The system is broken, and one man is exploiting it for his own hard right ideology, writes Glenn Scott.
We have a monopoly problem in Australia. We’ve known about it for some time, but it never seemed that significant. As much as the monopolies seemed to control the narrative, the narrative appeared to reflect what Australia was truly thinking.
If you disagreed with the narrative, you could push back. News Corp, for one, was always on the right, but not on the extreme right. Perhaps it reflected your grandparents’ or parents’ views of things.
But now, the tide has changed. Murdoch has found the arrhythmia in the heart of democracy; it’s not about convincing all of the people all of the time, or some of the people all of the time. It’s about convincing a select few at the exact right moment.
It’s possible he discovered it during the Brexit fight, when the Leave campaign was taking illegal donations and misleading British citizens about the effects of Brexit. The British voted 51.9% for leave and 48.1% for remain. Opinion quickly shifted, but it was too late. The rollercoaster had started and now Theresa May sits at the front, unable to do anything except watch as the country rides the loops and turns. She doesn’t have the stomach to walk back up the tracks and get the ticket money back.
He had definitely discovered it by America’s 2016 presidential election. While Russia hacked emails, spread disinformation and routinely met with Trump campaign officials and Assange engaged in optimally timed releases of stolen emails, Murdoch’s flagship Fox News was running hard at every divisive issue it could.
An army of law and order Bush sycophants had happily turned into a battalion of far-fringe dwellers with white nationalist talking points and a soft perspective on Russian interference but a hard-line on email security.
The history of Fox News is well-known – Murdoch and Ailes weren’t after fair and balanced reporting, they were after social and political change. They filled the air with nonsense. Their work, the Russian interference and a few inopportune moments along the way led to three key states turning the election. Murdoch didn’t need 51.9% of the vote, he just needed 107,000 more votes across three states.
Clinton’s three million vote win didn’t matter if you won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Murdoch was again the beneficiary of a strategy that did not require convincing a majority of the fitness to lead of one of the most plainly unfit men in history.
And this brings us to the daylight coup of Scott Morrison. Suddenly, the Murdoch monopoly was talking about a spill. It seems that rumours of a spill only get loudest when News Corp starts yelling. As with the toppling of Rudd and Gillard, the discussion about whether there is a spill to be had becomes the spill.
We’ve now learnt directly about Murdoch’s hand in Morrison’s bloodletting. News Corp had been agitating on the issue for weeks. Murdoch flew into Australia. The pressure was on. The National Energy Guarantee was twisting in the wind. A fairly popular Prime Minister was suddenly beleaguered by Murdoch and coal lobbyists.
The very active fringe-dwellers in the party were suddenly boosted, convinced they had a dog in the fight. News Corp was agitating for an unpopular man with ongoing controversies about self-dealing with au pairs. A man who couldn’t survive an election if there wasn’t even another major party. They had a spill and Malcolm won.
It wasn’t over, News Corp cried. Try again. Surely News Corp was taking the temperature of the Australian people. Surely News Corp was not the hotplate under the discussion, but a fair reading of the existing heat.
And a small minority in the party switched sides. Enough to spill again. The party knew enough not to accept a Trump here, but perhaps Murdoch could convince them to accept Trump Lite over Trump Classic. And a slightly more palatable extremist stepped forward and carved out a slim majority.
While the rest of the country looked on, the opinion shifted. Not by a few percent, or a few hundred thousand in small but constitutionally important key states, but by a few people. Morrison won by the same margin as Turnbull.
News Corp moved on to new things. The spill was, of course, decisive. The same level of support for Turnbull wasn’t sufficient, but this was different.
And Morrison leaned hard on his similarities to Trump. The first call he made was to the man himself. He invited the individual responsible for the continuing decline in the international rules-based order for a visit. Morrison has since decided that he runs a religious, nationalist government with flag pins, prayers to stop droughts, ignorance of international obligations and preferential funding for Catholic schools.
He jokes about stopping the boats while children languish on Nauru and praises coal as our solution to the problems we have with coal. He makes regular pilgrimages to the elders at Sky News to pay tribute to their godliness.
Trumpism, or whatever it is that Murdoch believes in, had won in Australia. They wouldn’t have been able to do it had they put their argument to the Australian people. But now they’ve got reporting until May 2019 to convince us that the new status quo is acceptable.
Murdoch stole the Prime Ministership from us and has taught us one thing: our elections don’t make a spot of difference if Murdoch has enough control of the conversation to take a few stragglers in a party room. And because Murdoch has enough of a monopoly, and still controls the narrative, everyone has moved on from the fact our Prime Minister was changed for us by one man and his media empire.
We need better rules. Murdoch is a beast we need to control.
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