Selling Economic Reform – The Vaudeville Continues

I was intrigued during yesterday about a couple of comments made on Twitter between Stephen Spencer of Channel 10 (though, he tweets independently of his employer) and self-styled Twitter Liberal spruiker Tommy Tudehope. Tudehope made the comment that “On current trajectory Swan won’t be Treasurer by the end of the year. Labor need a better salesman”.  Spencer replied “the attack today is going nowhere but yes, Labor’s inability to sell anything economic is killing them”.  That made me think – just what is there to “sell” in things economic and why do our treasurers need to be salesmen.

Keating famously put it as “throwing the switch to vaudeville” – selling complex policies to people becomes cheapening the message, dissolving it down to virtually meaningless sound bites.  Yet, Keating himself was unable to successfully “sell” some of the greatest post-war economic reforms undertaken in his time as treasurer and PM.  In the mid 90s, right until the mid 00s, his time was characterised as “17% Mortgage Rates” and “More Deficits than Surpluses” – when the truth is that we have been left with compulsory super, a floated dollar, well regulated banks and a whole range of goodies.

It’s Peter Costello that people apparently remember as a “great salesman” – Spencer again – “Costello was a fantastic salesman of the economy, just not of himself”.  This is not how I and many people remember Peter Costello.  He was the smug man, reminiscent of a used car salesman in a Toorak car yard who managed merely to convince people that deficits are bad and got a little creepy when he encouraged a baby boom.  Clearly, though, he managed to hoodwink at least some of the Canberra Press Gallery.  Hence, he is remembered as a great “salesman”, rather than as the frontman for several of the most irresponsible middle class giveaways in the modern era.  But he is not known for wide ranging, profound economic reform.

Truth be told,  instead of a good “salesman”, give us a competent treasurer who is able to reduce the growth in Government spending to 1% – unlike Costello, who managed to get to 3% – without leaving much evidence as to where that money went.  Or give us a treasurer not bound to having to “sell” the nitty gritty of economic reform to people who want simplistic reports – that is, a treasurer that won’t disappoint George Megalogenis. After all, it is Megalogenis who has the habit of being the one journalist at The Australian prepared to say something positive about the government, as well as criticism.  In other words, what journalists should be doing, rather than making flippant comments about how “badly” they sell complex ideas.

But on the issue of “selling”, I’m still not convinced that the government is being given the space and ability to sell anything difficult and complex to do.  They are being turned more and more into desperate auctioneers, attempting to shoe horn big ideas into something that could be said to Kochie over at brekkie central.

On this, let’s get back to something else that is significant from my Twitter observations. I was mildly surprised that Tudehope, in the same day, was celebrating an “interview” where “Ray Hadley serve[d] it up to Rob Oakeshott”. Tudehope, like anyone with a reasonable education, would perceive that Ray Hadley – the former auctioneer – doesn’t seem to conduct proper interviews with anyone with whom he disagrees.  Instead, he seems to shouts, cajoles and bullies them into rhetorical corners and doesn’t let them represent or “sell” their own side with any space or depth.  He then asks his listeners to rain down insults on the interviewee, unchecked, after they leave.  Hadley frequently indulges in what I consider to be cowardly behaviour – I remember vividly such mendacious treatment of Chris Bowen. It is Hadley too who frequently repeats the fallacy that the BER was a massive waste of money – without solid evidence beyond the odd school here and there and anecdotal evidence. It’s a sad turn of events when Liberal Party supporters happily adopt such people to their cause.  It also helps to explain why the government have trouble “selling” anything to anyone.

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