Leading article Australia

Mathias on message

23 August 2014

9:00 AM

23 August 2014

9:00 AM

As is now widely accepted, and was pointed out in this magazine shortly after Budget night (‘The budget isn’t the problem; it’s the way it was sold. Or rather, the way it wasn’t’) Joe Hockey and his team largely failed to provide a compelling narrative around their various, and at times inconsistent, budget measures.

The communications errors have been numerous. The semiotically-idiotic image of the cigar-puffing duo certainly didn’t help, giving the otherwise imagination-bereft Labor party an erroneous but clever caricature with which to paint not only the Treasurer but his entire budget package. The whining nature of Mr. Hockey’s (partially accurate) depiction of a hostile media and a bone-idle business community were equally counter-productive. And, as we said last week, the ‘poor people don’t drive’ blunder only served ‘to humiliate and ridicule the less well-off.’

Yet as every CMO knows, if a talented team are failing to sell, it’s the strategy, not the product, that’s to blame. The biggest mistake was to attempt to prevail on Labor’s turf; those treacherous swamplands known as ‘the fair go.’ Fairness is a subjective value judgment, awarded by others after the event. Attempting to argue every budget measure, with statistical evidence, on the grounds of fairness to all, was a fool’s errand.

The only slogan for this budget is ‘economic responsibility’; the opposite of which is ‘economic irresponsibility’, two words that sum up the entire Rudd-Gillard-Swan-Bowen-Shorten shambles.

Refreshingly, Senator Cormann spent a lengthy Lateline interview without once resorting to ‘fairness’ as a selling tool. Rather, he succinctly spelled out that ‘Labor left behind a debt and deficit disaster and, more concerningly, they left behind an unsustainable spending growth trajectory. The truth is that Labor under Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd made a mess of the budget but under Bill Shorten the Labor Party is even more reckless.’

Retaking the high moral ground of ending the age of entitlements that Mr. Hockey so carelessly abandoned, the Minister for Finance was even prepared to argue the case for long-overdue reforms to the dole:

‘Well, it is not ideological. I mean, the proposition that young people, somebody who is young, healthy, able and well should not be moving from school straight onto the dole is not a radical ideological position.’

And finally the long-awaited narrative: ‘After people for years have been promised that we can borrow all this money only to give it away; when people have been told for years to expect, you know, significant increases in government payments and then all of a sudden the Government comes along and says, “Well, that is actually bad for us. If we continue to borrow from our children and grandchildren, we’re actually reducing future opportunity”.’

Senator Cormann’s grammar may be a tad wobbly at times. But his messaging is spot on.

Ancient Greek words

‘Look, I’m agnostic on this,’ claimed Racial Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane in response to a question as to whether Mike Carlton should have resigned from the Sydney Morning Herald after calling people ‘looney Likudnik racists’ and ‘demented Likudniks’. ‘Agnostic’ was an oddly classical word to use in the context; Mr. Soutphommasane is paid a hefty sum by the Australian taxpayer to ensure racism is not tolerated in our multi-cultural society. The ‘cantankerous’ Mr. Carlton had also derided readers as ‘Jewish bigots’ and ‘pissants’ for objecting to his diatribe about Israelis wanting to ‘kill Arabs’.

Others were not so agnostic. Now it appears Mr. Carlton may face the recently resuscitated Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for his efforts.

Yet Mr. Soutphommasane will happily pontificate over a lengthy lunch on the great harm that derogatory racial name-calling can have on individuals:

’We’re talking about something that causes serious harm to people and their families,’ he told the Herald’s Gay Alcorn over a $37 de-boned duck leg at the hip Bistro Gitan. ‘People might think that words have no effect… but we are talking about something that can impair people’s ability to participate in the life of the nation… History shows us that racial violence… begins with words.’

Quite. Only days after Mr. Carlton’s inflammatory words, we saw violent anti-semitism on a Bondi school bus. Nothing agnostic about that.

Perhaps Tim might care to familiarize himself with a more pertinent ancient Greek word: ‘hypocrite’.

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