Pub test: Helloworld
They’re paying attention, but scandal fatigue set in long ago
They’re not “Bob and Beryl Stringbag of suburbia” [$], but the drinkers at the North Sydney Hotel are fully aware of the Helloworld disaster that sucked up any momentum the Coalition hoped to gain out of a border protection scare campaign this week. The furore surrounding the delightfully named Helloworld – forever reminiscent of “golden tonsils” John Laws – resonates in Liberal heartland, where even a paid-up party member agrees it is “not a good look … at all”. Depressingly, however, on a straw poll, it makes no difference to how people intend to vote. There is zero surprise here that a senior cabinet minister like Mathias Cormann might forget to pay for some free travel, or that Australian ambassador to the US Joe Hockey, himself a former treasurer and former local member for the seat of North Sydney, might arrange a pitch meeting with a company he is a major shareholder in, and not disclose it until later. One side of politics might be embroiled in scandal this week; next week it will be the other.
“Typical political bullshit. The current mob of politicians aren’t worth a cent [of] what they’re actually being paid,” says Sean, 70, who has retired from the IT industry. “I did a massive amount of company travel. I had to account for every single cent that I spent. I was travelling four to five months, interstate or internationally, to every part of the globe. I know exactly how it works.” Sean voted Liberal in 2016, but given Bennelong is so safe he’ll probably vote informally this election. There is no sign of a strong independent here, a corollary to Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth, Zali Steggall in Warringah, Oliver Yates in Kooyong or Julia Banks in Flinders.
Stewart, 44, in property funds management, lives in Bennelong, is a paid-up member of the Liberal Party and acknowledges that Helloworld is problematic. “I’m not happy about it … When there’s common interests like that in any business, you just want disclosure put up … Is there fair competition there for other travel agencies?” Given contested reports that the CEO of Helloworld told his junior that “Hockey owes me”, says Stewart, “It doesn’t look good, does it? At all! [But then] hanging out with the finance minister smoking cigars doesn’t look good either.” He still reckons that the Coalition can win, of course. “It’s one politician, I still believe in the party.”
Caroline, 34, who actually lives in the Wentworth electorate, saw the Helloworld headlines and thought, “Ugh … I find this stuff so tedious and frustrating that I don’t engage in that kind of story very much. I was interested in the boats. I was a bit interested in Julie [Bishop, who resigned this week], but I wasn’t interested in that. I feel like most of the public are so maxed out with these same stories of dirt and deceit that it doesn’t really bother anyone … It’s just another black mark, but it’s arbitrary who’s going to get a black mark.” What Caroline, from Paddington, cares about is asylum seekers and the environment. She voted independent at the by-election – with her preference going to Phelps – and she will again next time. Her drinking buddy, Yiorgos, 37, is a construction manager from New Zealand, and has watched as Helloworld unfolds. “I’m cynical,” he says of Cormann’s free travel. “I just don’t think it will necessarily influence readers of the Telegraph. It doesn’t look good … I go to the pub, it definitely doesn’t pass my pub test, but I don’t speak to the average pub patron.”
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
They’re not “Bob and Beryl Stringbag of suburbia” [$], but the drinkers at the North Sydney Hotel are fully aware of the Helloworld disaster that sucked up any momentum the Coalition hoped to gain out of a border protection scare campaign this week. The furore surrounding the delightfully named Helloworld – forever reminiscent of “golden tonsils” John Laws – resonates in Liberal heartland, where even a paid-up party member agrees it is “not a good look … at all”. Depressingly, however, on a straw poll, it makes no difference to how people intend to vote. There is zero surprise here that a senior cabinet minister like Mathias Cormann might forget to pay for some free travel, or that Australian ambassador to the US Joe Hockey, himself a former treasurer and former local...