Scott No Plan, Scott No Spin: Some Simple Media Advice For Anthony Albanese (Invoice To Follow)

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If you want to win an election at the end of a global pandemic that left your nation, comparatively, unmolested, then the standard Labor Party ‘playbook of spin and obfuscation’ is going to need some tweaking. Chris Graham helpfully weighs in.

Overnight, the Leader of the Opposition decided to venture where Opposition Leaders whose ‘leading is unappreciated’ really shouldn’t go… Laura Tingle, on ABC’s 7:30 program.

But sure enough, Anthony Albanese popped his head up last night, smiling like a man certain that he needed to appear to be smiling like a man who was certain of his future. And then, as you might expect, it all went to hell in a hand-basket, really quite quickly as it turned out.

Just a few minutes into the interview, in response to a question from Tingle, Albanese decided to remove any doubt in the minds of his critics about whether or not he should be leading his party to the next election, a scenario which will almost certainly occur later this year if Prime Minister Scott Morrison has any sense.

ABC journalist and Walkley Award winning political reporter, Laura Tingle. (IMAGE: Screencap, ABC 7:30)

Over to Laura Tingle: “Did you let Scott Morrison get away from you? I mean, his nett approval rating compared to what it was after the bushfires last year has sky-rocketed and there’s now a big gap between the two of you?”

Cue what we in media management circles like to call ‘the quivering jowl’… followed closely by ‘the stunned mullet’… and then the ‘Kamikaze sound-bite’.

Albanese: “No, not at all. One of the things that we’ve seen is that because people during the pandemic had wanted leaders to succeed, of course, ah, that has led to an increase in their approval, because if they don’t succeed then people have been concerned about their health, and about their jobs, and their standard of living.”

Wow. Let’s see if we can break that down: People really wanted governments not to fuck shit up, and governments didn’t fuck shit up, so people were really happy about that and it made Scott Morrison more popular. Duh, Laura.

Albanese’s reply, obviously, is as confusing as it is stupid. It’s one thing to concede that your opposition did well. And in the case of the Morrison government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, Albanese should concede that, because the Morrison government mostly has handled it well.

But it’s another thing altogether to concede that without offering an explanation for why they did well… known in this media management circle as ‘The Jolly Green Giant Elephant In The Room That Is Also On Fire’. So here’s what Albanese should have said, as, you know, the Leader of the Opposition seeking to be an alternative to the incumbent.

‘Overall, I think the federal government did a good job managing the pandemic, just like all state and territory governments did. Compared to the rest of the world, we have fared extremely well, so far.

That’s an undeniable fact, and Scott Morrison – along with all state and territory leaders, Labor and Liberal – can and should be rightly proud of that fact. But it’s important for people to remember why Australia did so well.

For the first time in living memory, a Liberal-National government decided to listen to the science on a major issue confronting our nation.

I think Morrison did that in part because he was overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. But I think it was mostly because Morrison knew that unlike other challenges that play out over longer timespans, he would almost certainly still be around at the end of the pandemic to be held accountable for whatever he got wrong. That’s very rare in modern politics.

COVID-19 was a clear and present danger. Morrison deferred to the experts. So good on him and the LNP for finally doing their jobs, and listening to the scientific experts.

But that was ‘Scott Morrison of March 2020’. Let’s not forget ‘Scotty from Marketing of January 2020’, or ‘Scotty from Marketing of December 2019’, when he was holidaying in Hawaii while our nation burned, while his party was refusing to acknowledge that human-induced climate change played any part in the destruction.

That denial – that refusal to accept established science as the only sensible way out of the problems we’ve created for ourselves – is part of the DNA of the modern Liberal-National Party. It’s their default position.

Federal Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese. (IMAGE: Screencap, ABC 7:30, January 2021).

The next federal election will be about the future of our country, and how we emerge from a global crisis. There’s never been a more important election in our time.

But if anyone seriously believes that Scott Morrison and the Liberal-Nationals have had a ‘Road to Damascus moment’ – that they will now defer to the science for all future evidence-based policy – then they don’t really understand the depth of the LNP’s determination to ignore reality when it’s convenient.

I don’t want to sound insincere on this Laura – I genuinely believe Scott Morrison should be congratulated – along with all state and territory leaders – for their hard work and stewardship through one of the most challenging crises in living memory. They’ve done a good job.

In the Prime Minister’s case, I think that earns him the right to be heard by the nation about what his plans are for our future.

And the first question I would ask him is this: After a long, sobering year, what, if anything, has your party learned about embracing the science and listening to the experts on that other great, urgent challenge that confronts our nation.

You should ask him Laura, you should ask him if the LNP party-room has shifted one iota on the issue of accepting, let alone confronting, the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

And the answer is they haven’t. They haven’t shifted at all. If anything, I predict their position will harden, because they’ll use ‘economic recovery’ as a short-term excuse for getting back to the business of ignoring the science and the ‘inconvenient truth’ that is staring us all in the face, and scorching a land that they say they love.

Scott Morrison’s handling of the pandemic is a good legacy for any Prime Minister to leave – that should be acknowledged. But if we really do care about the future of this nation – if we care about the future of our children, our grandchildren – then we can’t afford to pretend that the LNP will forever more put the science first, and the politics second.

Because the simple fact is they won’t. As I said, science denial is part of the DNA of the modern LNP, and those beliefs are as virulent as the virus that forced them to briefly abandon them. But if you really believe they’ve changed Laura, then ask them how their policies have changed.’

Of course, the Labor Party’s leadership on climate change – or Aboriginal affairs, or worker’s rights, or any number of other issues – and it’s record of abandoning evidenced-based policy when it’s electorally convenient is similarly appalling. So the above is only intended to trick voters into forgetting that and winning an election. I.e. business as usual for the ALP.

You’re welcome. The invoice is in the mail.

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Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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