Friday, September 15, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly


Apathy killed the radio star
The PM is trying to reach voters – but what if voters can’t be reached?

Supplied by ABC News

One of the recent shifts in Malcolm Turnbull’s approach to politics has been a greater focus on FM radio. Jodie and Soda, Fitzy and Wippa, Jonesy and Amanda, and Hughesy and Kate are just a few of the FM hosts who have been given a chance to bend the PM’s ear.

“Doing the FMs” is usually seen as a way of reaching young people, and while that’s true, it’s also the case that people across a whole range of ages listen in to FM. If you look at the actual stations the PM has been targeting, it’s clear he’s trying to extend his reach more broadly. No surprise, then, that it’s been a part of a wider media push; talkback and the ABC have not been neglected.

Still, Turnbull does have a particular message that he needs young people to hear, and I suspect that’s a big part of the reason. Bill Shorten has been shouting his support for same-sex marriage from the rooftops for months now. Turnbull, who will also vote Yes, has been occupied with all of the administrative bits of marriage law: legislation, plebiscites, internal party politics, postal plebiscites. If you weren’t really paying attention you could easily forget his own views on the matter.

And so with younger people, many of whom can’t believe this is even an issue, Turnbull’s team will have figured out that it is crucial that he get out there and make his view known. He can’t afford for Shorten to own this issue, or for Shorten to be the only politician to benefit from a likely Yes result.

It might, at a glance, seem curious, then, that Turnbull has repeatedly rejected Shorten’s suggestion that they write a joint letter to Australian households urging a vote for Yes.

Personally, I suspect that Turnbull might be on to something here.

Firstly, it would look a bit silly. Here we are, holding a national vote on marriage at a cost of $100 million odd, and a) our government wants to spend more money on another mailout and b) the two leaders of the major parties agree? Why couldn’t they just bloody vote on it then?

Given that Turnbull wants the plebiscite, or says he does, and Shorten is against it, the PM would come out of this the worse. That’s the cynical political reason.

There’s a better reason, though, and it’s this: voters, at this point in history, absolutely despise politicians.

We know this. Trust in politicians is at historic lows. Belief in democracy is at historic lows.

And so, I can’t help but feel that Turnbull might be right in deciding a joint letter might not be the best way to win voters over. You can see how it might be counterproductive: why are these clowns spending my cash to tell me how to vote?

Encouraging voters to vote a certain way while doing media is very different from shooting them a formal letter, signed by not one but two unpopular politicians.

The last few weeks give us some sense of why politicians are so on the nose.

For the past fortnight, Fairfax has treated us to a series of revelations about another former Liberal minister, Stuart Robert. Turns out, he may have been elected to parliament in breach of the Constitution, given that it appears he may have had financial links with a company making a motza out of government contracts. This week there were new allegations he was effectively running a private investment company that held shares in the original company he denied any involvement in. The corporate regulator, ASIC, is making inquiries.

In early August, the ABC revealed that former Liberal minister Bruce Billson was being paid a salary by a business lobby group while he was still in parliament. A few weeks ago it was announced that a parliamentary committee would investigate whether Billson acted in contempt of parliament.

This week it emerged that a current Liberal minister, Michaelia Cash, appointed Nigel Hadgkiss as head of the Building and Construction Commission when she knew he was facing allegations that he had broken the law. Hadgkiss resigned on Wednesday. Cash is now facing questions about when she first learned of the allegations.

My point is not that these are massive scandals. My point is that they’re not. How many voters will have heard of even one of them? And yet, each involves very serious matters, facts that should make us question how well our democracy is working. Instead, we barely bat an eyelid.

The prime minister can do all the FM radios he likes, but until he figures out how to begin the process of reversing this bitter disillusionment, he’ll be yelling into the wind.

With thanks today to Alexander Brisbane, my editor this year who is departing for greener pastures, and who regularly makes me look better than I deserve.


BOOKS

What can’t be said in ‘Conversations with Friends’

The protagonists of Sally Rooney’s debut novel privilege irony over emotion

Helen Elliott

“The entire novel, 26-year-old Rooney’s first, is written in serrated, ironic conversations, either spoken or texts and instant messages prefaced by the speaker’s name. Everyday technological communication is seamlessly, brilliantly incorporated in this novel. It is important to keep in mind while reading that irony is the mechanism that delivers the speaker a clean detachment from emotion, so the truth of any feeling remains distant.” read on


ARCHIVE

Nope, nope, nope

Why Australia won’t help the Rohingya

Richard Cooke

“Our policy now is to advocate for the ‘front door’ while closing it, to emphasise humanitarian resettlement by reducing it, to save lives by driving people to self-harm, and to stop the flight of the persecuted by taking up the cause of the persecutors. Perhaps this refugee crisis is now too large to be solved. But if it can be, it will be in spite of our efforts, not because of them.” (August 2015) READ ON

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

@mrseankelly

 

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