Saturday, August 03, 2002

Will some kind person tell Hugh Mackay to shut up and go away? For a man who makes his living by being in touch with community thinking, he must be either not reading his own reports, creating his assumptions from whole cloth, or wilfully distorting what he’s hearing in his precious focus groups.

He tries to get this old nag to gallop
Exactly one year ago, the Howard Government was on the ropes, having been mugged by voters' resistance to the GST and by the hostility of business to the complexity of its implementation. Howard was beginning to look like a liability.

A quick check of Newspoll
for July 27-29 2001, the most reliable poll extant exactly one year ago, shows Prime Minister John Howard’s Coalition leading the Opposition 43 to 39, and Howard with a 7 point lead as preferred Prime Minister. In March, the Opposition was ahead by 12 points. So Mackay’s man “on the ropes” and looking like a liability had managed a 14 point turnaround in four months. Mackay is not indulging in a spot of distortion, this is simple untruth.

Then there’s the trick of linking two conclusions together without a shred of evidence
He is widely and extravagantly praised for three qualities that have always been seen as characteristic of him, but are now cited as veritable virtues: toughness, persistence and political cleverness.
Let's be clear what this is about. Bombarded with propaganda about a "crisis" involving a potential flood of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan - most of them Muslims and some of them possibly even terrorists - voters have rallied behind Howard and his Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock.

Toughness, persistence and political cleverness. He could be describing Paul Keating. Back at Newspoll, we see that by 5-7 October, Howard had indeed surged ahead in the “decisive and strong” polling. He was also leading strongly in understanding the major issues, and having a vision for Australia. Yes, that “vision thing”, Hughboy. Oddly enough, for a politician Mackay decries as populist and tapping in to base racism, Howard was losing on “in touch with voters”, “likeable” and “cares for people”.

But here’s the one that Mackay really doesn’t want to know about. By 5-7 October, Howard was ahead as “best able to handle the economy" 58 to 23. A 35 point spread. And under “best able to handle national security”, he had it 56 to 24. And this in a time when terrorist attacks on Australian soil were a very real possibility, and against an opponent who was a former Defence Minister.
So the surge of support for Howard … has been based firmly on his Government's handling of the detention of asylum seekers and its almost hysterical emphasis on border protection. If you've been puzzled about this, simply replace "border" with "Howard" in the phrase "border protection", and it all makes sense.

Certainly not on any of those side issues like 6% home loans, falling unemployment, support for popular allies and the failure of the GST to cause Sydney to slide into the sea. No, it’s all based on racism, fear and “hysterical emphasis on border protection”.

I wonder if Mackay would have written the same article had the ALP won the election. Given that the then Leader of the Opposition proudly stated that there was only a “cigarette paper’s difference” between his party and Howard's on border protection. Try this: simply replace “Beazley” with “Howard” in Mackay’s piece, and you’ll know if it’s likely. Or even possible.

[people] might prefer a little more inspiration, vision and statesmanship, but, in a crisis, they'll settle for toughness.

As Newspoll shows, voters think Howard delivers all three.

He limps toward the end, with more rubbish
The dark side of the present situation is that by engaging in the politics of fear - blatantly manipulating propaganda about asylum seekers to dehumanise them and heighten our hostility towards them - Howard and his colleagues have given us permission to sink to new depths of intolerance and prejudice. When we are encouraged to pillory the refugee, other prejudices are also unleashed: anti-Asian, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-Aborigine

In Mackay’s universe, a Government can be simultaneously anti-immigration, and have the highest immigration intake in a decade. It can be anti-Muslim, and see huge swings towards them in strong Muslim seats. The country can sink to new depths, and still rank in the top five places to live in the world.

Why won’t he just shut up?
We'll ultimately feel worse about ourselves as a result of all this because we are denying expression to some of the most noble values that lie within our culture. Yes, the rehabilitation of Howard has been achieved, but have we paid too high a price for it?

No examples, no ideas, no solutions. Just carping and cant from an aging whiner who has forgotten that old-style journalists who assume their readers can't fact-check their arse are in for a rude shock.

Just Go Away Hugh.

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