Week three of the campaign: Coalition surprised by Solomon Islands security deal and the election campaign takes a presidential turn
For the first time in the election campaign we this week saw foreign policy and climate change stumble onto front pages and into TV and radio bulletins.
In large part the reports were of hastily contrived and ungainly tit-for-tat political sniping run through the media, rather than measured debates.
But there was nothing contrived about the booming annual inflation rate of 5.1 per cent revealed Wednesday, and the equally weighty expectation the Reserve Bank will increase interest rates when its board meets this coming Tuesday.
The inflation outcome was so stark even the Coalition’s friendliest news outlets didn’t attempt to soften the blow and the flow-on criticism of Scott Morrison’s handling of the issue.
The Daily Telegraph on Thursday calculated a 0.4 per cent rise in interest charges would add around AU$200 a month to the average NSW mortgage repayment if passed on by banks.
This mid-campaign addition to widely reported growth in household bills and the stunted movement of wages rattled the Coalition’s boasts of economic management proficiency.
On Thursday, The Sydney Morning Herald acknowledged multiple factors, such as the war in Ukraine, caused the inflation jump.
“But presiding over the price rise makes it harder for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to claim that he has delivered longterm prosperity,” said The Herald‘s editorial.
Morrison’s ‘bluster’ over China-Solomon Islands deal
There was little media unanimity earlier in the week after the government appeared surprised the Solomon Islands had signed a security deal with China, sparking fears it could lead to Beijing installing a military base within missile range of Australian capital cities.
With foreign policy shortcomings dramatically exposed, Scott Morrison launched a political distraction by claiming Labor deputy leader Richard Marles had been excessively chummy with the Chinese leadership during a Beijing visit in 2019.
Reinforcing the diversion attempt, Mr Morrison escalated rhetoric to show he was no Beijing chum by warning a red line on Chinese military expansion had been drawn by him.
In significant sections of the media this ploy crash landed.
The Australian’s Greg Sheridan wrote of Morrison “bluster” and risk of mockery, and asked: “What possible adverse consequences could Australia impose on China?”
News chatter spread to policy for the Pacific basin with Labor in part wanting extra money for the ABC to revive Radio Australia services which had its funding cut by the Coalition government in 2014.
Mr Morrison was unimpressed.
“I mean, it’s farcical, when their answer to solving the Solomon Islands problem is to have Q+A in Honiara,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.
It might have seemed a ripper of a zinger at the morning campaign briefing but Mr Morrison’s flippancy was quickly seen on social media as ignorance of the Radio Australia role and a sign of desperation.
Next, the Coalition had to deal with damaging comments from LNP Senator Matt Canavan — who is standing for re-election in Queensland — that the Morrison pledge of net zero emissions by 2050 was “dead” and “all over bar the shouting”.
Watching from home was Anthony Albanese, cloistered with Covid for a week.
On Tuesday he also spoke on Sydney’s 2GB where he was asked — ordered by the shock jock, actually — to vow not to introduce a carbon tax if elected prime minister. He complied.
That was enough for a carbon tax scare to be mobilised in media circles as senior Liberals worked to smother the Canavan controversy.
Mr Albanese’s retreat from personal appearances encouraged speculation as to the political consequences.
Campaign turns presidential
Assessments of the character and competence of the two party leaders have become such constants in reporting of the campaign it is as if they were presidential candidates.
Media speculation ranged from suggestions he was such a poor campaigner Labor would benefit from him being out of the spotlight, to views this was a Labor opportunity to better display others in the leadership team.
However, analysis in The Sydney Morning Herald argued the Labor campaign was concentrating on a core group of shadow ministers and freezing out figures, including Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Ed Husic.
A variation was the gushing over Labor campaign spokesman Jason Clare whose delivery of a press conference was compared to the performance of his leader.
“After two weeks of shouty, stumble-prone performances by Mr Albanese, Mr Clare was calm and considered. He quipped and jabbed and, in the process, delivered something of a reset for the Labor campaign,” wrote a reporter in The Australian.
However, a Sunday Herald Sun survey found 65 per cent of voters thought ‘Albo in iso’ wouldn’t affect Labor’s election chances.
This finding might have been provoked by a broad voter dissatisfaction with the prime-ministerial options from both camps.
On Tuesday The Australian Financial Review reported findings of an Ipsos survey: “Both Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese are tied at a record low 42 per cent in terms of overall competency, the lowest level for a Prime Minister and Opposition Leader in 27 years.”
Also on Tuesday The Australian published the latest Newspoll with a presidential emphasis in this early headline: “Morrison builds lead over Albanese.”
Mr Morrison was rated higher as preferred Prime Minister, despite a drop in personal approval.
Not until well into the article a reference to voting intentions was revealed: “Based on this poll, Labor would secure majority government.”
A later headline eased the presidential approach and read: “ALP in front but PM lifts his ratings.”
Episode 1: Get your go-bag ready
April 6, 2022
Episode 2: Hire me, please
April 12, 2022
Episode 3: Press pack mentality
April 20, 2022
Bonus Episode: Tory Maguire, executive editor, The SMH and The Age
April 21, 2022
Episode 4: Positively negative campaigning
April 26, 2022
Bonus Episode: Anthony De Ceglie, Editor in Chief, The West Australian
April 28, 2022
Inside the Media Scum
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