantly
behind Brendan Nelson’s opposition in the polls; imagine that it had
produced a budget universally panned as unfair, one that it struggled to
get through the Senate, that Cabinet was leaking like a sieve without
any wire mesh, that treasurer Wayne Swan had made repeated gaffes and
been forced to apologise and was widely regarded as a growing liability,
that corruption in the NSW Labor Party had forced a Labor minister to
stand aside within months of being sworn in, that Kevin Rudd had
consistently negative personal ratings and at times fell behind Nelson
as preferred PM, that Rudd was so unpopular, state Labor leaders
preferred he kept away from them during their election campaigns, that
Labor had announced it was doubling the budget deficit, and if it was
reliant on a political freak show of independent and minor party
senators to secure passage of its bills.

And imagine if the Rudd government had resorted to national
security in an effort to take the focus off its domestic woes, and it
had failed to restore its fortunes, leaving it still trailing the

Now imagine how all that would have been reported — and not
just by the Coalition cheerleaders at News Corp, but by the entire
media? You wouldn’t have been able to click on a news website without
seeing “debacle”, “crisis”, “fiasco” and “Whitlamesque” in every
political story.

It’s true that in some areas, Labor gets the benefit of the
doubt from the media — for example, journalists are hyper-sensitive to
any statement from Tony Abbott regarding gender issues, in a way that
they aren’t for Labor or other figures — witness the relatively mild
criticism Clive Palmer drew for his personal smear of Peta Credlin,
versus the likely reaction if Abbott had said something similar about an
opponent’s childlessness. But it’s impossible to imagine that, if Labor
were in a similar position a little over a year into its first term to
what the Coalition is in now, the media atmosphere would not be far more

And it would be more febrile still if a minor party and key
swing-vote senator had gone rogue and declared she wouldn’t pass any
government legislation unless her demands were met, as Tasmanian PUP
Senator Jacqui Lambie threatened today (imagine if she’d been a Greens
senator!). “Labor hostage to rogue senator,” the headlines would have
screamed. Lambie has, right from her election,
looked the most likely PUP candidate to go off the
reservation — indeed, the PUP is now marked more by people leaving its
ranks than joining them, as Clive Palmer’s electoral popularity begins
to slide. Now she threatens the government’s legislative agenda just
when it has worked out a way to deal with Palmer himself.

This week continued the run of bad news for the government. Someone in cabinet leaked not once but twice — first on Monday to Phil Coorey
on how Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb had (correctly) argued in favour of
joining the Chinese-led development bank, only to be headed off by
Abbott and Bishop — and then to Dennis Shanahan
on Abbott telling his ministers to get their act together and stop
jockeying (geddit?) for position. Despite the government going full
kitchen sink on national security, Newspoll showed a worsening in its
position — indeed the result was so bad it was consigned to page 2 of The Australian.
Hockey produced another trademark howler, on tertiary education. The
issue of jailing journalists over revealing Special Intelligence
Operations continues to dog the government.

As has been the usual case this year, international matters
will be a welcome distraction for the government, with APEC in Beijing
next week, followed by the G20 meetings in Fortress Brisbane, allowing
Abbott to mingle with world leaders and keep the focus off his
government’s domestic woes — although hopefully without discussions
straying onto climate change. Even then, however, Abbott has made life
unnecessarily difficult for himself with his “shirt-front” rhetoric
about Vladimir Putin, which voters thoroughly enjoyed but which requires
some form of follow-through beyond a post-meeting “we had a robust
exchange of views”. What are the odds Abbott seeks to manufacture a
Lathamesque handshake with the Russian kleptocrat in front of the

Then again, Kevin Rudd’s and Julia Gillard’s international
performances were subjected to similar microscopic examination by the
media, with every stumble, literal or otherwise, endlessly analysed.
Let’s see if Abbott’s performance over the next 10 days gets similar

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