It is not surprising that Blue Mountains voters in last weekend’s Council Elections have since learned that the LibLabs have been returned to power.
In all four Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4, the LibLabs have been returned to power, five LibLab candidates of whom have never been heard of. The Libs Michael Begg and Brendan Christie, and the Labs Romola Hollywood, Don McGregor and Anton von Schulenburg are all blow-ins.
However, it is rather incredible though that the LibLabs have romped home with an increased majority. The widespread public opinion of the LibLabs nationally is that they are out of favour both as political parties and with their two respective leaders – Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard. Neither is exactly popular. An August 2012 Newspoll survey shows Liberals on 53% and Labor on 47% on a two party preferred basis. As to who would make a better prime minister, both Abbott and Gillard are on 38%, with 24% uncommitted.
At State level, the Liberal Coalition attracts 61%, while Labor attracts 39% on a two party preferred basis.
By the time voters are asked to decide at local level, many have had a gut full of politics. Many are too busy earning a crust now that the cost of living has become unaffordable.
Spare time to dabble in local politics has become a distracting luxury. This voter disinterest in local politics was reflected in the relatively large informal vote of more than 10%. And this is not just across the Blue Mountains but across the State. In fact out west, many council shires can’t even attract candidates – no-one wants the job or the burden.
So given voter dissatisfaction with the major parties, why did the LibLabs get voted back in with increased support? The Libs new boy for Ward 1, Michael Begg, increased the Libs primary vote by more than 51 percent. His single issue platform was fixing roads, at a time when his long-establish Lib mates on Council under Libs Daniel Myles, have had years of opportunity to do so. Clearly, Begg won on being a Lib candidate, not on his individual strengths. The results were thus along party lines.
One reason that the LibLabs surged was that The Greens have got on the electoral nose with their policy of abandonment of Australian interests in support of illegal boat arrivals. Greens candidates have also demonstrated poor commitment to electorates – they are largely hot air in cosmic idealism and over-promising. Turning up to Council meetings would help show some interest. So many previously Greens voters either defaulted by lack of imagination back to the LibLabs, or simply in the bin by voting informally. If ‘informal’ was a political party it would hold the balance of power!
But the main reason that the LibLabs romped home with increased support in all four wards, came down to vastly favourable advertorial advertising in the local newspaper. All candidates circulated their promotional leaflets. I know this for a fact because I saw them in the letter boxes as I delivered ours. Despite the LibLabs having wealthy donor funds to allow them to produced expensive glossy leaflets with photos, political advantage by leaflet drop did not get the LibLabs over the line.
One disaffected voter commented in the lead up to the Council Election, “How are we supposed to vote for people we don’t know?”
This is where the local newspaper has made the greatest difference to the election results. Most candidates had advertising in Fairfax’s Blue Mountains Gazette newspaper to promote their respective candidates and to sell their policy platforms during the weeks in the run up to the election. The Blue Mountains Gazette has monopoly control of local print news. It has a weekly circulation of over 30,000 copies distributed free to a residential population of just under 80,000. It has a popular local readership following and so advertising in it is well regarded as the most effective outlet for political campaigning.
But of course advertising space costs money. In the weeks leading up to the council election the LibLabs featured prominently in paid advertising. There were also two weeks of double spread pages dedicated to the election campaign for all parties. But the main presence was the LibLabs, less so The Greens and a few independents.
What made a difference was the weekly saturation of advertorial, free articles, letters and the like gifted by the editor of the Gazette to the LibLabs.
Barely a week edition passed without either Liberal Mayor Daniel Myles or Labor’s Deputy Mayor Mark Greenhill being featured usually with their photo, and on many occasions together in the same photo. They both have favours to draw upon from The Gazette because of the tens of thousands of dollars of Council advertising poured into the paper during the year, every year, promoting Council information, but of course paid for by ratepayers. The scale of the advertising deal is a ratepayer rort.
There was Mylesy or Greenhill getting front page free publicity about fixing roads, planning for a new Springwood community centre (Myles’ ward) upgrading the Glenbrook Pool (Greenhill’s Ward), and just any news item that would get their names and photos up in the front section of the paper. All such items were free and the coverage was one of saturation.
So when it came to the Council Election, both were not only familiar faces, but had enjoyed positive saturation advertorial promotion. No wonder LibLab Myles and Greenhill romped home. Their newcomer LibLab candidates also received free publicity, like McGregor’s obscure ‘constitutional recognition’ campaign and Begg’s make roads safer campaign. Independent Luchetti received a few advertorials for his campaign to improve sewerage and walking tracks. These are important issues to Blue Mountains voters?
Even retiring councillors received free advertorials. Labor’s McLaren got to slug at Greens councillors’ absenteeism. Liberal’s Creed got the boot from the Libs branch stacking and had her advertorial parting whinge at her replacement. Retiring independent Mays had her thank you letter published and retiring independent Terri Hamilton got a quarter page.
Yet, conspicuously, the Australia First Party and our Ward 1 candidate, Matt Hodgson, seemed to be denied publicity in the Gazette throughout the entire campaign period. Only one paid advertisement was published on September 5 deep on page 9. Australia First’s candidate was not even invited to the Meet the Candidates session.
Quite misleading, was the article by Gazette journalist, Shane Desiatnik, of August 15 ‘Candidates no surprise’. “There were no major surprises for the September 8 local government elections when the closing date for nominations passed last week.” Yet at this election, it is the very first time that the Australia First Party has fielded a candidate in the Blue Mountains – a newsworthy story in itself, unless one is prejudiced against AFP or new challengers.
Australia First Party secured less than 2 per cent of the votes for Ward 1. This is not sour grapes. Our Matt was even interviewed for a story in the paper, but strangely the story never appeared. Go search the paper online post-election for these stories only to find the Google error: ‘503 Service Temporarily Unavailable’. How convenient.
Yet, what was published by Fairfax and still remains online on the Blue Mountains Gazette’s website is Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald’s smear article on the Australia First Party by journalist Kelly Burke. Decade’s old dirt has been dug up and deliberately timed to have been published two days out from the council election. Nice.
It smells of the Labor dirt files strategy currently targeting the Libs, steadily drip feeding old dirt stories about opposition politicians into the mainstream media, like Fairfax journalist David Marr’s nasty slur in the Herald recently raising innuendo about Tony Abbott 35 years ago. Trolling is not just the preserve of immoral anonymous social media users, trolling has become Labor policy up front in the mainstream media.
How closely chummy is the Gazette to the LibLab oligarchy for its considerable advertising revenue? This apparatus of how the LibLabs maintain their hold on their oligarchical power though media influence and the dollar at all levels of government should be officially investigated. How much advertising revenue does the Gazette derive from Blue Mountains City Council and its councillors per year?
Why should ratepayers fund Council newspaper advertising when at the same time Council is raising rates to cover its increasing costs? Why should clear favouritism in media advertising to the dominant political parties be permitted in an election campaign? Should any advertising be allowed to be fair to all? How else can individuals and smaller political parties stand a chance? Why does Australia have to follow the corporate corruptness of American politics?
LibLab media influence starts at local council level. It was the same in Penrith, Wollondilly, Sutherland, Hawkesbury, and Blacktown – all the local government seats in which the Australia First Party contested.
Media ownership in Australia is concentrated and controlled by a very powerful influential duopoly – Murdock and Fairfax, such that so-called ‘editorial independence’ has become an oxymoron. It is common knowledge throughout the Australian readership that the Sydney Morning Herald is Left leaning, just as The Australian is Right-leaning.
Is it any wonder, more readers are turning to online alternatives – thanks guys!
Every candidate for election and every political party are entitled to an equal opportunity of access to the media, particularly the mass communications media, in order to put forward their political views. If a political candidate is denied media publicity, this is ostracism and censorship. It is tantamount to an interference with political liberty which could be prosecutable under the Commonwealth Electoral Act, Sect 327.
We do not have a fair representative democracy in Australia in which there is freedom of association and in which any citizen can step up freely and have a say in how our nation is run.
In Australia we have the LibLab oligarchy, seemingly well fed by the media. Sadly, across the Blue Mountains we face the same LibLab crud for the next 4 years.