Dead cats and reset buttons

Let’s not give further oxygen to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s nonsensical, bigoted and racist comment the other day regarding refugees coming to this country, taking our jobs and adding to our unemployment queues. Apart from the obvious flaw in the argument (if you lower yourself enough to call it that) how can people that are taking our jobs add to our unemployment statistics at the same time? Dutton’s outburst is factually wrong on so many levels.

As Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk points out, her grandparents were refugees (that fortunately came to Australia in an era with greater enlightenment). While you may or may not agree with her and her Father’s (a former Minister in various ALP Queensland Governments) political leanings, the Palaszczuk family clearly needed and received support when they arrived and to this day have made a significant contribution to Australia, far greater than the assistance the family received on their arrival. The Palaszczuk family is not the only example, there are thousands of them, from renowned Doctors that treat ‘impossible’ cases referred to them from around the world, to Nobel Prize winning scientists. Don’t forget there are also those that go to work every day, bring up their families and live in relative anonymity who also make an excellent contribution to Australia. Should we attempt to list them all, we could be here to election day and still miss people out.

So how about we look at this differently. Why did Dutton make a statement that was almost guaranteed to get reported widely and put people offside in an election campaign? There are two real options, he didn’t think about what he was saying, or it is a distraction.

Regardless of what you think of Dutton, he continues to imprison people who have a right under United Nations treaties (which Australia agreed with by signing in 1951) to apply for refugee status in any country of the world. Regardless, the Abbott/Turnbull Coalition Government believe this unlawful action is a positive. In an election campaign do you really think that Dutton would have forgotten his ‘message’ when fronting the media. TV cameras placed in front of you is a pretty good indication that you need to keep to ‘message’ or the powers that be will come down on you like a ton of bricks. The Prime Minister and Deputy Liberal Leader/Foreign Minister supporting the comments proves it wasn’t accidental.

So it is probably a distraction. Dutton is sitting on a relatively health 6.7% - the ABC is calling it a safe LNP seat. Dutton can afford to lose a few local votes by making a statement that has been seen by many as outrageous and his statement has certainly removed a lot of less favourable (to the Coalition) issues from the election discussion. To quote former Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson

Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as “throwing a dead cat on the table, mate”.

‘That is because there is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!”; in other words, they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.’

When you think about it, it’s a similar strategy to that used if two friends are starting to get involved in an argument that observers recognise isn’t going to end well. One of the observers will frequently try to diffuse the situation by bringing up a completely unrelated topic, such that the recent results of the favoured football team, the benefits of the 1974 Holden Monaro versus the 1975 model or similar. Change the subject and the previous heated discussion is forgotten. It’s sort of like pressing the ‘reset’ button when an electronic device has decided not to play nicely.

It has been acknowledged that the first couple of weeks of the election campaign haven’t gone the way the Coalition would have preferred. The refugees statement by Dutton brings the election discussion back to a place where the Abbott/Turnbull Coalition Government feel that they have the advantage and while Dutton personally may take a slight hit for his statement, he will probably be re-elected. In fact, ‘taking one for the team’ can only improve Dutton’s chances of higher office in the future.

Boris Johnson’s Lord Mayoral campaign and the current Coalition campaign have both been run by the same person, Lynton Crosby, so the similarities between the campaigns are probably obvious and not co-incidental. In one fell swoop, the discussions about negative gearing, education and other issues that have proved to be friendly to the ALP have been taken off the table to be replaced by the ‘dead cat’ of refugees. It seems not to matter that the statement made was disgusting and demonstrably wrong – in fact it probably helped.

The ALP also attempts the same strategy. Opposition Senate Leader Penny Wong recently made the statement that the Government deficit had tripled since Abbott came to power. ABC’s soon to be wound up Factcheck Unit has investigated and discovered the claim is exaggerated (the deficit has ‘only’ doubled!) but the point remains that by the time the facts come out, the statement has been made, those that choose not to research or investigate further have accepted or rejected the claim and the world has moved on. Dutton’s claim is exaggerated as well, it is inevitable that at some point some refugees that have come to Australia will be unemployed and claim benefits.

His other claim about taking ‘Australians’ jobs is pure and unadulterated crap – everyone in Australia is either an immigrant or descended from immigrants. The first Australians walked here over a land bridge some 40 to 60 thousand years ago, others began to arrive by boat commencing in 1788 and from the 1960’s or 1970’s immigrants also came by aircraft. There is no process that magically turns you and your forebears into ‘Australians’ after your family has been here for a predetermined length of time – for the record parts of my family have been here since at least 1850; if there was such a thing, I’d probably know about it.

Anyway, there is still over a month to go before the election date and politicians (and their party hacks) will continue to ‘throw dead cats’, exaggerate and play politics,

Those who oppose the Coalition need to stop taking the bait. The Coalition does not want the election to be focused on education, Medicare or housing affordability which are far more important issues to voters and Labor’s strengths. Instead it wants it to be focused on refugees and national security because they see them as electorate winners. Labor does not win votes talking about either. They either lose votes to the Coalition or the Greens.

It won’t be the last time that the Coalition tries this tactic during this election but progressives need to far get better at responding and shifting the focus away whenever a “dead cat” is thrown.

Politicians will play politics, the media will report what it wants (and not necessarily present all sides of a story) which leaves it up to us. Next time some politician comes out with a statement that grabs all the headlines – ask yourself why are they doing it. It is genuinely newsworthy or has someone decided to hit ‘reset’ again by throwing a dead cat?
What do you think?
Did Dutton overreach?

Is the ‘dead cat’ a reasonable strategy?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.

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