Monday, March 4, 2013

Caaanbra: Failure to Lose

Yesterday, Sky News Australia’s political guru Peter Van Onselen tweeted "No Liberal candidate is allowed to do national media until AFTER they are elected...inspiring stuff when govt traveling so badly." This comes just a couple of months after The Age reported that Liberal candidates had been urged to shut down their social media accounts.

I suspect that it's not just the candidates, but also the sitting Liberal members, and even their leader who is being censored. With just over six months until the Federal Election, what can you say about a campaign strategy that discourages any sniff of communication that hasn't been entirely pasteurised, homogenised and dare I suggest, scripted, approved, rehearsed, spray-tanned and botoxed by the Party Machine. It's an approach that stinks of a lack of trust in the leader, every sitting Liberal member and every Liberal candidate.

Think for a moment. The Liberal Party Campaign does not trust it’s own people to communicate its message...and yet it expects us to vote for them and trust them to run our country? Based on recent polls, we probably will vote for the Coalition in great enough numbers to see them form government, but that’s assuming that t here’s no game changer between now and the election.

So the Liberal plan looks clear enough. Be vewy vewy quiet, let the ALP trip over themselves, stoke the dislike of Julia Gillard in a series of carefully crafted media events, and wait for the country to vote against the ALP. Next Step: claim victory early in the evening of September 14.

It's the inevitable Claytons strategy. After all, how do you plan communications for a political campaign that's short on both policy and personality? Even the Silent Treatment is risky, particularly when it's difficult to keep the team quiet. If the Campaign can't trust the candidates to say the right thing, it's unlikely they can be trusted to say nothing.

Fopr example, it might be difficult to keep Andrew Laming quiet. Despite having been in parliament for nine years, those years have been eventful. There were enquiries about $67,000 worth of dubious printing costs, his claim to be a social media expert (versus the reality that his social media activities are often ill-considered) and last week’s revelations that he had included a shot of a man flashing his man-bits at the camera in his latest brochure. It seems that communication is not really his forte: that's dangerous for a politician.

Still, credit where credit is due. Mr Laming has not tweeted for 13 days. The same can’t be said for members of the shadow cabinet, who must be exempt from the ban on social media.

Meanwhile, two of the higher profile Liberal candidates are Mal Brough, who’s contesting Peter Slipper’s seat of Fisher, and Bill Glasson, who is taking on Kevin Rudd in Griffith. Neither of them of are tweeting, although Mal Brough does has a twitter account of sorts.

Social media isn’t the only perceived danger zone, though. Here in Griffith, I’ve heard almost nothing of Bill Glasson since he was announced as the Liberal Candidate for Kevin Rudd’s seat. Surely the Liberal executive must believe he has a chance to beat Mr Rudd; as a former head of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Glasson has name recognition already, and would be a good candidate for most seats – but Kevin Rudd has enormous loyalty and in the past year, has been an energetic and highly visible local member.

Despite the LNP directive, Bill Glasson appeared on Nine’s Today Show in mid February, and accused Mr Rudd of neglecting his electorate.

STEFANOVIC: He [Rudd] is 61% in the polls. He is 61% as the favourite PM. He’s been in that seat since 1998. He is always up there holding community gatherings. He is very busy in his local electorate. He hasn’t neglected them. You can’t win!
GLASSON: I can win, Karl! I can win. He has neglected his electorate, I am sorry. He’s just come back to re-find the electorate. I think he’s been using the electorate, in many respects, as a springboard for his own career and, as I said, as I move around and talk to the people of Griffith there is a significant mood for change.

It’s rare that I agree with Karl Stefanovic, but in this case, he is correct. If you’re in any doubt about just how much Mr Rudd does around Griffith, check out his Facebook page, where every appearance in the electorate is detailed, most with photographs. Perhaps Andrew Laming could take some lessons from @KRuddMP on how to use social media effectively.

Selections from Mr Rudd's Facebook page from the past few days
 Looking beyond the election, if the Liberals can keep their powder dry until September 14, what can we expect from a Liberal Prime Minister and Coalition Government? With his minders shielding him from serious political interviews, is it likely that Prime Minister Abbott – if that’s what happens – will be as open with the media as previous Prime Ministers?

Or will he continue to prepare for major public appearances with a script, fake tan and a comb-over? Will he agree to quick chats here and there, without becoming becoming silent and visibly shaking for well over a minute, because he needs to control his urge to bop his media opponent on the nose? Will he take questions during press conferences, or like George W Bush, will he read a scripted statement and then vacate the podium?

How much media freedom would Liberal ministers have? Last week Scott Morrison spoke his mind about asylum seekers in the community and Tony Abbott backed him, despite Morrison’s words being some of the most appalling sentiments ever expressed by a politician. Also last week, Joe Hockey couldn’t articulate his own party’s policies regarding compensation related to repealing the carbon tax, but he spoke anyway, and then had to clean up the mess he made. Poor Joe has been the subject of Liberal Party concern for years now. "Treasurer Hockey" might deliver the Budget, but will he be trusted to sell it?

Cory Bernardi is another worry - he virtually removed himself to the opposition backbench after revealing that his personal values are lightyears to the right of the Libs. Julie Bishop couldn’t be trusted to keep the contents of confidential security briefings to herself. Christopher Pyne can always be counted on to say something ridiculous, and of course, Andrew Laming is never far from some kind of stupidity. Just give him an ipad, a twitter account and a spare half hour and he can get busy insulting people all over the country.

Despite all of that, I have more fundamental concerns as a voter, and for the voters of Australia. Is it acceptable that some of our politicians and candidates are being discouraged from speaking to the voters? No-one says they have to communicate with their electorates, but it's usually considered a big part of the job of campaigning and governing. This bizarre strategy might see the Coalition take power, but is it a win? Or is it just a failure to lose?

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