The fact that just days after the election an article was published boasting that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had a mandate to, “do whatever the hell he likes” shows just how little scrutiny of the government there has been. Morrison grabbed the microphone on day one & never handed it back.
Annabel Crabb wrote, “Having campaigned as a one-man show, Scott Morrison — the author of a “miracle victory” — now finds himself with that rarest and most inscrutable of political assets: the one mandate. Think “Aladdin’s Cave” for politicians. Mr Morrison genuinely can now do whatever the hell he likes.” With a ‘miracle’ election result, Scott Morrison has the mandate to do whatever he likes — so what will it be?
Nothing epitomises this tight grip of Morrison’s than his Pac-Man impersonation on May 5 on the Central Coast of New South Wales. With the ABC News channel uncritically broadcasting the pantomime to the nation, Morrison danced across the screen demonstrating what a Labor government would do in gobbling up people’s money.
Overall, the polls were wrong, the media analysis flawed and the predictions of most commentators way off. Journalists were largely concerned with the party expected to be the next government. Most were focused on how many seats Labor was going to pick up rather than the song and dance routine Morrison was performing before their eyes.
Post-election, Australians are left without a well constructed plan on where the Coalition will take the nation. Further tax cuts and endless budget surpluses appear to be the main game. People are quite rightly asking why they are not equipped with the knowledge of what the government has in store.
The repeal of the Medevac bill also appears to be on the agenda. The bill to transfer urgent refugee patients from offshore detention on Manus and Nauru was the one Morrison just couldn’t stop. In retaliation, he blamed Labor as he reopened the detention centre (DC) on Christmas Island at a cost of $185 million.
The media flocked to the island in March to see inside an empty DC. It provided a photo opportunity for Morrison but the views of locals were largely ignored. It’s only now after the election we find that forty people have been transferred to Australia and the DC remains empty. More than 40 refugees transferred to Australia for urgent treatment since medevac laws passed. During the campaign, Morrison frequently accused Labor of financial mismanagement but there was no media scrutiny of his own fiscal decision on a centre for no one.
The “housing tax”, the “retiree tax”, the “death tax” and the “when Labor run out of money they come after yours” all successfully smothered any attempt to question ministerial responsibility. In the twenty-four hour media news cycle, the marketing PM knew that in their rush to publish, his brickbats would ultimately carry the day.
In the middle of it all, veteran journalist and Walkley winner, Tony Koch, lambasted his former News Corp employer for its coverage and declared the cancellation of his subscriptions.
On the now famous front page attack on Bill Shorten’s mother he wrote, “Has there been a more shameful article than the appalling story concerning Bill Shorten’s mother’s work and published in the Courier-Mail and the Daily Telegraph? That effort will forever be the rotting albatross hanging around the neck of its author.” For 30 years I worked for News Corp papers. Now all I see is shameful bias.
Yet, there were some positive contributions. The stand out journalist from the media pack was Jonathan Lee. He was heavily criticised by many Labor supporters for continually questioning Shorten over the cost to the economy of Labor’s climate change policy. There is no cost to doing nothing, was the theme from the audience. However, it did show that the old style boot-leather journalism was still alive.
It was a spark that Morrison noticed. Midway through the campaign when Lea moved to cover Morrison’s campaign, the PM made an extraordinary comment by welcoming him “to the team”. Morrison knew from the Shorten interviews the week before that a reporter had arrived that might wrestle that microphone back from him. He envisioned Lea on the “Sco-Mo” team.
Lea continued to dog the PM until the end of the election campaign. He interrupted Morrison when he tried to defend his environment minister Melissa Price’s absence from the campaign with media statements. Lea would not have it.
A few days before polling day, Samantha Maiden also put it to Morrison that he was being hypocritical in running a scare campaign on Labor’s changes to negative gearing when he had made changes himself as treasurer in 2017.
There were some late comers. Barrie Cassidy pressed Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on the claim that Labor’s proposed changes to franking credits were a retiree tax. Sadly, it was the day after the election.
There are some signs of change. Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Tory Maguire, announced they currently have no contract with any polling companies. She points to deploying journalists to the electorate and being “informed by old-fashioned boot-leather journalism”.
Before the election, NoFibs editor, Margo Kingston, wrote in favour of this approach. “As my long time followers know, I’ve urged media for 20 years to embed reporters in crucial seats and report outside in, to no avail. In 2013, with financial help from Macquarie University, No Fibs published on-the-ground reports from voters in seats across Australia, leading to our comprehensive cover of Indi, perhaps the proudest achievement of my career.” The @NoFibs #IndependentsDay Twitter mission at #ausvotes: @margokingston1 comments.
In the shadow of the election, Maguire’s column is an easy one to write. It’s a much harder and expensive game to send journalists out into electorates. Time will tell if the SHM and Age stick to this approach or slip back into the easy zone of endless polling pieces and tagging along with politicians to media events.
While they may not like it, it’s fair and reasonable for the public to politely question journalists from the taxpayer funded ABC and SBS over the election coverage. Similarly, as media organisations are frequently asking their audiences for subscriptions, it is also fair and reasonable for customers to ask if they are getting value for money. If the Coalition government re-elected is the best possible government Australia can have, people will hit those subscription buttons hard.
The choice is yours.