Australian Graffiti



If you’re a progressive in Australia this has been a good weekend.

The Soceroos beat South Korea 2-1 to win the Asian Cup in soccer; Campbell “Can Do” Newman got smashed in the Queensland state election and the knives are being sharpened in the Liberal caucus to stab Two Punch in the back, the ribs, the neck. In fact, by the end of the week he is likely to have more punctures than a balloon after a fight with a porcupine.

To top it off, the kool-aid slurping columnists on Rupert Murdoch’s Aussie rags are beside themselves with hubris and confusion.

After backing Two Punch Tony all the way for the past 16 months they are now falling over each other in an attempt to explain away Abbott’s obvious failings and to shift the blame elsewhere.

It’s no surprise really because Rupert himself has been Twittering his thoughts to all and sundry; his editors could hardly miss the point really:

Peta Credlin is Tony Abbott’s chief of staff and for months she has been the story, which is not where a CoS should really be if they’re doing their job properly.

According to insiders, Credlin is the real power in the PM’s office and it is she who calls the shots; including, it seems, telling senior ministers who they can and cannot employ. You hardly ever see a picture of Abbott without Credlin in the shot — even when he is meeting other heads of state and prime ministers, her grey presence is there, lurking in the background.

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Now the calls are coming loud and clear that Credlin should be sacked, or as Uncle Rupert put it so elegantly on Twitter:

So forget the soccer and the tennis; this weekend has been all about the politics.
May we live in interesting times

Those of us with long memories cannot remember a more volatile or interesting time in Australian politics.
The Prime Ministership of Tony “Two Punch” Abbott has been full of the unexpected and is perhaps now in terminal decline. And this weekend a sitting state premier lost his seat and his government was routed in Queensland.

“So what?” you might ask. It is not unusual for a prime minister to become unpopular, nor is it unusual for a state government to lose office. Electorates are fickle beasts.
“Yes,” I would respond…”but…”
And it’s a big but:

But it is unusual for a prime minister to be so unpopular just 16 months into a four year term.

But it is almost unheard of for a first time government to be so on the nose with voters so soon.

But it is almost unheard of for a state premier who won in a landslide to be turfed out of office by an even bigger swing the other way.

And, what’s most unusual in a country with three layers of government (local, state & federal) is for there to be an almost one-to-one correspondence between the visceral hatred of a prime minister and personal loathing of a state premier.

The bottom line is that conservative politicians in Australia are almost universally on the nose.

No, let me rephrase that: Conservative politicians in Australia carry the stink of death.

No matter how many hot showers or how often they wash their grey suits and blue ties the smell of decay sticks to them like flies on shit.

Now it looks like Labor will form a government in Queensland and even 18 months out from the next federal election the writing is on the wall for Abbott — or more fittingly, the “electronic grafitti” of social media points to Two Punch being gone by Easter.

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Two Punch is up there with the hipsters in his grasp of social media.

Yes, Tony Abbott is clearly getting good communications advice from someone in his office; dismissing social media as “electronic graffiti” makes as much sense as, Oh, I don’t know…randomly thinking outloud:

As…making a British royal a knight in the Order of Australia.

Oh yeah, that’s what Two Punch did on Australia Day this year.

It is a sign of just how disconnected Abbott is from the sentiments of most Australians that he could think — even for a split second — that knighting Prince “Phil the Greek” Philip was a good move.

But it shows how arrogant Two Punch really is. He described the decision on Phil the Greek’s imperial honour as a “captain’s pick” — that is he thought of it himself and didn’t consult anyone else.

It went down like a lead balloon and became just another lightning rod for discontent with Abbott both inside the party and among the generally restive populus.

With Labor’s cheering still ringing in her ears, federal Liberal MP, Jane Prentice, declared that Tony Abbott’s leadership of the party (and therefore his grasp on the title of Prime Minister) is a big part of the problem, not the solution.

The stage whispers, rumours and even loud arguments can be heard coming from the government bunkers in Canberra. There’s even public discussion of a leadership challenge as soon as this week.

However, it may not yet be all over for Two Punch. On Monday he is to give  keynote speech at the National Press Club in Canberra and he must be fervently hoping that he can persuade enough of his toey party members to continue backing his leadership.

How did it all come so spectacularly unstuck for a prime minister who was gifted the job in September 2013, because of in-fighting and instability in the ranks of the Labor opposition?
The key problem for Abbott is that hardly anybody actually likes him, even fewer people actually trust him and nobody believes him after a barrel full of broken promises, mis-steps in diplomacy and kack-handed domestic policy.

As usual the sorry and obsequious pundits in the mainstream media tried all sorts of excuses to separate Two Punch and Can’t Do after this weekend.

Conservative columnists — who will say and do anything for a price — quickly abandonded all previously held “truths” about politics to intone solemnly that Queensland is different and that we cannot read too many national implications from the state election tea leaves.

Forgetting what they said less than 12 months ago, they are now trying to make us believe that Can’t Do’s problems were all of his own making and that none of the failings in Queensland have anything to do with federal issues.

That is just rubbish. Newman and Abbott are cut from the same neo-conservative cloth; they share the same political DNA and they are in politics to further the same interests — those of the bosses and the big end of town.

Privatisation of state assets, attacks on public sector employment, cuts to health and education funding and support for environmental vandalism — fracking, mining, and despoiling the Great Barrier Reef — are their shared priorities.

It seems that Australian voters have said “Enough!” to these corrosive policies.

Abbott’s attempts to cripple Australia’s universal health care system have been stopped in their tracks; his moves to hollow out the higher education sector have been defeated by consistent and militant student protests and his “signature” but expensive policy folly Paid Parental Leave for middle class mums has been dumped.

Abbott is now in a corner with nowhere to go and no allies to back him in a fight.

The electronic graffiti is on the wall; dissent in the streets

Perhaps the defeat of Can’t Do in Queensland was a bit of an outlier; but the polls have been consistent since the start of the year: Newman was on the nose and so too is Abbott. Their fates were interconnected too.

Abbott was unpopular from almost day one of his term. He has broken nearly all the major promises he took to the 2013 election and as his ministers prepare for the 2015 budget in May the key planks of his 2014 budget remain in disarray.

Abbott’s unpopularity is also visceral — it extends beyond the echo chamber of social media. In March last year over 200,000 people marched against the Abbott government across Australia. This was followed up with marches in May and August.

There will be more marches this year too, particularly against industrial relations policy. Attacks on wages and conditions at both state and federal levels have played a role in recent elections — including the recent reelection of Labor in Victoria.

The trade unions are now mobilising against Tony Abbott and the defeat of Campbell Newman’s anti-union politics in Queensland will give Australian workers more confidence to take on unpopular and anti-working class policies.

Newman is gone, Abbott is fatally wounded and we will not be stopped.


Dr Martin Hirst is associate professor of journalism and multimedia in the School of Communication & Creative Arts, Deakin University. He is co-editor of the journal, Political Economy of Communication.

Over the past 15 years Dr Hirst has led and taught journalism courses in Australia and New Zealand. From 2007-2011 he was head of journalism at AUT in Auckland. He was a 2008 Erasmus Mundus teaching fellow at City University London. He is co-author of Journalism Ethics: Arguments & Cases (2014 with Roger Patching) and Communication & New Media: Broadcast to Narrowcast (2014 with John Harrison & Patricia Mazepa) and News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet (2011). He contributes to numerous journals, magazines and blogss on journalism and society. You can find him at @ethicalmartini.

Dr Hirst’s research interests include journalism theory and practice; the reporting of terrorism; political economy of news and media; technology and relations of journalism practice; journalism, democracy and the public sphere; journalism law and ethics. He is currently involved in a range collaborative projects in journalism scholarship and education.


  1. There is something about the Australian national character that means the population there doesn’t take the same shite lying down as New Zealanders do. They tried to emasculate the Unions in Australia like they did in New Zealand with our Employment Contracts Act and they stood up and killed it, whereas we rolled over. We like to think we are like the Australians in being tough, independent antipodeans but we’re not really. Our strongest trait was our comparative intellectual and moral sophistication in general as a society but that’s pretty much evaporated now.

  2. It appears that in Australia the political right haven’t got the MSM completely under their thumbs like they do in New Zealand. There is hope for us yet.

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