The Fordham Effect

In its year-and-a-bit of government, after a decade of playing the small target in Opposition, senior members of the Australian Labor Party have tried their hand at rapprochement with an innately hostile corporate media. From a secret meeting with Rupert Murdoch in the early hours of its term, to its clear strategy of attempting to win the favour of the Sunrise and 2GB voting blocs, the Albanese Labor Government puts itself in danger of being spreading too thin, attempting to appease the unreasonable populist shock jocks at the expense of its traditional voting base, ultimately restricting itself from making any of the big, bold reforms that are needed.

Just the other week, Richard Marles joined his friend Peter Dutton for a chat on Nine’s Today show, hosted by court jester-in-chief Karl Stefanovic. It was Marles’ birthday. After being handed a convenient cake from the crew, Dutton held up his ‘unscripted’ present. ‘What is it? It’s not fake tan again, is it?’ grinned Marles, Stefanovic belly laughing as Dutton produced a small walking stick, quipping it could be used as a ‘sabre-type tool to take care of Albo, take care of Tanya Plibersek and Bill Shorten’, before demonstrating a sword-like thrusting motion, exemplifying the ghoulish sense of humour we have become accustomed to from him.


Labor may think it is getting good press, but in this instance on Today, Marles looked like a simpering twit and Peter Dutton got another (albeit unsuccessful) opportunity engineered by Peter Costello to demonstrate his humanity in public again. All the public sees, if it is paying enough attention, is an incestuous political class with seemingly more in common with each other than they will ever have with us.

While this Labor government might be content attending interviews with disingenuous interviewers on corporate media networks, it takes some serious gymnastics of self-delusion to ignore that the corporate world strongly prefers working with their LNP opponent as their partner of choice and will back it as soon as it is viable to do so again. The modern ALP walks away from its traditional base and towards the uninspiring ideas of the centre-right, endangering the few uniquely progressive points of difference the party still somehow clings onto in the process.

A Labor government slowly emerging from a decade of small target perma-opposition no longer represents the bold ideas of Whitlam, Hawke, or these days even Gillard. Feeling a cacophony of disappointment from the bread-and-butter heartland on climate, cost of living, housing and AUKUS, and afraid to implement so much as a tax reform, or even allow debate on it in their upcoming conference in Brisbane, the party has turned to Kyle and Jackie-O, Kieran Gilbert and Ben Fordham to sell its message. Like the supermarket duopoly, major party politicians from both sides of the aisle stifle competition and price-fix inspiration, weaving around each other to deliver the counterintuitive goals of the corporate donor class that has so captured their parties.

This government seems to forget the marginalised everyday Australians who delivered them to power, and chooses to ignore that every note sung by the combined choirs of angels in the corporate media came from the same corporate songsheet, all pulling together in the service of delivering the Coalition the last election. They must have forgotten the Josh Frydenberg puff pieces, the odes to Jenny Morrison, the Scomo Ukulele curry nights – endless and shameless and overt – accompanied by the Clive Palmer UAP and Harvey Norman ads.

After a decade of government-media fusion under the Coalition, misinformation and deception around bushfires, pandemics and corruption by the press amidst the shame of Robodebt, the cries for an ICAC, and the calls for a Murdoch Royal Commission – Australians went to the polls and installed the lowest primary vote Labor government in history with an expectation for real change. With barely seventy-six seats, in a sea of teal and crossbench, and the bushfires, floods and pandemics forever changing our collective priorities, Australians were looking for a government that would be brave enough to change the status quo. They got the Albanese Government instead.

From Howard to Morrison, every Coalition Prime Minister has had to be dragged into interview situations on ABC radio and television, but this neoliberal Labor government doesn’t bat an eye to appear on Sky News or 2GB and get slammed with bad faith questions by people that cannot wait until there is a coherent iteration of the Coalition they can back to the hilt.  

Australia is running on a bipartisan autopilot on most issues: around the cost of living and retaining mechanisms that propel year-on-year corporate profits. Regarding the environment and the housing crisis, the major parties agree first on most issues. Because many of its policy trajectories do not align with the expectations from many in its traditional base, the Albanese government is breaking bread with the corporate media in the hope that it can promote its mediocrity. It should be clear to all that a government can’t change the world when it needs the approval of Ben Fordham.

In the days leading up to Anthony Albanese’s appearance on his program, in-between calling for the banning of books promoting sexual education for youth, and riling people up about the ‘trans-debate’,  Ben Fordham had been stirring the pot on the Voice, taking a predictably firm ‘No’ position. What started with a hopeful Tweet from the Prime Minister on the morning of the interview, resulted in him being trapped in a intellectually dishonest conversation with the Jerry Springer of Sydney talkback radio, ending with several 2GB clips showing the stumbling PM ‘pwned’ by a belligerent Fordham on the matter of the Voice, including flustering the man to say he wouldn’t act on advice from a potential panel if they recommended changing the date of Australia Day.

Fordham and 2GB spent the week after Albo’s friendly visit picking holes in every word the Prime Minister said, ‘fact checking’ him, questioning T-shirts he wore, applauding the decisions of retailers to pull out of supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign, and having Tony Abbott on to talk uninterrupted about the ‘power grab’ that is the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Did they really expect anything else to happen?

By kowtowing to the entrenched interests of the centre-right, the government robs itself of any visionary ambition. By signing itself up to get punked on air by disingenuous shock jocks, it shirks the progressive votes that saw it elected. And by competing for the disinterested votes on the right with the opposition – who are more than happy to have them drift further into the territory it is redefining on the far end of the spectrum – it trades its legacy for a kiss of the ring and a chuckle with Karl. 

When the government takes centrist positions on issues that need transformative and inspirational leadership, it gets bogged down trying to defend against bad faith actors who dog-whistle ‘communism’ at anything that threatens their paymasters’ interests, instead of leading from the front on reforms and policies that rise above populist fearmongering and deliver to Australians what they unequivocally voted for.

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