Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Family Assistance

What did you learn during the Easter break? If you read the papers, you probably learned that Tony Abbott's daughters love their father, and Tom Waterhouse's mother loves her son. I'd like to thank News Limited for sharing both of these pieces of breaking news with their readership. It's important not to take even the most brain-numbingly obvious relationships for granted.

The whole Tom Waterhouse persecution story simply too silly too pursue. In summary, a grown man with a multi-million dollar business is attracting negative attention because the multi-million business in question is gambling and Mr Waterhouse's profile is ubiquitous. Everyone from Mummy Bloggers to politicians is concerned about the amount of screen time Tom Waterhouse commands as his polished voice gives sports viewers the latest odds on the horses, the footy and anything else that can be wagered upon.

It’s a serious issue which has been creeping into our media during the last few years. A mention of the odds here and there goes almost un-noticed until it starts happening more and more…and suddenly, the insidious incursion of gambling promotion into our family viewing time has a name and a face. It is Tom Waterhouse, with his clean-cut young-man-about-town appeal, his fine cotton shirts and ties and his infamous surname, all bundled together with some brilliantly strong branding - he almost owns the colour teal these days.

Tom is also his own worst enemy. I hate to think what his media budget must be. All of those paid television ads, in combination with neat little deals that see him on screen with the sports commentators, adding his brand of gambling-commentary to the soundtrack. The problem is that the sheer volume of ads and personal appearances on sports telecasts is what has got him noticed. He may have avoided the 'over-exposed' tag had he run a more subtle campaign.

Meanwhile, out here where reality bites hardest, Australians struggle with a gambling culture that rates as one of the worst in the world. We have banned the advertising of cigarettes at sporting events and on television. We have regulated the advertising of liquor. It seems gambling goes untouched. We don’t seem to care about preventing gambling addiction; we just make well-meaning though under-resourced attempts to mop up at the other end. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

And some of us are. Peter FitzSimons, himself a former sports star and now successful author, found the simplest of truths:

…instead of having the tagline of ''I was born to bet,'' it should have been ''I was born to take money off mugs who bet.
Poor young Tom has been copping criticism for months, since his profile during some broadcasts became more memorable than the game or event itself. That's a problem so serious for Tom that his horse-training mother Gai has splashed herself across the front pages, begging readers to stop picking on her darling boy, and promoting her son as a genuine commentator and lover of sports.
No, Mrs Waterhouse. Your son is promoting his business. The family business.

Like so many others, I would've have preferred that those column inches were devoted to covering gambling as the crippling national epidemic that it is. The simple fact that enough of us are disturbed by the Waterhouse gambling factory to have caused Gai to defend her baby boy suggests that gambling in Australia is an issue that warrants front page coverage.

Unsurprisingly, News Limited got the right story from the wrong angle. The only thing to surprise me more is that the online version of the story appears surrounded by TAB ads. In fact, there are no other advertisers on the screen at all.

Which brings us to two of Tony Abbott's daughters who are speaking out on controversial political issues. Bridget and Frances Abbott have confirmed their support for marriage equality, despite their father's unwillingness to deviate from the party line. Those opposed to same sex marriage must be relieved to know that neither one of the Abbott Girls interviewed have been elected, and seem to have no influence over their father.

So why is the Murdoch press splashing this utter non-story? Why does the story exist in the first place?
Somehow I doubt that the two Abbott girls approached media to state their positions on same sex marriage, regardless of how hurt they may have been when their father was branded a misogynist last year. It’s far more likely that this lovely little piece of PR was dreamed up by the communications team at Liberal HQ. They seem to like using the women in Mr Abbott's life, including Margie, the three daughters, and Chief of Staff Peta Credlin. And why not? From the outside, if you discount the fact that it's irrelevant, the story looks like a win-win for the Libs

It links the Liberals to a story about support for same sex marriage (even though their position hasn’t changed)
  • It marks Tony Abbott as a man who is comfortable disagreeing with women while still respecting them
  • It dilutes the perception that Tony Abbott’s robust Catholicism will dictate his policy decisions on certain issues
  • It’s certainly not a win-win for Frances and Bridget, who are being used as part of their father’s political campaign. Sure, they may have agreed to it, may have been eager to help their father, yet there are consequences. By allowing themselves to become media figures, they allow themselves to be ‘fair game’. They don’t control the media, and the media will be more than happy to use two attractive girls who just happen to be related to someone important: look what they did to Pippa Middleton.

    I honestly can’t remember a time when the family of an Australian politician has had such a media profile as the girls are developing. It could be that they add an attractive, youthful element to the Liberal brand, but I doubt it. There were a handful of shots of Penny Wong and her baby, and a generation ago, Hazel Hawke and Margaret Whitlam had public profiles, but I don’t even remember Mrs Janette Howard making the news over her views on social reform. Surely the opinions of the family of a politician are irrelevant, even if given freely?
    So responsibility for this story must be shared between News Limited and the Liberal campaign team. Get used to it, Australia. Frankly, I feel sorry for Bridget and Frances. At 21, they don't realise what they're in for.

    I have no sympathy for Gai Waterhouse or her son. Both Gai and her son Tom come from privileged stock, and have run into challenges as a result of their career choices. Gai overcame hers by force of will and was eventually granted the trainers licence she had been denied when her husband was implicaated in the Fine Cotton scandal.We're yet to see whether Tom has the strength and determination to see this through.

    Personally, I hope he doesn't.

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