Tonight I went to an event a Twitter in Sydney about the federal election, with an awesome panel including people from Fairfax (Tory Maguire), Sky (Laura Jayes), Nine (Chris Uhlman) , Buzzfeed (Alice Workman) and New York Times (Damien Cave). As well as awesome drinks, canapes and views, there was also an awesome discussion.
These are my raw notes from the night. A combination of interpretation and direct quotes. Hopefully I haven’t misquoted anyone. I was particularly taken by the observation about how lots of places are providing solutions to the problems the government isn’t introducing. What’s happening in your town/city which the rest of Australia could learn from?
TWITTER #AUSVOTES2019 LAUNCH
Fact: one quarter of the world’s population will go to an election this year, mostly in Asia.
A lot has happened since 2016, both in the media and politics, here and overseas. What’s the state of Australian political discource?
Laura – people don’t care about government debt, their own credit cards matter. Lots of journalists got it wrong in 2016. Don’t think polling is accurate. Focus groups don’t capture an accurate view.
Chris – change is the only constant, with media pitches to left and right have become more extreme. “Gated communities of the mind”. “Scream yourself hoarse discourse”.
Alice – is this a generational thing? Main users of Facebook in Australia are boomers. Clive Palmer’s online supporters are young trolls. All outside the AEC, and how normal political propaganda is authorised. Thinks those who enrolled in postal survey may change political engagement this time. Only three federal politicians are socially literate. Tim Watts, James McGrath, but mostly relying on the young political operatives. Liberal party logs all their doorknocking information, every issue for every house.
Damien – in the time since Trump’s election, what have journalists learned/done? Not convinced all of the media missed the story. NYT covered this, but not necessarily the most read items. How do they get to the audience they need to listen to? Too much reliance on data/polls. Lessons to be learned about how coverage can be too insular, and people don’t engage with coverage.
How do you stay in touch? How do you get outside the bubble?
Laura – doesn’t live in Canberra, family not engaged in politics at all, friendship also not engaged. Worked for Sky for 12 years and parents still don’t have Foxtel. Time where you have to stop, read fiction. You’ve got to go the places. Go to Warringah. Talk to people. It’s not an exact science. I make a million phone calls today to people outside politics. Getting perspective and having a life.
Chris – came to journalism quite late, was a security guard beforehand. During US election, went outside Washington to old coal town, Logan County. Learned from this the lesson you shouldn’t assume other people are stupid because they disagree with you. The more damage Trump does in Washington the more they (his supporters) sent him there to do.
Alice says Rob Harris knew Turnbull’s leadership over when he called a press conference during Ursain Bolt race.
Damien – spends a lot of time in small towns “where they’re finding solutions the rest of Australia can learn from”. There’s a risk for media in being so geographically concentrated in the cities.
Tory – spent two days in Port Macquarie after Oakeshot voted with Gillard, and couldn’t find any response who supported him in what he did. Spoke to hundreds.
Damien – interested in themes which speak to larger global issues eg: breakdown of major parties, inequality, climate change. NYT readers are curious about the world.
Alice says she doesn’t spend a lot of time online, except at work. Used to live in Canberra, moved back to Sydney. Only sitting weeks. Speaks to a lot of people not involved. “Engage with politics the level I need to”. Sits at work with people who report on entertainment. Says most Australians can only name five politicians. Buzzfeed audience is interested in politics, but other stuff too!
Damien – politics isn’t the only conversation people want to have in Australia. You learn a lot more about people outside of political conversations.
Tory – focus groups say they’re not interested in politics, but they are interested in political issues eg: health, transport.
Alice – people switch off because they feel their seat doesn’t matter.
Chris – the big issue is a loss of trust in all institutions that goes back to the enlightenment eg: royal commission into banks, churches. People want something and someone to believe in. Coalition’s economic narrative about economy growing – no one believes it. Labor’s message “Everything is going up except your wage”. People aren’t feeling the benefits of a growing economy. The government’s not doing things it should do eg: power. “The times will suit Bill Shorten”. Who can remember Abbot’s inquiry into the union movement, whereas everyone can remember the banking inquiry”. “People are driven by their emotions”. Shorten has a “Robin Hood argument going on”.
Laura – voters in 30s, 40s, 50s have never known a recession. Authenticity is one of the biggest things in this election. Lots of politicians out of touch on issues like climate change. She lives in Wentworth. Independents have an authenticity thing going on for them. Abbott – you love him or you hate him.
Tory – lots of independents who are straight out of central casting, except on the issue of climate change.
Alice – caro isn’t running, if you want to topple an incumbent, there’s got to be one clear candidate.
Tory – what is the mythical “middle Australia”?
Laura – hard to define, but elections are won in the middle. The liberal party has no idea who their base is.
Alice – internal liberal polling shows people hated turnbull, it’s power prices. The nationals want a scare campaign. The liberals won’t support it.
Laura – the nats will lose seats they’ve held forever.
Chris – we’re always in search of the middle. Compulsory voting forces people to the centre. The coalition has moved so far to the right it can no longer articulate the concerns of the centre. Howard picked the mood on climate change through drought, water restrictions in the city. People feel there’s something going on with the climate they believe is real.
Alice – when parliament resumes next week it will be a nightmare for the coalition.
Tory – given the structure of our parties, are we ever going to have an inspirational leader?
Damien – the middle can lead to a lack of innovation, but remains strong.
Chris – even if you think Shorten is a disappointment, he’s been constantly underestimated. Labor is taking the best articulated policy position since 1993, which includes radical changes to the economy. The two parties are a long way apart.
Laura – the best thing for Morrison is he’s grossly underestimated. Because everyone thinks Shorten will win, this helps Morrison. “Who is he really?” He’s shown so far he is a good campaigner.
Tory – on the ground, with normal people, he’s excellent, according to Fairfax reporters.
Alice – remember MT was older than Morrison.
Laura – Morrison has an evangelical belief in himself.
Damien – says Shorten is perhaps too cautious.
Does the media reflect view or is capable of changing views?
Laura – opinion is huge and what drives people to Sky. People are watching at night to have their own views re-enforced.
Chris – said strong things about Murdoch. Media has an effect, but increasingly people have made up their views and seeking re-enforcement. But there’s got to be room in the middle ground. 6Pm is still the biggest audience, though declining. What are the issues that are really biting is the question they ask every day at 9. Traffic, the price of petrol. People aren’t being selfish, they’re thinking about how they’ll bring up their family.
Damien – people do less searching for news, it’s more passive. Says there’s a dearth of independent data, eg; courts supression orders, selective leaks of data.
Chris – since the time of european settlement, the government has been suspicious of its people.
Laura – a good example of this is the lack of information coming out of defence, even in the language used.
Chris – Americans compile a monthly list of all the people killed in war, this doesn’t happen in Australia.
Does the media set an impossible standard for politicians?
Alice – politicians are afraid of a lot, including focus groups, scandals, but tony abbott first thing – we need to be boring, not interesting, shutting down the conversation. What we have to do as journalists is set the standard high.
Do we still have the bonk ban? :)
Laura – Andrew Broad: they set their own standards!!
Alice – does Tim Wilson pass the pub test? The political instinct is to lie.
Chris – married to a politician. Across the spectrum, the majority are well intentioned, trying to do the best they can. “They’re not a bad reflection of us”. Have seen good people destroyed by the media.
What is the challenge for the media?
Alice – to meet the audience where they are. In 2016 – Julie Bishop did a lot of snapchatting to an audience of 10!!!
Tory – Morrison did a Facebook live yesterday to 10,000 which would have been disappointing.
Alice – Facebook has changed, so it’s more family and friends than media interaction, unless your family/friends share. ALP is copying UK Labor eg: microtargetting football clubs. FM radio audience is dropping.
Chris – fight to the death, coalition will go after Shorten personally.
Alice – NSW will have a big impact in terms of money. NSW libs exhausted. Interested to see how it plays out in W/Syd. Have libs given up on W/Syd eg: lack of interest in Lindsay.
Daniel – after election, will embrace leadership unlike US/Trump.
Laura – anonymity of attackers is terrible in political debates. Things would improve if people had to include their names. After the election, the liberal parties will look very different. Loss of corporate knowledge for the liberals. Turnbull is still there!
Alice – Sky should give Alex Turnbull a show!!