Political Philosophy 102 (Session 2, July 2007): If a Minister frauds in the forest, but no Opposition is there to spin it, did the Minister really fraud at all?
Good morning students. Welcome to Political Philosophy 102. A few formalities to begin with. Firstly, I remind you that to take this course you must have already completed the pre-requisite Political Philosophy 101: I think, therefore I am not a politician.
Secondly, attendance at this lecture is mandatory and any absence will require a note from your doctor, or from a source close to your doctor, or from unnamed medical officials. Merely stating that you contacted your doctor for a response but received no comment will not suffice.
Finally, we would all be very grateful if the Full Fee Paying Students sitting in the plush leather armchairs could please refrain from hitting other students with your champagne corks it’s difficult enough as it is for the HECS proles to balance on their cardboard boxes.
Over the coming weeks we will be examining various aspects of that great Australian tautology, ‘the dishonest politician.’ Today, I will use the 2007 New South Wales State election particularly the extraordinary events of the final six weeks to demonstrate the six ways in which a opposition can fail to take advantage of a government’s astounding capacity to shoot itself, repeatedly, in the foot.
These are also known as the six forms of ‘No-Gainer’ now recognised as a Liberal State opposition specialty.
SIX WEEKS OUT THE ENEMY WITHIN
After a series of internal disasters, the ALP campaign launched with a bang and a whimper.
Labor’s efforts to appear ‘in touch’ with the voters in their first official week of campaigning was undermined by one candidate. Seeking an initiative that would humanise him and distinguish him from the Party’s recent sordid actions the Labor candidate for a North Coast seat hit upon the brilliant idea of adopting a dog from the RSPCA. Most political analysts later agreed that appearing on the local 6 O’Clock News with a bulldog intimately and determinedly concerned with its own genitalia was not ideal.
As the Opposition prepared to revel in their rival’s ignominy, they fell foul of the first No-Gainer: ‘The Enemy Within.’ Even as the first Liberal press release hit the fax machines, the tabloid media were, instead, descending en masse upon the launch of a tell-all diary written by a member of the Young Liberals. In her book, The Secret Diary of A Mole Aged 18 ¾, the author revealed a series of sordid approaches over many years by senior Liberal figures. The ensuing scandal dubbed ‘Mole-gate’ drowned out all other news that week.
[The ALP candidate resigned Saturday on 17 February, though his name remained on the ballot.]
FIVE WEEKS TO GO SPIN
Desperately seeking traction in their second week, the Opposition couldn’t believe their good fortune when an intern discovered that the Government’s electoral boundary changes had left one electorate so small that a swing of 12 per cent would occur if just one person changed their vote. (Some at Lib HQ were surprised that the new electorate of ‘Morris’s Mum’s House’ hadn’t been spotted earlier.)
Thanks to Paul Batey
But the ‘Boundary-gate’ scandal became a minor ALP victory in an excellent example of the second No-Gainer situation: ‘Spin.’
‘This kind of gerrymandering is inexcusable,’ barked the Liberal attack dogs. But Premier Morris Iemma won the day and painted his opponents as un-Auatralian when he explained that he had merely created a ‘real life’ Big Brother House in an attempt to pull in younger voters and compete with Queensland’s only real success of the last decade.
A final argument from the Coalition that most Big Brother viewers are too young to vote gained no traction as the public eagerly awaited Iemma’s next stellar appearance on his way to winning NSW Idol.
[The ALP’s junior whip took responsibility for the boundary changes and fell on his sword (literally), on 23 February.]
‘E’ MINUS FOUR WEEKS Hypocrisy
Water was always going to be a BIG ISSUE in the election one to be handled very carefully. It was therefore a huge scandal when with, just four weeks to go in the campaign, the Minister for the Environment was photographed not only cleaning his car with a hose but being crash-tackled, gagged and hog-tied by a heavily armed squad of Water Police an organisation that the Minister had, only the day before, defended from allegations of ‘over-zealous monitoring practices.’
As the press debated whether they could get away with dubbing this scandal ‘Water-gate,’ Coalition bigwigs, led by an outraged National Party demanded a Coronial Inquiry, a Government apology for wastage of our most precious resource, and a public stoning. Surely this would be a win of gargantuan proportions for the Opposition? But no for the third No-Gainer: ‘Hypocrisy (Real or Perceived)’ came into play.
That afternoon a coincidental five minutes before TV news deadlines a Labor backbencher revealed that she had entered a meeting room just vacated by Liberal Party members, only to discover (gasp!) a number of drinking glasses filled to the brim with barely touched water. One glass had, in fact, been knocked over spilling the entirety of its precious contents. In the face of these revelations, the Opposition found their moral high ground simply washed away.
[4 March: The Minister for the Environment resigned citing ‘family concerns.’]
A MERE THREE WEEKS TO GO THE JACKAL
As the lead-up to E-Day began to be counted in days rather than weeks, the Coalition were finally on to a winner. Previously a low-profile State issue, immigration became the topic of the day when it transpired that several ALP officials had worked over a three-month period to help more than 30 refugees enter Albury from Wodonga. With the only ‘mateship’ test being a willingness to vote for the Labor Party, these poor victims of circumstance became political footballs. And herein lay the problem.
Thanks to Paul Batey
As State-gate (or Immi-gate, Open-gate, Wodongate and, according to one clearly radical paper, ‘the Albury crisis’) entered the national spotlight, the Deputy Leader of the NSW Opposition held a packed press conference a metre north of Victoria and, in a moment of vitriolic passion, accused the refugees of throwing their ‘children over borders.’
It all went south from there. As the public turned on the Opposition for making political mileage out of the plight of our southern neighbours, the Liberals came to embody No-Gainer #4: ‘The Jackal.’ Meanwhile the Government crowed over headlines like ‘Look Out Man of Steel, Here Comes Morris, Man of Teflon!’
[Between 8 and 10 March, three Ministers embroiled in the ‘votes for citizenship scandal’ were forced to resign from the ALP and Parliament.]
AND THEN THERE WERE TWO WEEKS CARE FREE
It was simple. There was no spin to be spun, no tale to be told. With only 14 days ’til election day, the ABC exposed a network of corrupt harbour-front property deals invol
ving seven prominent Labor candidates. Surely this, the scandal of ‘Ray White and the 7 Wharfies,’ would spell success for the Opposition?
No-Gainer #5 is a simple rule: ‘You have to make them care.’ If the public doesn’t care, the press don’t cover, and the polls don’t swing. And this week we also learnt that, if you want to profit from a sure-fire scandal, don’t do it the same week as the first topless female performance in Dancing With the Stars. By the time Australia had recovered from that, a mere election scandal was yesterday’s fish wrapping.
[On 16 March, seven ALP candidates resigned. Reported in just one broadsheet, two Radio National news bulletins, and NewMatilda.com]
ONE WEEK ONE DOWNMANSHIP
The final No-Gainer is the ‘Law of One Downmanship’ if you do something even dafter than your opponent, you get no credit. Here’s a good example from the final days.
If the NSW Transport Minister partakes in a stunt track-walk with media to demonstrate the safety and reliability of State Rail and the whole party is almost flattened by a train supposedly 15 kilometres away but actually running a ‘tad’ behind schedule, it’s a good day to be in Opposition.
If, however, the next day the Shadow Minister for Transport walks through the Lane Cove Tunnel to prove it is totally ready for traffic and only closed due to a fear of a public backlash while, at that very moment, a residents’ action group succeeds in collapsing yet another house into the Tunnel in front of all the national media, then congratulations, your Party has just achieved One Downmanship.
[On 22 March, the Labor Minister for Transport withdrew from the election because of ‘psychological trauma.’]
And so it was that on Election Day Saturday, 24 March 2007, New South Wales went to the ballot box and delivered a slight swing to State Labor because, according exit polls, ‘better the devil who knows how to make political hay than that other devil whose name we can’t remember.’
It will be fascinating to see the results of the 17 by-elections to be held in the coming months.
That is all for today. Next week we examine how, over 11 glorious years, the Labor Opposition raised the ‘No-Gainer’ concept to ever higher levels at the Federal level.
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