Home Australian News Peter Dutton says Liberals party of workers, but pushes wage cuts

Peter Dutton says Liberals party of workers, but pushes wage cuts

Peter Dutton says Liberals party of workers, but pushes wage cuts

If you want to see some of the purest efforts at political PR, the concentrated form that usually ends up being diluted even by the most biased media, the Dropped Speech is for you. The Dropped Speech is when a politician’s office hands a copy of a speech to be given the following day to a journalist so that it will be reported in that day’s morning media. There’s a trade-off involved — the journalist gets a speech, but will never write it up critically or devote too much analysis to it. Instead, it will simply be reported almost verbatim, delivering the key messages the politician wants to hit.

Both sides do it and both sides get favourable media treatment from it. Today’s effort is from Peter Dutton, whose office yesterday gave Paul Sakkal of Nine a copy of a speech he delivered to a small business conference this morning for Sakkal to write up and publish yesterday evening.

Sakkal’s copy is the Platonic Ideal of Dropped Speech coverage — wholly uncritical and unanalytical as it details how Dutton, “the alternative prime minister”, is pitching “the Coalition as the party of the working classes”, will “frame Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as an inept manager of the nation’s finances” (two surpluses will do that, I guess) and “will tell corporate leaders they had a moral imperative to use their public profiles to speak out about Labor’s economic and energy policies which he said were driving business offshore”.

It’s otherwise unremarkable — in fact, it’s a kind of Baudrillardian simulacra of actual political journalism — except that it’s another step in Peter Dutton’s attempt to portray himself as having a political strategy of pursuing the outer suburbs.

By that I mean Dutton has been saying it’s his strategy, and journalists have been reporting it’s his strategy, and even assessing whether it’s working (the Dunkley by-election defeat for the Liberals was seen as evidence it wasn’t), but there’s little evidence that such a strategy actually exists.

That’s partly understandable because the opposition has released virtually no policy beyond getting young people to drive up house prices for baby boomers further by wasting their super, and coal-fired power until a nuclear power station can start operating in 2050. But Dutton likes to portray his version of the Liberals as all about small business and ordinary workers (“humble salary earners”, in Sakkal’s delightful words), in contrast to Labor, which is all about “inner-city elites, big business, union bosses, industry super funds and woke advocates”.

To repeat a point Crikey has made umpteen times before, it is big business that continues to fund the Liberals — fossil fuel companies, banks, the big consulting firms, the big gambling companies, the mining lobby, so the Dutton Versus Big Business thing doesn’t even get to the starting line.

But today’s Dropped Speech puts the spotlight on the basic tension at the heart of the Dutton’s alleged strategy, and perhaps the reason why he’s not actually doing much to pursue it. You can’t — however much Nine journalists might try to dress it up — credibly claim to be “a party of the worker” and not be in favour of actual workers. And being in favour of workers means supporting an industrial relations system that delivers pay rises, rather than wage stagnation; one that enables workers to share the benefits of productivity growth and shifts some of the profit share of national income back to workers, reversing the trend of most of the past decade.

Instead, Dutton parrots the traditional big business line on wages: wage rises must be, in the words of another account of the speech, “sustainable wage growth delivered through productivity enhancements” (in the context of the latest Fair Work Commission annual pay case, we know business thinks that means real wage falls). Moreover, far from being opposed to big business, Dutton wants big business to make the public case for reversing Labor’s industrial relations changes:

I meet with CEOs and chairs in private who vigorously express their frustration about the government’s damaging policies. Yet in public, their comments lack the same vigour, or they choose to remain quiet — many from the fear of a social media backlash. This is not a time to be silent or supine. I believe there is a moral imperative for CEOs to contribute to these important debates.

Somehow Dutton wants to be taken seriously by the media as leading a “party of the worker” and opposed to big business while telling big business CEOs they have a moral imperative to lead the charge to reduce workers’ pay and conditions — an effort he presumably will campaign on in those “outer suburbs” he will target at the next election.

It’s a contradiction so great even political journalists would trip over it — or so you might think.


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