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Federal Election ’22: Debates, captain’s calls and culture wars

Week Two of the campaign: debates, captain’s calls and culture wars

Malcolm Farr
Malcolm Farr

A promise of policy combat this week blew some of the chaff out of news coverage of the federal election campaign.

The switch from gaffes to governance added weight to political reporting, a process which was reinforced by the first campaign debate between Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese before 100 uncommitted voters on Wednesday night.

Mr Albanese won by 40 votes to Mr Morrison’s 35, according to an audience poll. But 25 remained unimpressed by both leaders.

There was a distinct difference between the two leaders and the audience, going by the questions those voters tossed at Morrison and Albanese.

The two men talked a lot about economic management and the effort to increase wages. The questioners went elsewhere, including integrity in politics, the NDIS, and foreign policy — specifically the handling of the move into the Beijing sphere of influence by the Solomon Islands.

There was much and extended defining of the issues with detailed responses often absent.

Sky News airs first leaders’ debate

But no questions about slips-of-the-tongue or mangled statistics, a departure from the theme of coverage in the first week of the campaign.

Mistakes have continued to be made, but some have endured as being considered newsworthy and others have faded.

Anthony Albanese’s first-day clanger on the unemployment rate has the half-life of uranium, while Scott Morrison’s problems seem instantly perishable.

PM doubles down on support for captain’s pick candidate

Mr Morrison, who has told journalists that if not a politician he would be a pastor, took to the pulpit this week to put news outlets on his cultural straight and narrow.

The Sun-Herald, April 17, 2022

“We might not always agree, but when we disagree, it is important that we disagree better,” he told reporters, faintly echoing Tony Abbott’s 2012 plea for “a kinder, gentler polity”.

Mr Morrison was addressing coverage of Katherine Deves, his personal choice to stand for the Liberals in the Sydney seat of Warringah, Mr Abbott’s old seat is now held by independent Zali Steggall.

His call for better disagreement was a bid to ease criticism of Ms Deves from commentators including fellow NSW Liberals not satisfied she has abandoned hardline attacks on transgender men and women, although she has deleted and apologised for over-heated social media comments on the issue.

Increasingly it is being reported by news outlets that Ms Deves is highly unlikely to return Warringah to the Liberals, that the convulsion over her continued candidacy could weaken the party’s chances elsewhere, along with reminders she had been installed by Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, who both have sympathised for her views.

“There are ways she has expressed [her views] in the past that she no longer feels comfortable with,” said Mr Morrison in response to a growing number of reporters’ questions.

He argued that if elected Ms Deves would learn “what is a more respectful way to prosecute” their case.

“I’m not going to allow her to be silenced. I’m not going to allow her to be pushed aside as the pile-on comes in to try and silence her,” he said of the outspoken party colleague.

Disunity close to home for Morrison

News coverage of the controversy might have diminished as other issues gained importance, were it not for the anger of fellow Liberals aimed at Ms Deves and Mr Morrison. Disunity within a government party in the home state of the prime minister was newsworthy.

The Morrison forbearance of Ms Deves didn’t get much news traction and was swiftly overtaken by the counter case presented by, among others, NSW Treasurer Matt Kean: “I do not believe she’s fit for office. I do not believe that she is aligned with the values of the Liberal Party,” he said on ABC Radio National.

That appeared to be the opinion driving The Sydney Morning Herald editorial which on Wednesday went in hard on Mr Morrisons’s support for the wounded Warringah contender.

“The Herald disagrees with the prime minister in the strongest possible terms,” it thundered.

“That the leader of a mainstream party in Australia that trumpets ‘the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples’ is willing to look the other way while Deves unfairly targets trans people is a stain on the party that will not be erased for some time.”

Which led to Mr Morrison on that day to declare a full culture war engagement, branding Ms Deves’ critics as agents of the forces of cancellation.

“But what I won’t allow is for those who are seeking to cancel Katherine simply because she has different views to them on the issue of women and girls in sport,” he said, effectively approving her raw-meat methods prosecuting her views.

“I think Australians are getting pretty fed up with having to walk on eggshells every day because they may or may not say something one day that’s going to upset someone.”

However, it seems the Liberal Party has been doing the silencing, according to news reports that she has been ordered to not speak in public and was absent from a Warringah voters’ forum attended by other candidates this week.

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

Inside the Media Scum

Have you ever wondered how and why journalists and editors cover elections the way they do? Don’t know your doorstops from your divisions? Have you ever wanted to be inside the media scrum to see what happens behind the scenes of the biggest media event and most consequential form of democracy in Australia?

During the 2022 federal election the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas will take you Inside the Media Scrum to give you an insider’s guide to how and why the media is covering the election the way they are.

Veteran journalist Malcolm Farr, who has covered every election since 1993 and has written on federal politics for publications across the media landscape, including The Australian, news.com.au, Crikey, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and more, will provide an eagle-eye view of the media during the campaign.

Amanda Copp, Political Reporter for the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia’s National Radio News, is covering her first federal election. She will be out on the road with the major parties and will provide a first-hand perspective of what it’s like reporting on a national election.

Each week Malcolm and Amanda will be filing stories, newsletters, video and podcasts to help you keep across the media in Federal Election 2022. So, sign up for the latest updates and follow JNI on social media to go Inside the Media Scrum.