Mission Accomplished: The Australian electorate may have believed they were getting rid of a dysfunctional Labor government, but media mogul Rupert Murdoch knows better. What the Australian election was really about was purging the welfare rolls and getting rid of thousands of public servants.
WITHIN MINUTES of Tony Abbott’s crushing election victory being confirmed, the Australian-born media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, tweeted. “Aust election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy.”
Is that really what the Australian election was all about? Did it really have nothing to do with the Australian people’s impatience with a Labor Government seemingly more interested in publicly disembowelling itself than governing wisely? Had Australian voters really forgiven Julia Gillard for reneging on her promise not to introduce a carbon tax? Did Australia’s perennial xenophobia really play no part in the outcome? Was Tony Abbott’s succinct injunction to “stop the boats” really without effect?
Former Labor prime minister, Bob Hawke, early on confided to his Sky News audience that: “I really believe this was an election that was lost by the government rather than one that was won by Tony Abbott.” As the grim tally of lost seats mounted, Labor politicians, both successful and unsuccessful, told reporters a very similar story. On the hustings, the message from constituents had been remarkably consistent: if voting for the Liberals was the only way to bring Labor to its senses, then, however reluctantly, that is what they were prepared to do.
What, then, are we to make of Mr Murdoch’s tweet? Why did the billionaire owner of nearly two-thirds of the Australian news media characterise Australian public servants and beneficiaries as metaphorical vampires sucking the life out of the Australian economy?
The idea that someone as wealthy and powerful as Rupert Murdoch might be driven by the same petty prejudices as the whinging cobber propping up the bar at the nearest RSL is unnerving. Much more reassuring is the notion that someone with Mr Murdoch’s resources is morally obliged to take a more detached and informed position on the challenges facing Australia.
Perhaps he knew something we didn’t.
Which is, of course, highly likely. The Murdoch Press, long the implacable foe of both Kevin Rudd’s and Julia Gillard’s Labor governments, undoubtedly expended considerable sums on opinion polling and focus groups. Under the right moderator, these latter can deliver information inaccessible to all but the old-fashioned party canvasser: the sort of unvarnished, uninhibited and spontaneously delivered expression of opinion that all-too-often eludes the professional opinion pollster.
Deep-seated antipathy to the poor and public servants almost certainly emerged from the research undertaken on Mr Murdoch’s behalf. And there is a good chance that these powerfully negative attitudes were present at both the top and the bottom of Australian society.
The working poor, and beneficiaries struggling to escape their situation, have no reason to love either the people they perceive to be “bludging” off their meagre incomes, or the public servants who exercise so much power over their own and their families’ daily lives. For these Australians the emotional connection between personal experience and political response is direct and visceral. Associating it with the name of a political party is a highly effective political tactic.
In the case of the wealthy, the hostility towards “public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers” arises out of a more complex series of calculations.
The “phoney welfare scroungers” are proxies for the much larger number of economically stressed Australians who might, with the right political inspiration, be persuaded to back an aggressive redistribution of wealth across Australian society. Forestalling such a move requires the wealthiest Australians to convince a majority of their fellow citizens that the poor and disadvantaged are responsible for their own misfortunes. They are lazy and live only for the moment and cannot, therefore, lay legitimate claim to the resources of their more diligent and self-disciplined neighbours.
That these “scroungers” are, nevertheless, allowed to gobble up so much of the Australian federal budget, the wealthy argue, is attributable to a “culture of entitlement” fostered by a parasitic class of intellectuals and activists located, overwhelmingly, in the public sector. What’s more, this “new class” of middle-class professionals and managers has become a law unto itself, funded by and lording it over the “productive sector” of Australian society. (A category which embraces not only the captains of Australian industry, but also the “battlers” of the hard-pressed Australian working-class.)
Following in the footsteps of the hard-line Republican Governors of American states like Wisconsin and Michigan, and David Cameron’s coalition government in the UK, Mr Murdoch’s tweet signals his expectation that Mr Abbott’s newly-elected government will safeguard the interests of people like himself by attacking the entitlement culture from both ends
First, by dramatically down-sizing the public sector. Second, by forcing beneficiaries off the welfare rolls.
The massive fiscal savings resulting from such a policy mean that the redistribution of wealth that would otherwise be required can be avoided.
In that triumphant tweet, Mr Murdoch let slip his real reasons for backing Mr Abbott.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 10 September 2013.