Last Monday night, the ABC held a live televised debate to kick off the South Australian election season. I attended, eager to see how SA Premier Jay Weatherill performed against the incredibly weak Premier-wannabe, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall. Never heard of him? Neither has South Australia.
With the election coming up on March 15, depressingly, the Liberal Opposition is ahead in the polls. This is even after Abbott and Hockey bullied Holden into leaving, which will have a massively detrimental impact on the South Australian community. And even though Marshall is mimicking the negative-no-details-except-for-vague-motherhood-statements-about-tax-cuts-fixing-all-the-State’s-problems campaign that Abbott successfully used to win the Federal election, South Australians still seem determined to make the same mistake twice. On the subject of jobs, Marshall has promised to cut 5,000+ public service jobs, which like Abbott’s pledge, don’t seem to count as ‘real’ jobs as he also promises that there will be ‘more jobs’ under a Liberal government. And of course SA will have our own Abbott style ‘Commission of Audit’ after the election, for Marshall to identify new ways to slash and burn towards smaller government at a time when austerity could very quickly cause a deep recession. It’s incredibly frustrating to say the least.
What we have seen of Marhsall’s campaign so far are ads that don’t even mention his name or show his face, with mean, dark music, and a scary deep voice suggesting there are leadership tensions in the South Australian Labor Party. But I kid you not, they don’t even suggest an alternative Labor figure who is supposedly anonymously threatening Weatherill’s leadership. But hey, I guess it worked for Abbott to hype up Gillard versus Rudd, so why would the SA Liberals let a little inconvenience like no leadership tensions in SA Labor get in the way of a negative advertising campaign? Faceless men, and all that. (Talking of leadership instability, check out how the SA Liberals stack up. Pot Kettle Black? The only reason Marshall got the Leadership in the first place is because the rest of the SA Liberal Party had already torn apart more experienced contenders in a leadership war lasting numerous years.)
So with this hypocritical advertising campaign in mind, when the ABC debate Producer emailed the audience asking for questions, I submitted this:
- Question for Steven Marshall: Tony Abbott won the 2013 Federal election with a very negative campaign. From what we have seen of your campaign so far, you are following his lead. My question is, do you worry that the South Australian public are looking for a positive alternative who has vision for the future, rather than someone who just wants to bag the opposing side?
It’s a tough question, but it’s fair. It goes to the very heart of Marshall’s bid to lead South Australia, and for that reason, I think the viewers deserved to hear an answer. But no. Even after a follow up email from the ABC Producer to again ask the audience for question submissions after I had already submitted mine, this one didn’t make the cut. So, in front of what felt like a heavily stacked Liberal audience*, the questions that were asked were, as usual, invitations to bash Labor, whether that bashing be with a big stick or a small twig. Anything would do.
We had questions about jobs and business tax cuts, two questions about mental health policy, niche questions about regional population growth, train services being disrupted on hot days (with no mention of climate change), a good question about the treatment of women in parliament, a Gonski question from Twitter and three vague vision questions, including one asking what the two candidates agree on. But what we didn’t have, and what we never see asked on Q&A or by an ABC journalists when interviewing politicians, is a question that could be considered a tough one for a Liberal to answer. When in the last few years, the hardest question Tony Abbott has been asked on the ABC’s 7:30 is ‘did you read the report’, it’s clear the Liberals, and in fact anyone from the ‘right’ will be protected as soon as they enter a conversation with our national broadcaster.
So since I’m bitter and twisted about my question for Marshall being culled before it had a chance to be answered, I have three other questions that I would like to ask Marshall, which I can guarantee the ABC would never let me ask:
- You spend a lot of your time talking down the South Australian economy. You even cite your reason for going into politics as being a very narrow mission to make sure your two children don’t leave South Australia when they become adults. My question is, don’t you think it’s bad for the South Australian economy to constantly talk it down, as the effect of consumer confidence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
- Your answer to ‘how will you create jobs for South Australians’ is ‘I will cut payroll tax’. We see from the current example in the US that tax cuts do not create jobs, because the business owners just take the extra profit for themselves. There is no reason for business owners to hire more people just because they’re making more money. Growth in jobs comes from an increase in consumer and business demand. So how are you going to increase consumer and business demand to actually increase jobs?
- Whenever you are asked a question about your plans as Premier of South Australia, you bring everything back to a discussion of the economy and how you will fix it with tax cuts. My question is, have you realised, or are you likely to realise sometime soon, that we live in a society, not an economy? And do you think it’s important for the economy to serve our society, and not the other way around?
It’s hard to know why the ABC goes to such great lengths to protect Liberals from answering these tough questions. I suppose it has something to do with the Liberals’ wish to cut jobs at the ABC, and to an ingrained bias towards Labor bashing (whether Labor be in power or not) under the guise of ‘balance’. Perhaps ABC Producers have such trouble getting the Liberals onto their television and radio shows that the last thing they want to do is scare them away.
In South Australia particularly, we rely on ABC coverage of politics, as we’re basically a one Murdoch newspaper city. But what we get from the South Australian ABC is the same Labor bashing, Liberal free-ride that we see across the country. The South Australian election might be irrelevant to all other Australians, but I think you’ll agree that my questions for Steven Marshall would really be suitable for any Liberal politician in this country. Yet on a national scale, these questions remain unasked and for that reason, unanswered.
*The ABC producer for the SA leaders’ debate provided the following breakdown about the voting intentions of the audience. I stand by my personal observation from the number of people clapping in the audience, that the audience was heavily stacked to the right. I asked if I could bring two other Labor supporters with me but was told there were no more seats – so I’m not sure how come there were quite a few vacant seats around me.Follow @Vic_Rollison