Paul Bongiorno: Media echo chambers added to Liberals losing touch with voters

by Paul Bongiorno

One thing is very clear coming out of the weekend Victorian election and following on from the federal poll in May: Both major parties are losing traditional support, but the Liberals are more out of touch with mainstream voters.

In the overheated and at time vicious campaign against the Andrews Labor government the exact opposite impression was created.

The state’s biggest-selling newspaper, Murdoch’s Herald Sun, according to former Labor premier Steve Bracks, ran more than 150 negative stories including hysterical front pages promoting bizarre conspiracy theories against the Premier.

As it turns out the Liberals’ best friends in the media proved to have been their worst enemies – leading them down a dead end of championing minority grievance.

What we saw in Victoria and to a lesser extent nationally was the failure of American style Republican Party politics that seeks to weaponise and mobilise the zealotry of loud fringe groups against their opponents.

They do this in the US because the passion of these people means they are much more motivated to get out and vote.

Conservative echo chambers

The huge difference between the United States and Australia is compulsory voting at state and federal levels.

This filters out much of the noise of loud extremist minorities like the anti-vaccine freedom movement or the religious right with its homophobia and narrow anti-abortion views.

But what it does not do is moderate the business model of media conglomerates in subscription television and commercial radio, but also for print media platforms.

There is still a dollar to be made as an echo chamber and amplifier for the more conservative and even extreme right elements in the community.

These voters are more than happy to pay to have their delusions re-enforced that they are the silent majority.

The marriage equality plebiscite was a wake-up call for them, as was last Saturday in Victoria.

Though having that message heard, thanks to infiltration of the Liberal and National parties by the Christian right in Victoria and elsewhere, will be a very hard ask.

It has been a major factor in the sort of unappealing candidates who won pre-selection and who caused Matthew Guy so much embarrassment in the last weeks of the campaign.

Top-to-bottom shakeup

Liberal progressive moderate John Pesutto – battling to regain his seat in Hawthorn – needs no convincing.  He says the party needs a top-to-bottom shakeup, and needs to be more in touch with the sort of voters who deserted it in its safest seats last May and who did not rush back in droves at the weekend.

Moderate Liberal John Pesutto says the party needs a top-to-bottom shakeup.

The Victorian election did see a third of the primary vote desert the major parties; an amber light for Labor as well, but preference flows confirmed that the electorate more generally is becoming progressive, not a complete surprise in Victoria but a repeat of the trend at the federal election and an omen for New South Wales next March.

Anthony Albanese told ABC radio in Melbourne that the “Liberals have failed to come to terms with modern Australia”.

The Prime Minister cited women’s representation and constitutional recognition for First Nations people, and said Daniel Andrews represents commitment to the “inclusive society” of these issues.

Mr Albanese said Peter Dutton seems “incapable” of supporting the Voice which has “overwhelming public support”.

That support will be sorely tested now that the Nationals – outspoken opponents in the past of native title and then marriage equality – have come out against the Voice.

Mr Albanese wanted bipartisan backing and still hasn’t given up hope, but it seems the best he will get is a conscience vote for the Liberals when the referendum’s enabling legislation comes before the Parliament.

Mr Dutton’s plea that he is waiting for more detail before he shows his hand is seen in government ranks as disingenuous cover for his opposition to the referendum.

“If he backed recognition, he would be putting forward his own details for consideration” was the exasperated comment of one government insider.

If, as expected, Mr Dutton says “no”, it will be another major issue that will distinguish the Liberals from the teal independents in their hitherto safe seats.

Zali Steggall, who snatched Warringah from former prime minister Tony Abbott, has introduced a private member’s bill to “stop the lies” by opponents of constitutional recognition, and is urging the government to support her.

Before that, Mr Albanese has set a test for all sides of the house with cabinet’s decision to move a censure motion this week against former prime minister Scott Morrison’s secret ministries.

You would think nothing less is appropriate.

Few can disagree that Mr Morrison’s behaviour, as the Bell inquiry found, “fundamentally undermined the principles of responsible government”, and should be roundly condemned by the very parliament he treated with such dangerous contempt.

Mr Dutton thinks the censure is “a stunt” and won’t be supporting it – just another example of an incapacity of the Liberals and Nationals to break with their losing ways.