by Dr Mark Hayes
Who is still a native Queenslander but hates the stultifying summer humidity and heat which envelops much of the place. ‘You break into a sweat when you change your mind, and feel your brain’s being squeezed into a moist oven or wrapped in a hot, wet towel,’ he growls. Like following election campaigns.
And some Breaking News ~ Tuesday afternoon, January 13 ~ scroll down to the bottom 🙂
And here’s a seriously meaty read from Griffith University’s Dr Mark Bahnisch in the Guardian. And on The Monthly too. Very productive fellow 🙂
And so pleased the Guardian‘s Bridie Jabour is counting those ‘Strongs’ Mr Newman keeps using.
Elections are rituals.
Like going to church, any organized mass spectator sport, or just about anything in our homogenized, processed, controlled, Liquid Modern society.
To relive all the excitement, fear, loathing, and recriminations from the 2012 election, visit the Australian Parliament’s Library analysis. A real Déjà vu hit that read is.
All the players know the rules and mostly play by them ~ the leaders, candidates, party workers, mainstream media, the somber political commentators (modern day Delphic oracles), and even voters. We all know how to behave during elections.
All this, of course, in the incessant 24/7 multi-media news cycle and, in the interests of fairness and balance, as well as not annoying any consumers hyper-sensitive to bias, real or imagined, feeds into and reinforces a major reason why so many people have turned away from or even ignore the “He Said, but She Said” style of mainstream news reporting. It’s damn boring a lot of the time.
Given the size of the swing, and the state of the parties, after the 2012 election, the ABC, required by law to adhere to strict reporting rules, is in an interesting position. Here’s how the ABC evaluated its coverage of the 2013 Federal election (1.5 Meg PDF). This February, 2014, Guardian story also traverses the ways the ABC covers elections and what the data shows.
It’s important when studying the data to bear in mind it’s largely quantitative and not qualitative. Candidates and parties get a certain amount of ‘share of voices’ time in minutes and seconds based on their results at the previous election, and ABC reporters try hard to keep to those figures (which can dive them nuts if a party or candidate takes a ‘vow of silence’ and refuses to appear on the ABC). ‘Share of voices’ data does not evaluate the ‘quality’ of what a party or candidate says, how impactful, effective, or stupid they might sound or appear when responding to reasonable questions. I’ll look into this some more too.
Meanwhile, the ABC has fired up its Vote Compass machine, so take the tour and see what it tells you about your voting behavior. The ABC’s Matt Wordsworth explains what this thing is and how it works.
One of the most important rules for the media and the contenders is the confected uncertainty. That every election is on a knife edge, too close to call, still anybody’s to win, the government’s to lose, voters still making up their minds, and there I go reinforcing the narrative and deploying the cliches.
Like I wrote last week, and was gratified that some commentators also picked up several of the same points, which either means I have my dibs deep in the zeitgeist or it’s all so bloody obvious ~
Calm yourselves. The LNP will win.
Don’t believe me? Listen to Antony Green on ABC Radio National Breakfast on Monday morning, January 12.
And then things get really interesting.
One interesting thing to ponder, which I flagged last week, is who could become Premier if Campbell Newman loses his Ashgrove seat. John Birmingham took time off gloating over the sales of his latest book, Emergence, to ponder whether or not Lawrence Springborg and John-Paul Langbroek were the same person, or clones, or both might be Premier if Mr Newman gets got. (Don’t sool your Things on to me, Brimo! I’ve bought the book already!)
The big presence in this election is Tony Abbott, even when he’s in ‘witness protection’ as Opposition leader Bill Shorten said last weekend. No he’s not, said Acting PM and Wide Bay (Qld.) MHR, Warren Truss. Premier Newman doesn’t need any help from Mr Abbott, and anyway Julie Bishop will be here soon, so relax everybody.
Even The Courier-Mail, hardly a bastion of leftie propaganda, went hard on this on Monday, January 11 ~ PM Is Ballot Box Poison the paper reported on Pages 8 and 9, but toned that down On Line to ‘The Abbott Government is proving detrimental to Campbell Newman’s election hopes’. Very restrained, folks.
One thing Abbott has done is infect voters with even more cynicism with his deployment of the Nobel Lie before the federal election in 2013.
The neo-liberal version of the Noble Lie basically holds that, because neo-liberal policies and prescriptions are always correct, beyond or above ideology, wholly informed by the science of economics and the rationality of the market ~ suspended scepticism yet? Forgotten about the GFC? ~ but that modern democracies are riddled with grubby ideology and messy irrational politics, so those seeking to implement wholly rational neo-liberal policies are morally and pragmatically entitled to lie about their real agendas and policies, withhold their more unpalatable, though correct, prescriptions until they achieve power and can then implement them.
Still puzzling over the implications of this deep data mining of Twitter feeds, involving word clouds, and I know some academics at QUT are actively monitoring this as well, but it is encouraging that voters want to see words like ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ figuring highly on Twitter feeds on the election so far. The QUT team did this research in 2012 too.
Certainly the Noble Lie helped the Abbott Government get elected, but many of their problems are caused by the fact voters have seen through the lies.
It does help to find, confect, or even invent a ‘crisis’ while also deploying the Noble Lie. If voters still don’t get it, go Post-Modernist on them, and invent your own ‘facts’.
Remember all those ‘promises’ which have been systematically broken? But, to be fair, according to ABC Fact Checker the picture is more varied.
But the Real Policies of the Abbott Government are tucked away in the Recommendations of the Costello Commission of Audit.
Back to rituals ~
When I was covering my first election campaign, way back in December 1977, I was puzzled about how and why, every time a politician seemed to pass wind, the media swarmed off to get the view of some sober sounding political analyst about what it all really meant. As if they’d have any deeper insights than those of us almost sweating the same figures and we were closer to the action than they usually were. So I lugged my large and heavy Nagra tape recorder off to interview a political commentator about why people like me swarmed off to interview people like him. He got the gag.
Any fun in an election campaign comes when the rules are broken, accidentally – the gaffe, a candidate opening their mouth to change feet or not knowing some intricate detail about their party policy, or Shock Horror, saying something truthful, a ‘spontaneous walkie’ going wrong (check your backgrounds, ALP team) ~ or by somebody cleverly understanding the narrative and deliberately trying to bust it.
Like that bloke behind a fake Campbell Newman Twitter account who turned up at an LNP street gig on Wednesday, January 7, wearing an ‘I’m with Stupid’ t shirt, and promptly got arrested by a swarm of Queensland’s finest.
Message sent ~ don’t interrupt the feigned seriousness of the ritual.
The Courier-Mail’s veteran cartoonist, Sean Leahy, captured the matter nicely in his Monday, January 12, outing, folding I’m with Stupid into the Avoidable Tony Abbott.
And at the end of that 1977 election campaign, the ABC radio show I was working for at the time thought we’d bust the sober, predictable, controlled narrative by getting into the Election Night Broadcast a day early and crossed to ‘our Drury Lane Studios’. Management were not amused and we got the Hairy Eyeball applied. We were, after all, (cue deep, sober, resonant announcer) the ABC.
The ABC’s Chris O’Brien tried a bit of truth telling about what it’s really all about but backed right off very quickly to maintain the fantasy that there’s really something serious going on here.
A major difference this time, though, is the rise of Monitary Democracy, which I mentioned in my first piece on the Queensland election.
An important example of this is what the citizen journalism site, No Fibs, is doing by curating, aggregating, and even reporting on the election, drawing together Tweets, Facebook posts, linking to mainstream reporting, and even producing their own commentaries as the campaign develops.
Here’s where any really interesting local or electorate wild cards or interesting local trends may be detected as local citizen journalists add their monitoring and reportage to the mix. The mainstream, of course, closely watch this activity, feed into it, and more importantly use it as an important alert system to issues, trends, or stories they otherwise might miss from the tightly controlled campaign busses.
I’m looking out for any growing disaffection from old National Party heartland fiefdoms, such as Beaudesert, Condamine, Nanango, and even Callide, on the issue of coal seam gas exploration (2013 SBS backgrounder). The Lock the Gate coalition has formed very strong alliances with farmers and graziers, ordinarily who would probably treat ‘Greenies’ like they deal with feral dogs, and many locals are really angry at the impacts CSG exploration and exploitation on their lands, fearful for their livelihoods, productivity, and even their health from stray emissions.
Election campaigns are like advertising.
Be very assured that your correspondent does not watch commercial television nor listens to commercial radio, and might only catch part of an ad on the Teeve on SBS when we’re too slow to hit the audio mute button. Your correspondent has strong objections to being treated like an idiot and being shouted at, you see.
So I have no idea about the specifics in the 2015 campaign ads.
One report suggested that the LNP nicked some of its election ads themes from the New Zealand Nationals, which makes sense, as the Kiwis do make darn good movies about Hobbits, and Air New Zealand’s in flight safety movies are pretty good too (though the last one was awful, IMHO).
But we’re certain we know what’s going down.
Most elections are really fought over a very small number of voters in a fairly small number of seats. Like advertising generally, the point of campaign ads is to reinforce an already decided brand choice, to reassure the consumer they’ve made the right choice and to stick with it. Or to try to persuade the consumer to try a similar product by a different manufacturer, like changing from Kleenex to Sorbent. They’re both good products, quite fit for purpose, so try the other one just this once and see what you think, and it’s on special this week too. Only a small number of consumers, or voters, are minded to change products completely, and are likely to change products on the basis of some screeching, hysterical, expensive, or cleverly produced ad that hits them like an ear worm attack. Some ads also play on the consumer’s, and voter’s, anxieties, contain dog whistling cues or codes, making the point that the other side are a pack of lying, devious incompetents who’ll come for you and yours if they get in, so vote for us and we’ll protect you.
An unpleasant feature of the 2012 campaign was Labor’s attack ads, which backfired and fed into the landslide driven by other issues.
The real targets for advertising are what are called ‘opinion leaders’, consumers or voters who have influence among their peers for all sorts of reasons. Get to opinion leaders strongly, and your pitch should have its intended effects.
Variations on those major themes, and we’ve all watched The Gruen Transfer or The Checkout so we know how advertisers generally scheme and plot to mess with our heads, get into our wallets or smart cards, or try to get our vote.
If you bother to expose yourself to them, or take them even moderately seriously, which I don’t.
Not that it matters in most Queensland electorates. Usually.
The target of political advertising are those fairly small numbers of genuinely swinging or undecided voters who haven’t got a clue, don’t care, aren’t interested, decide their vote in the queue on election day, or who forensically follow the campaign like the racing form guide or the share market and treat their vote like a very precious family heirloom. We’d all like all voters to be like the latter swinging voters, but let’s be realistic, or cynically calculating, and go for the former voters. Scare the shit out of them to either vote for us or not vote them as far as political advertising rules allow.
Getting Hung Up in Parliament
One line being deployed, which is either a genuine sign of concern from LNP HQ or they’re trying to remind voters of the Gillard years and scare us, is the risk of chaos in the event of a hung Parliament. This at least partially channels the relentless Abbott narrative of the Gillard – Rudd years as unmitigated chaos, dysfunction, and disaster. Opposition leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, quickly also ruled out forming a minority government. We’ll see…
Have a very close burrow around the ABC’s Antony Green’s excellent Queensland Election site.
Play around with Mr Green’s Election Calculator, look at the seats listings beneath it, and then go to particularly interesting seats, like Ashgrove. In this seat, there’s probably about 1,500 voters who swung to the LNP in 2012, and who may well decide the outcome there this year.
The poor deprived voters of Ashgrove must all be deeply grateful to their local MLA, Campbell Newman, who last weekend bestowed some $18 million upon the neglected folks, ignored and bereft for so long. Nothing whatsoever to do with an election campaign or the probability that Mr Newman might lose his seat. We’re having none of that cynicism, ya hear!
Now we get to the pointy bits in this campaign ~ the economy, employment, development.
Forget bikies, though there’s some unease about the so-called VLADD Laws (more of the ‘Who’s Next?’ variety). Criminal bikie gangs had it coming anyway and only civil libertarians are steamed up about this. Griffith University’s Dr Paul Williams, one of those Oracles I’d be interviewing if I got bored, or puzzled about Oracles again, and I was actively reporting again, reckons the VLADD Laws are a winner for the LNP.
Though we revere the Great Barrier Reef and want to see it preserved, when it comes down to it, we like jobs more.
We’ll All Be Rooned
Griffith University’s Professor Fabrizio Carmignani helpfully gives an overview of the Queensland Economy on The Conversation.
Like voters Australia-wide, Queenslanders are burdened with significant, even staggering, household debt, starting with the mortgage. Periodic data on credit card debt nationally are mind boggling (at least to me anyway).
Stands to reason when you’re deep in debt, you tend to be extremely conservative, cautious, and worried about unemployment, most especially if you’re in an industry sector in decline, like mining.
Have a look at the latest Commonwealth Department of Employment Queensland data on Unemployment by Labour Force Region, zoom into the unemployment data using their map, and then go back to Mr Green’s data and correlate that roughly by State electorate.
If you’re in an electorate with high unemployment in the Wide Bay (Maryborough, Bundaberg), far north Queensland (Cairns, Townsville areas), Mackay, gateway to the coal provinces like the Galilee Basin, or Fitzroy (Gladstone, Rockhampton), where the LNG processing hubs are nearing completion or have just started exporting, then you’d be wondering where the next jobs are coming from.
Mackay is worth watching in this regard. It was held on a tiny margin by Deputy Opposition Leader, Tim Mulherin, who resigned for personal reasons last week, and the ABC is reporting that jobs are the big issue there. Mackay is the gateway to the massive Galilee Basin coal development, which the Newman Government is desperate to facilitate. This development raises complex issues of climate change, impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, government subsidies for resource developments, and stranded assets, as well as how exposed resource states like Queensland are to global trends. These kinds of issues have barely figured in the campaign so far.
Many might wish it otherwise, but climate change isn’t going to figure in the 2015 Queensland election. The ALP has to be supportive of new coal mines and CSG as well, otherwise they’ll be savaged by the LNP and the very powerful mining lobby.
Last December’s Queensland Budget Update didn’t exactly ignite the state with excitement either.
State Governments never seriously let on about this, but really, they have very little economic policy wriggle room when much of their income comes from the GST divvy up, already flagged as a major federal issue as part of a major tax review in 2015, and already growing hot as Western Australia wants more and other states dig in saying ‘No Way, not if it hurts us’. It isn’t helpful at all when Federal politicians start talking about GST hikes and including items like food while there’s a state election on.
Queensland Needs Heaps More Strongs
That’s what the Newman Government’s major pitch is all about ~ Strong Choices.
I’m puzzled about all this ‘Strong’ stuff we’re getting in the campaign, and the last serious bunch of Strongs I saw were those hordes of trolls and orcs in The Hobbit movies, but maybe that’s just me.
Strong Choices is derived from the Queensland version of the Costello Commission of Audit, with some brief and carefully managed ‘community consultation’. Some commentary on all this was scathing, but then, some commentators just don’t get it, do they.
Just to help voters make sense of this Strong Choices stuff, UQ’s Professor John Quiggin ran his economist’s calculator over what’s on offer and also found it riddled with creative accounting. (Link to PDF of Prof Quiggin’s analysis.)
A really interesting thing about all this is how the LNP are dancing around the differences between asset sales and what they’re promoting, 99 year leases. But only if the price is right, you understand.
And we’ve still got almost three exciting, riveting, and action packed weeks to go here in the Deep North.
And in Breaking News ~ Here’s a picture of the box from whence the Queensland Electoral Commission withdrew the names for the ballot paper in the seat of Ashgrove. This picture went briefly viral as Queensland media gathered for the ballot draw at 2.30pm Brisbane time, Tuesday, January 13.
Fairfax’s Brisbane Times, on their rolling election Blog reported ~
“2:37pm Natalie Bochenski: Channel 7 is broadcasting the Ashgrove candidate draw live.
They’re employing the very sophisticated method of putting all the candidates names on pieces of paper and putting those into a box. They then shake the box.”
It is unclear whether or not the QEC official doing the draw was blindfolded, closed their eyes, or turned their head away while doing the draw.
The box declined to comment.
Here’s the ballot paper draw ~ Just who the unaffiliated candidates are will no doubt be revealed, but Mr Newman’s No 2, the Greens’ Robert Hogg is No 4, and the ALP’s Kate Jones is No 5.
Wasn’t all that exciting?
(If this keeps up, Dr Hayes might get a severe case of the election heebee geebees.)
And for some more serious consideration, here’s the major rural lobby, AgForce’s, wish list or Policy Outline for the 2015 election with a 6.5 Meg Policy document downloadable from their site.