January 16, 2004

Media coverage Day 3 - Confusion

Merri Rose dominates today’s media coverage, as she was always going to do. The question is – who gets the advantage from this? Peter Beattie has been trying to use it for expectations management. The ABC says “he [Beattie] is still concerned that the resignation of Tourism Minister Merri Rose will be very damaging to his re-election chances.” This is echoed by Sean Parnell’s analysis piece in the CM “Beattie sinks in wake of Merri Rose”. In some ways, Merri Rose appears to be just what Beattie needed, a crisis to remind voters that he is not invulnerable, to give him some of that under-dog status. I’ll be interested to see whether voters really care about it when we start our polling .

The Australian accompanies its article with a photo of Beattie and Rose conferring as she apparently tells him the news at a campaign announcement yesterday. This is odd. How did The Australian’s photographer know to take this shot, and how can the reporter be sure what they were discussing, and why was it that the complainant knew at 5:00 the day before, but the Minister had to break it in such a public way to the Premier? There’s more than a little media management going on here.

Photos dominate the coverage. The Courier Mail’s photo is of a blurred, lonely and distressed looking Rose shot through a window with a glass of wine in front of her. The only object in focus in the photo is the wedding ring on her finger. Channel 10 took their camera behind the glass and shot footage of Rose swearing at someone who tried to join her, as well as her boyfriend being restrained. She gives a brief and not very coherent interview.

In an interesting opinion piece in the CM Mike Kaiser predicts that Beattie can’t lose the next election. This contradicts the Premier and helps the Opposition, not that the Opposition appear able to help themselves on this one. Their main pitch is that Rose should resign from Parliament, something which I don’t think reasonable people would support, when they should be honing their lines as to what this says about the Premier and the substance of his government.

Federal National Leader John Anderson appears to know what he is about. The ABC quotes show him tackling the way in which Beattie called the election. “you can't [fail to] fix problems, such as really serious and endemic mistreatment of children for six years, and then con people by saying somehow or other that's a pretext for an election," and "This has been a six year story of the victory of style over substance".

Merri Rose is a distraction for the Government, but she is also a distraction for the Opposition. By talking about her they fail to talk about the legitimacy of the whole election campaign itself. They are making the mistake of focusing on one episode for quick gratification from instant media coverage to the detriment of the thematic consistency of their argument.

Beattie gave them an opening for expanding on the “style over substance” theme when he promised $3.75 B for transport on the Gold Coast. The CM played it up on an inside page with a picture of Kristie Goulding a Griffith University student who appears to think it is a “vital initiative”. Closer examination showed that only $3M is new money.

The Opposition had a big policy of their own - a “Kids First” policy which will provide “Tough new measures to protect children, mandatory prison sentences for pedophiles and indefinite jail for sex offenders who fail to complete treatment programmes…”. Releasing the policy at this stage of the election is strangely at odds with their position yesterday that Families wasn’t an issue. Presumably their reasoning was that they should get it out of the road at this stage before wheeling out policies they hope will change votes.

A couple of small snippets reveal interesting undercurrents. The Police Union has announced that it will not campaign against the government. This is another indication that Beattie is traveling relatively well. One of the factors in the 1995 Coalition win was the police union campaign run in the Mundingburra by-election which many of us found to our horror after the election had been purchased by the infamous “Memorandum of Understanding” which would have seen a number of police commissioners sacked.

Another shows some friction between the National and Liberal Parties over the Magic Millions. Liberal Leader Bob Quinn quite properly thinks that taxpayer money shouldn’t be going to inflate the profits from a horse auction run by a couple of multi-millionaires – Gerry Harvey and John Singleton – and calls for the withdrawal of its $1 M taxpayer subsidy. Beattie warns him against attacking an “icon” and Springborg sides with the Premier.

A battle about fiscal responsibility is also being waged with Treasurer Terry Mackenroth accusing the Opposition of planning to spend $1.6 B, while revealing that Labor promises to spend the entire surplus of $450 M. Expect this one to fizzle. Not only is the public wary about these sorts of arguments, but they probably regard the Opposition as being that far from Government that it doesn’t really matter what they promise, it’s the effort that counts.

I’m still waiting for anyone to seriously look at the Green and Independent vote. While The Australian and The Courier Mail have stories writing One Nation off, that doesn’t mean that we are back to Tweedledum and Tweedledee two-party preferred politics. Again, I’ll be interested in what our focus groups tell us.

Posted by Graham at January 16, 2004 09:39 AM
Comments

My CM article didn't predict "Beattie can't lose". Of course, he can. Rather it sought to say that based on the state of politics and the progress of the campiagn to that point it was hard to see more than 10-14 seats at risk.

I shoudl add that I wrote the piece prior to Merri Rose's resignation. It's been a "weekus horribilus" for Labor.

Mike Kaiser

Posted by: Mike Kaiser at January 16, 2004 11:26 AM
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