The Politics    Monday, October 19, 2015

The time traveler

By Michael Lucy

The time traveler
Eric Abetz claims the media is out of touch, but he’s the one at odds with the 21st century

If you had read a print copy of the Australian this morning you would have seen, at the top of page one where some news traditionally sits, an exclusive interview with Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz under the headline “Godless Left gets clear run as media mocks Christian Right: Abetz”. In the interview Abetz, who was employment minister in Tony Abbott’s cabinet before Malcolm Turnbull gave him the flick, complains at some length about media coverage of Abbott, John Howard, and other Christian and conservative politicians.

Abetz, like Abbott himself, seems to think that Abbott’s main problem was a failure to “sell his message”, for which the media is largely responsible. (In forming this view, Abetz seems to have watched an episode of Lateline and counted the number of times – 33 – that Tony Jones interrupted Joe Hockey.) More generally, he complains that policies such as ending the carbon tax and “stopping the boats” have not been covered fairly, and that he has been referred to as “from the religious right” but talk of “the godless left” is nonexistent.

So Abetz’ reason for giving the interview seems clear enough: he’s feeling bitter and wanted to let off steam to the only paper in the country that would give his outburst the weight he felt it deserved. But do his complaints have any substance?

The press gallery is a common object of criticism for politicians and politics-watchers alike, because so much of what the latter sees of the former is refracted through it. The criticism varies depending on your angle of observation, of course: one person’s ristretto-sipping urbanista who doesn’t understand the Real Australia is another’s political-class hack who has been bought off with a little access and the odd exclusive.

These common criticisms are not crazy, in the sense that journalists as a group – like farmers, or lawyers, or nurses – do tend have things in common, and Canberra-based journalists who spend their lives reporting on politicians have even more in common. But it’s also true that we still have some diversity in our newspaper ownership, and hence in their views – the News papers will tend to support the Coalition, the Fairfax ones will lean Laborwards, and the recent interlopers at the Guardian will hover near the Greens. The issues on which all the journalists agree tend to be the ones one which all the politicians also agree.

So if, as Abetz complains, the ABC and others don’t give his views sufficient respect, it’s not necessarily a sign of radical left-wing bias. It might be because his views are not widely held, and they are widely derided. Most news outlets don’t give a lot of time to people who call for the overthrow of capitalism, either, or to anti-vaccine zealots.

Abetz says that the “groupthink” of political journalists has become more pronounced over the course of his 20 years in parliament. It’s more fair to say that those decades have seen a lot of social upheaval in Australia, and that the range of “reasonable” views has shifted in that time. The senator’s views apparently have not, and he doesn’t realise how far out on the fringes he now sits. For most Australians, questions like the reality of climate change and the reasonableness of same-sex marriage are not contentious any more. They are questions that have been answered, and no amount of fuming from the senator can gripe those answers away.


Today’s links

  • The saga of the Somali refugee who says she was raped and impregnated on Nauru continues, as she claims that immigration minister Peter Dutton is telling lies. Dutton has produced further details.
  • Julie Bishop is talking up the importance of human rights and the Australian Human Rights Commission.
  • If you’re into polls, the latest Fairfax-Ipsos is a doozy. Turnbull is up 67-21 as preferred PM, with the Coalition up 53-47 on a two-party preferred vote. (Side note: Who are these people who will vote Labor but would prefer Turnbull as PM? You don’t get separate votes on these issues, folks.)
  • Joe Hockey has indicated he will resign later this week, which means there may be a byelection before Christmas.
  • In Senate estimates, questions were asked about a marble table that may have been broken during Tony Abbott’s farewell drinks

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Michael Lucy

Michael Lucy is a writer based in Melbourne.


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